Things to Know
- Your visa to Myanmar needs to be arranged in advance, either through eVisa or at an embassy
- If you’ll be arriving in the evening and heading into Myanmar, you’d be best to stay in Mae Sot, not Myawaddy, unless you have your accommodation booked in advance
- Hotels in Myanmar cannot accept foreign guests without a special permit, unlike the rest of southeast Asia, so book a day or two in advance or be very patient (some friends spent over two hours searching in Myawaddy for a place to stay)
- The crossing itself is very easy, it only took us 15 minutes in either direction
- There are ATMs and money changers all over Myawaddy and Mae Sot
- Transportation is easily arranged upon arrival in Myawaddy or Mae Sot
From Mae Sot to Myawaddy
Moving on from our week in Bangkok, we caught a bus from Mo Chit Bus Terminal to the Thai side of the border with Myanmar in the town of Mae Sot. We had been cautioned that Myawaddy on the Myanmar side had very few guesthouses, and a few friends we met in south Thailand got stuck searching for hours for a place to sleep. Myanmar only allows foreigners to stay at guesthouses that have a special license, leaving non-Burmese on a hunt for accommodation unless they’ve booked in advance in many towns.
We decided to book into Mae Sot for a night even though we arrived early in the morning so we could see a nearby waterfall and enjoy one last day in Thailand before heading to Myanmar. One of the first things we noticed is that Mae Sot is not a typically small border town, but a decently large town of 120,000. Many of the locals are Burmese (or Myanmar which they prefer, but can be confusing when specifying the people, country, or language, which all use the same name), which you can see in the typical Burmese face paint (Thanaka – which also functions as sunscreen), and the very different look of a part of the population.
With a day to spend in Mae Sot, we decided to visit a nearby waterfall that was supposed to be nice. The owner of our guesthouse drove us into town where we rented motorbikes for the day. The ride from Mae Sot center to Pha Charoen waterfall took nearly an hour, and had us driving on busy roads and down a highway nicknamed the Death Highway. When we arrived we signed in at the visitors center, and admission was free.
A short walk led us to the waterfall, which is a beautiful terraced falls, and was also full of local visitors. We walked up a path on the left of the falls and made it to the top, where Sissy and her friend that had joined us hopped into the freezing water to cool off. If you decide to visit and want to have a quieter experience, we’d suggest heading to the falls early in the morning to beat the crowds. While the falls were beautiful, there wasn’t a lot else to do in the area, so we began our long ride back, planning to stop at a second nearby waterfall on the way toward Mae Sot.
During the drive back a car pulled out onto the freeway in front of us, and immediately pulled off the road and directly toward us as we passed. I honked our horn and braked, but the truck continued to pull toward us and off the road until I was forced to slam on the brakes, causing us to fall and slide. The truck stopped, looked back, and immediately took off, likely not wanting anything to do with a crash that they had caused. Over three months of riding motorbikes often in Southeast Asia, we finally were in our first accident. Luckily Sissy landed on top of me, and I was just a bit bloody and was unsure if my leg was broken. An ambulance conveniently drove by a few minutes later and bandaged me up, and x-rays at the Mae Sot International Hospital the next day were less than $30 US, and confirmed I had a contusion, but not a broken femur.
The next day we crossed the border into Myanmar, having obtained our 28 day tourist visa in Bangkok for $45 USD (for three day turnaround time, cost increases if you need it faster). Checking out of Thailand and into Myanmar was exceptionally easy, minus the whole walking and carrying things part due to my injured leg and skinless right palm. We had lost our exit papers for Thailand as we kept them in our passports for safekeeping, and hotels take your passports to check in – during that process they disappeared – but it was no problem, we just filled out a new one to leave. Leaving Thailand there’s a bridge that’s a few hundred meters long, and then you’ll enter Myanmar, where a couple minutes of paperwork allows you access to Myawaddy.
Walking into Myawaddy we were greeted by a local bus ticket salesman who arranged a minibus to take us to Mawlamyine, a town known for having the longest reclining Buddha in the world, among other things. He exchanged our leftover baht at the official exchange rate, had us wait for a few more travelers to join, and we were off on the five hour ride to Mawlamyine. There were tons of minibuses and the cost to get to Mawlamyine was 10,000 kyat (pronounced chaht), so there was no need to worry about booking any transportation prior.
Once we arrived in Mawlamyine, we were dropped off at Pann Su Wai, which was an ordeal for the minibus driver to find, despite it being on the main street in town near the waterfront. We used Maps.Me to show the driver where to go, and finally arrived at our fully booked guesthouse. Mawlamyine was also a hassle for many foreigners to find accommodation, with plenty of people being turned away since most budget guesthouses were full, so book beforehand! Read up on our time in Mawlamyine in our next post!