I know this site doesn't cover Burma but I hoped someone out there could give me some advice. I would like to visit Burma this February in order to evaluate the state of Buddhism there. Plane tickets from Bangkok to Rangoon are expensive and I'd much rather go through the Mae Sot border crossing from Thailand if possible. I've read that the border crossings sometimes close unexpectedly depending on the political situation. How real is this possibility? Does anyone have experience with the Thailand/Burma border crossings and travelling in Burma in general?
As far as I know, you can cross into Burma from Thailand at several land crossings, however you are not able to travel beyond the town you cross into.
There is at least one exception ... possibly two. The following was updated in September of this year. I'll put the reference at the end ...
>> Before 2006 this used to be quite easy at MaeSai/Tachileik in the North and Ranong/Kawthoung in the South. I left Myanmar at Tachileik/Mae Sai in 2003 and 2005 without problems.
Following the coup in Thailand in September 2006 regulations became more restricted and it is more complicated now.
To use these border crossings you now need a permit by the state travel agency Myanmar Travels and Tours (MTT) in Yangon. It costs around 20$ US and takes up to 2 weeks. You can apply in person at their office in Yangon near Sule Pagoda or use a travel agent. Its easier if you want to leave the country that way, if you want to enter Myanmar you have to get the permit from abroad, which could be possible with the help of a travel agent. Additionally you need a proper 28-day tourist visa issued by a Myanmar embassy. You cannot get visa and permit at the border!
Travelling from Tachileik to central Myanmar is not possible all the way overland. You have to take a domestic flight from Tachileik or Kengtung to Heho or Mandalay as the road from Kengtung to Taunggyi is off-limits for foreigners because of security concerns.
The situation is similar in the south. You can not travel all the way overland and need to take boats for some parts of the journey.
There are no other crossings from Thailand to Myanmar from where you can travel inside the country. It is not possible at Mae Sot or the Three Pagoda Pass.
My response was cut-off! Here's the missing part ...
The reference page for above ...
I have traveled in several areas of Burma and it remains at the top of my list of best places I've had the honour to travel in. You should find Buddhism alive and well there, and everywhere. You'll be knocked out!
I didn't think that my flight to Yangon from Bangkok was all that expensive. I paid around $150 CDN. You might want to look into the cost of flights between Chiangmai and Mandalay. Might be less expensive, but I really don't know.
Good luck, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions about travel there.
Thank you for the info. I do appreciate it.
So you recommend flying? Now I'm considering flying into Mandalay one-way. From there, I would go south over land, pick up the border permit in Yangon and keep heading south via land and sea all the way down to the Kawthoung/Ranong crossing back into Thailand. Do you think the authorities will allow me to enter without a scheduled departure flight? If so, any advice for achieving this journey in about a month's time?
Can you tell me a little about general travel in Burma - i.e. bus, taxi, train, boat/ferry, rental car? I've traveled extensively in Thailand and have also visited Cambodia. How do Burma's travel networks/quality compare to those countries? How widely spoken is English and/or Thai?
Aside from the major Buddhist sites, seeking out small temples and villages is a priority for my travel. Can you suggest any place where I may find the opportunity to speak candidly with monks and locals about Buddhism, local folk religion, meditation and life?
Thank you kindly,
I'm happy to gab away for ages about traveling in Burma. It's probably better if I got your e-mail address rather than use this forum. If it's okay with you, send me your e-mail address. Or, if you're not comfortable with that, perhaps with your permission, Somtam could send your address to me? Or, I'm fine with him sending you mine.
But for now ...
- Yes, I think that it is fine to come into the country without an onward ticket. It's not uncommon for people to fly into Mandalay and fly out of Yangon, buying their ticket inside the country.
- I met several people trying to go south overland when I was in Mawlamyaing. None of them made it past Thanbyuzayat. One particular German fellow had tried this on 7 separate trips to Burma and had failed each time. But on this particular occasion he was making headway. He was flying back to Yangon to get a permit that would take him as far as Dawei, but no further. He was going to take it, and from Dawei he would try to catch a cargo ship that would take him to the Thai border. This was because overland travel from Dawei (Tavoy) to Kawthoung was completely prohibited. No idea if he made it or not. Also, because it was taking him so long to get his permits, if he'd been stopped from going any further in Dawei, he would have had to go back to Yangon. And the only way he would have been able to make it back to Yangon to fly out before his EXTENDED visa expired, he would have had to fly from Dawei to Yangon.
