Nov 14 2011
As of this month, there’s a direct flight to Burma from Phnom Penh with the option for VOA (visa on arrival). This is noteworthy because currently only flights on Myanmar Airways International from Cambodia and Guangzhou offer the possibility of VOA — if you’re travelling overland you’ll need to get a visa the old fashioned way.
But if you want to fly, Myanmar Airways International has a new Cambodia to Burma route — it’s a triangle that flies Phnom Penh to Rangoon to Siem Reap. This means that the flight from Phnom Penh to Rangoon is direct, but on the way back there’s an hour-long stop in Siem Reap.
I was lucky enough to be on the inaugural flight from Phnom Penh. The gate was mobbed with reporters and camera crews, flowers were being handed out to passengers and the flight left a celebratory 30 minutes late.
Flights run on Wednesdays and Saturdays with a 13:50 departure from Phnom Penh. The return trips leave Rangoon on the same days at 08:50. Tickets cost $285 and can be booked through any local travel agent. MAI has also recently added functionality to buy tickets online, but they are slightly more expensive (and charged in Thai baht).
As of right now, tickets do not seem to need to be booked too far in advance, but that may change once the route becomes more popular. When I booked my ticket, I was initially told the flight was fully booked and asked if I wanted to be waitlisted. The next day, I was allowed to purchase a ticket. So it’s worth trying the waitlist if you want to travel on a specific date, although this might have just been an issue on their first flight.
Most passengers chose to go with the visa on arrival option. VOA costs $30 in USD. If you work for an NGO, as a journalist or in any other similarly sensitive profession, it’s still best to get a visa in advance. The Phnom Penh Myanmar Embassy is one of the slowest embassies to grant visas — be prepared to wait a full 14 days from the time you drop off your passport and application — and even subtle attempts at bribery will not speed the process along.
The silver lining is that visas issued in Phnom Penh only cost $20. If you are travelling through Thailand, you can get your visa in Bangkok in two days, although it costs slightly more. Bring a letter showing proof of employment to speed the process along — and make sure it doesn’t say you’re an aid worker or writer.
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