Coming from: Mae Sot, Tak District, Thailand
Going to: Myawaddy, Kayin State, Myanmar
And back (#32).
Documents required: Passport, Myanmar visa (e-visa or physical visa). Thailand grants visa-free entry (30 days) to citizens of many countries. But caution! You can enter Thailand only twice per calendar year by land. Further entries require a visa.
Waiting time: 1-3 minutes per check (I crossed the border in both directions)
Distance from Bern: 24.456 km (entering Myanmar), 25.163 (re-entering Thailand)
Due to a number of reasons (see post on Myanmar’s land borders) I left my path of remote borders and opted for once for a “mainstream” border crossing: Mae Sot/Myawaddy is most accessible and most frequently crossed land border of Burma. But I liked it a lot! Here are five reasons for that:
- Most social border so far. I love travelling alone. But after three months of that, I started to miss a bit of company – South-East Asia had not been the most social place to travel so far. At this border, I got precisely that. From Hpa-An in Burma, I shared a taxi with an Italian/Spanish couple who had stayed at the same hotel, and it came as a big surprise that they knew a good friend of mine! As a result, we went to have a border beer in Myawaddy’s fantastic “River View” (see point 4). Less surprising but as pleasant was to meet two friends of a workmate – from my Swiss home canton – in Mae Sot’s expat classic Casa Mia.
- Friendly and efficient. After “Scambodia”, I appreciated the work of the border guards: No queues, few questions asked, no bribery – It almost felt like in Europe. The only downside: The lady which controlled my passport on the way back into Thailand checked whether I already had a Thai land border stamp in my passport, marked it with a (1) and wrote a (2) to the new stamp. This means: I will no more be able to enter Thailand by land in 2017. Burmese border checkpoint in Myawaddy
- “River View” in Myawaddy. A guest house, restaurant, and bar. “Border view” would be a more appropriate name, as it is located directly next to the “Friendship Bridge”, which links the two countries. River View offers breakfasts (on my way into Burma) and cheap, cool beer (on my way into Thailand) with a great panorama onto the border: River, legal and illegal crossings, the markets on both sides… A dream for a border tourist!
- Obviously illegal border crossings. Illegal border crossings happen everywhere and are much more adventurous than all my border tourism. Nobody does that for fun, and it would not be easy to join them anyway, since it happens in secrecy. Not so in Myawaddy/Mae Sot: In a distance of about 200 meters north and south of the “Friendship Bridge”, boats cross the border river – in plain sight of the border guards! On the Burmese side there is even a policeman monitoring the proceedings. Apparently, locals are allowed to go uncontrolled into the immediate border area, and even expats sometimes cross from Mae Sot into Burma for some casino gambling. That system works: On both sides there are several checkpoints with thorough ID controls on the way from the border towns towards the respective capitals. And here, illegal border-crossers are not supposed to be let through.
- Plenty to see and observe. The area is a sightseeing Eldorado for a border tourist. There are border markets on both sides of the “Friendship Bridge”, the typical street with money changers in Myawaddy, a strange “Westernmost Point” monument on the Thai side (but it is clearly not the westernmost point of Thailand), another “Burmese Market” in downtown Mae Sot, boats crossing the border illegally, a lot of refugee camps where people from Burma’s Karen State live – not to speak of more classical sightseeing spots such as diverse temples and mosques. But there is no beauty in it: Both border towns are rather ugly places. Thailand drives on the left, Burma on the right. In the middle of the „Friendship Bridge“, the driving direction changes.
Transport: Mae Sot’s bus station is located between the border (4 km) and the town centre (3 km), next to the little airport. It has links all over Thailand, among others daily morning and night departures to Bangkok (VIP bus around 600 Baht). In Myawaddy, shared taxis leave for Mawlamyine and Hpa-An (ca. 10.000 MMK and 4-5 hours each) leave during the morning from the main road just in front of the border checkpoint. There are buses for Yangon and other destinations. Tickets are sold in several shops in side streets on the left of the main street (coming from Thailand), and the buses also leave from there – mostly eiter early in the morning or in the evening (overnight).
Accommodation: Both Myawaddy and Mae Sot have a number of hotels and guesthouses. I personally liked the River View guesthouse in Myawaddy for its border views. And I recommend Picturebook Guesthouse in Mae Sot, where you can find a map of Liechtenstein.
Food: Casa Mia in Mae Sot is an expat classic – cheap and really good. There are plenty of other options in both border towns.
Money exchange: I didn’t see money changers on the Thai side, but there are certainly options. The options are more obvious in Myawaddy, where the main street is lined with money change booths which accept quite a wide range of currencies. But watch out! No rates are on display, and some stalls offer really bad ones. 10 EUR I was first offered 11.000 Kyat immediately after the border crossing, but later I found a place which gave 15.700!