Things may have changed since then except the speed at which things happen. There is only one way to find out. But I do think that if you really want to see this amazing country, you will not be able to go from the north to the south in the time that your visa allows, even if you extend it. And, if you do, you will miss a lot of very special places.
That's all for now. Cheers.
No need to swap email addresses -- as you'll see I've added a new section to the forum covering discussion about Burma -- that way, more readers, thinking of visiting Burma, will be able to share the knowledge -- so Tilapia, feel free to gab away to your heart's content!
>> Can you tell me a little about general travel in Burma - i.e. bus, taxi, train, boat/ferry, rental car? I've traveled extensively in Thailand and have also visited Cambodia. How do Burma's travel networks/quality compare to those countries?
Hmmm ... why do my messages keep getting truncated? I'll try again ...
Generally, travel is easy, inexpensive, usually slow, and not always comfortable. There is a bare skeleton of a transport infrastructure, but compared to almost every other SE Asian country, even Cambodia, it is primitive. Main highways and roads outside of the main cities and towns are usually narrow strips of asphalt, and during the daytime they are often busy with bullock carts and bicycle riders. This means that traffic moves slowly. Overall, some sort of transport is available going to every part of the country that is open to travel. It's not always convenient, easily found, fast, or comfortable, but there is always some kind of transport available.
Bus travel - Buses are expected to breakdown, with the number of problems being proportional to the distance of the trip. Most are not made for westerner-sized people, so they tend to be very cramped and they are always crowded. The main bus terminal in Yangon can be a nightmare for anyone with little time and/or patience. It is about 30 km outside of town and therefore requires a taxi ride out there. There are bus companies, however, that will pick you up at your hotel, their offices, or at a travel agent's office. You need to sort this out when you're buying your ticket. Tickets are best purchased at travel agencies, or at your guest house or inn. At least, that was the best way to get them when I was there. Most of the buses are run by private companies.
When buying a ticket, ask if it leaves, or arrives in the City Centre of Yangon.
Taxis - I don't recall seeing any metre taxis anywhere in the country, so a fare has to be negotiated before getting into one. I doubt that this has changed, but there may be someone out there who has newer info. Make sure you take a good supply of U$1 and U$5 bills if you plan to take taxis often. Most are air conditioned (hopefully it works), and in fair to poor condition. Because of the lack of transport infrastructure, lack of speed, dubious quality of buses, degree of discomfort, and the large distances between many of the more popular places, it is very common for people who are going in the same direction to hire a taxi for 1,2,3 or 4 weeks. When one considers the advantages of this, it is money well spent. You negotiate and pay one price ... there are no additional costs for fuel, repairs, food or accommodations for your driver. For the entire time, you have transport at your beckoning call, at any time of the day or night. You have a translator and tour guide. You are able to stop when and where you like, and as often as you like. It is, perhaps, the best and most convenient way to get around in the country providing the roads aren't washed out.
Taxis can always be arranged through your guest house or hotel/inn.
Trains - I only took one train, and it was fantastic!!! It was slow, rocky, very cool in the morning, but otherwise quite comfortable. If there was a downside, it was this ... it was a military (aka "government") train. The trains going N-S between Mandalay and Yangon are run by private companies, are unbelievably slow, and very inexpensive (but still better than buses for this particular route as you are able to get up and walk around, etc.) Trains going south from Yangon are military run.
There are some big advantages to taking the train. One is that you leave from the old Victorian station in the centre of Yangon. It's a beautiful old building completely free of digital signs, written signs, and pretty much any other kinds of signs. It's possible to walk to the station from most parts of central Yangon, as well as the area around the Schwedagon Paya, but be warned that if your train leaves early in the morning you'd better get there plenty early to ask where your train is. In 2003 there were no station porters, no information stand, no nothing. Also, we thought we'd get some food outside the station before leaving. Wrong! There were no food stands, no drinks, no fruit vendors, or anything else of the sort. However, after a few stops we were spoiled for choice with regards to foods from vendors coming onto the train, and people coming to the windows at the lovely little stations where the train stopped.
I don't think that the train was able to go above 30km/hr without verging on tipping over. The cars are from the British era and appeared to have had no maintenance since that time. Being foreigners paying a premium (U$17 for a 10 hr trip) we were offered the best seats on the train. First class in the centre of the car. It was a great chance to meet and greet locals, as well.
Taking the train really made me feel as if I'd stepped back in time. Highly recommended.
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