Aug 29 2013

New Burmese/Thai land crossings opened

Published by at 8:21 am under Practicalities


Rumours have swirled for some time and we’ve frequently run across travellers who claim to have crossed the Burmese border at some remote crossing point but now it’s official: foreign tourists may enter the country at the Tachilek, Myawaddy and Kawthaung land entry points (from Thailand’s Mae SaiMae Sot and Ranong respectively).

The border between Mae Sai and Tachilek.

The border between Mae Sai and Tachilek.

The former and latter have been open for temporary visits to the immediate vicinity for some time and Thais have been free to enter at Myawaddy, but these crossings are now open for ordinary entry and exit; you can travel onwards into Burma from any of these points, and exit at whichever airport or land crossing takes your fancy. Be warned though that you will need to obtain a full tourist visa in advance. (It isn’t clear whether the old temporary, limited, pass system will still function or not.)

A fourth land entry point was to open yesterday (August 28) between Kanchanaburi province and Htee Khee town, though this is using the old temporary entry pass on arrival for a one-week stay — you would be required to exit at the same entry point.

So which crossing might be an option for you?

The Tachilek border crossing into Shan State, from Mae Sai in Chiang Rai, has long been a popular visa-run destination with 500 baht temporary passes allowing overnight stays in  Tachilek town or even, if things were quiet, a quick trip up to nearby Kengtung (Kyaingtong). While Tachilek itself has little more than a huge border market to offer, it does have flight links to Mandalay and Heho, while the three-hour drive along a decent road up to Kengtung opens up awesome trekking potential with its myriad surrounding hilltribe villages. Kengtung has several okay hotels and an airport as well.

Air Bagan in theory fly thrice-weekly to Heho (stopping at both Kengtung and Tachilek) while Yangon Airways also claim to have thrice-weekly flights from both destinations to Heho via Mandalay. Indeed if you are planning onward travel from Tachilek, then this is your only option at present since the road west to Taungyii is not currently officially open to foreign visitors due to security concerns (as well as it being a terrible road).

The Kengtung region is home to Palaung, Wa, Akha, Lisu, Lahu and numerous other hill-tribe groups

The Kengtung region is home to Palaung, Wa, Akha, Lisu, Lahu and numerous other hilltribe groups.

The crossing point into Kayin or Karen State is at Myawaddy, from Mae Sot, so not quite so convenient for travellers, and once across the border your options are again limited. Though some spectacular mountain scenery lies in this eastern part of Karen State, much of the region outside of the main towns is still off limits. Myawaddy, as expected, has a large bustling border market, but not a lot else going for it, though it does have a “road” to the state capital Hpa-An as well as Moulmein (Mawlamyine) on the coast. (Moulmein is the nearest airport to the border.) The road is not in great shape and bus travel will be at the mercy of road and weather conditions.

Hpa-An

A Hpa-An scene.

The crossing to Burma’s southernmost point Kawthaung (formerly Victoria Point) from Ranong has also been a popular visa run route. It’s also been open for limited access for some time, allowing visitors to renew their Thai visa, splash some cash at the border casino or check out some of the spectacular beaches north of town. Though we have heard of travellers making it all the way to Rangoon, from here your official options are limited again due to road and security conditions. The Burmese government does not, at the time of writing, allow you to travel north by road to Mergui or Dawei. Furthermore since the local tourism infrastructure is — to say the least — basic, many of the myriad and unspoilt islands are badly served by boat and offer no accommodation. As far as visiting these islands, for now your best option is still to sign up for a liveaboard in Phuket or Khao Lak.

There are miles of untouched beaches in Southern Burma though deckchairs are few and far between. (This is Ngwe Saung)

There are miles of untouched beaches in Southern Burma though deckchairs are few and far between. (This is Ngwe Saung)

However there is some good news: Kawthaung has an airport! According to schedules (though Burmese domestic schedules are notoriously unreliable and pilots often don’t seem to know where they’re going until shortly before take off), planes do a daily circular route through Rangoon, Moulmein and/or Dawei, maybe Mergui and with luck Kawthaung. Don’t take our word as gospel for it though, and note that being in possession of a ticket means nothing.

These new border crossings are definitely a great step in the right direction, even if it doesn’t yet make all Burmese travel plain sailing. Do bear in mind that these crossings are all in very remote areas, domestic airlines will continue to have commercial considerations to take into account with their scheduling, and the Burmese government doesn’t have the money to construct lengthy road connections on their own — so things will change only slowly. If negotiations with Shan and Karen organisations continue to be fruitful and the demand is there, travel will continue to improve and areas will open up.

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10 responses so far

10 Responses to “New Burmese/Thai land crossings opened”

  1. jenniferon 29 Aug 2013 at 2:54 pm

    This is very helpful information! I’ve saved it in my Myanmar bookmarks folder.

    I have never seen a picture of Hpa-An before. I am going to close my eyes on my commute home today and pretend that I am there, looking at that beautiful scene. Sigh….

  2. Thomas Aon 07 Sep 2013 at 11:55 am

    The crossing point from Mae Sot to Myawaddy and road to Hpa-an and Yangon IS very convenient for travellers as it is currently the most reliable access for travel between Bangkok and Yangon or Chiang Mai and Yangon. Only the road between Myawaddy and Kawkareik, which is single lane and one day westbound, the next day eastbound makes travel a bit problematic and slow, but now you can always stay overnight in Myawaddy and wait until the next day to travel, if necessary. Or you can go by motorcycle, which are allowed to travel in both directions everyday. Of course, all of this will be unnecessary by sometime next year when a Thai built bypass road is completed.

    I’m not sure about the accuracy of the information that Thai travelers were permitted to enter at Myawaddy in the recent past, since a sign at the crossing seemed to indicate that the rules were the same for them as for other foreign nationals (i.e. only 1 day stays in Myawaddy allowed) but now that the border crossing has opened to all there is little reason to care about what the rules may have been like in the past.

    Also, as there is only one road between Myawaddy and Hpa-an, there is little point of mentioning that the towns away from the main road are restricted (some of them are and some aren’t, but in general there are barely any towns not along the highway anyway!) The fact that you can now travel overland from Myawaddy to Hpa-an and Yangon means that full overland access if now available therefore the article is written in a confusing fashion especially for first time visitors. This is unnecessary – the fact is you can now travel overland from Thailand to Myanmar through this crossing, without needing to catch any internal flights and travellers shouldn’t be further confused.

    As for the south, travellers were reporting overland access from Yangon down to Myeik even before the Kawthoung checkpoint opened for travellers with a visa and Dawei to Htee Khee opposite Ban Phu Nam Ron in Kanchanaburi should be possible now too as that is the fourth crossing point that opened. Essentially that is the closest Bangkok-Dawei or Bangkok-Yangon link apart from the one mentioned above, but road conditions are still a bit uncertain.

    For now I’d recommend crossing at Myawaddy as there has been a road there for years and it’s the main one used for logistics and trade between Thailand and Myanmar.

  3. […] New Burmese/Thai land crossings opened | Travelfish on Burma Reply With Quote […]

  4. […] this sense, our next article, “New Burmese/Thai land crossings opened” could come in very handy. As of now “it is official: foreign tourists may enter the country at […]

  5. Ilariaon 22 Oct 2013 at 12:35 pm

    I agree with Thomas that Mae Sot-Myawaddy is quite convenient for travellers, especially if you have time.
    There are a couple of direct bus from Myawaddy to Yangon. You just need to cross the border the right day, as the traffic goes in one direction only.
    I crossed the border on September, 28.
    I left Myawaddy at 9.30 am and arrived in Yangon at 10pm. Lunch and dinner stops. Very comfortable and safe bus, despite the narrow road.
    Views are amazing. I didn’t stop along the road as I had to be in Yangon the day after, but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.
    You need to have some copies of your passport (id and visa pages) with you. Officers checked our documents 6/7 times.

  6. bazon 11 Nov 2013 at 4:57 am

    This is great news.
    Anybody knows if it is possible to enter with your own transport?(motorcycle)

  7. Chris Backeon 17 Feb 2014 at 11:01 am

    Happy to share the following after my recent visa run (February 16, 2014):

    ~Chiang Mai to Mae Sot (then crossing to Myawaddy at Rim Moei) is fairly
    straightforward – about a 5 1/2 – 6 hour bus ride to Mae Sot, guesthouses within walking distance of the bus terminal.

    ~My wife and I just went for the day – the same day ‘visa’ being $10 USD or 500 baht (a 50% mark-up for the privilege of using a more local currency). Must be out before 5pm. You will need to leave your passport with the powers-that-be, and your passport will be stamped.

    ~You *do not* need kyat – Thai baht is universally accepted.

    I’m working on a more extensive post on my own blog, so if you’re looking for more, keep an eye out there :)

  8. bulcote cowboyon 16 Mar 2014 at 12:26 am

    Land travel – by bus – all the way to and from Kawthoung via Myeik, Dawei, Ye, Mawlemyine etc is definitely now possible. The beaches of the Dawei peninsula are well worth stopping for. See here .. http://myohmyanmar.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/no-need-to-archipelago-try-the-beaches-on-the-dawei-peninsula/

  9. Coming to America - On Global Trailson 18 Jun 2014 at 4:26 pm

    […] on a bus to Bangkok. From there it’s up north to enter Myanmar at the Mae Sot border crossing which has recently opened up for tourists. With maybe a cultural stop in Ayutthaya or Sukothai in […]

  10. Danny Jacobon 20 Jun 2014 at 6:47 am

    #baz: It is totally possible to enter with your own car and motor. But it requires the special documents pre-processed.

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