Mae Sot to Myawaddy visa run
This is meant to be an informative post about my visa run from Thailand to Myanmar via the Mae Sot/Myawaddy border. To read about my thoughts an experiences in Myanmar please go here.
So as any travelers know visas only last for so long. When your visa is due to expire and you want or need to spend longer in the country you will need to do a border bounce or visa run depending on the circumstance. In my case, I needed to cross a border in order to get 90 more days on my Non-Immigrant B visa for Thailand. Living in Khampaeng Phet province I had a few choices. I could go to the Myanmar border at Mae Sot or I could go to the Laos border crossing at Vientiane. On a map, the former was 3-4 hours away while the latter was 15+. Not wanting to spend the majority of my extended weekend on a train, I thought the Myanmar option would be better. Unfortunately there was an infuriating lack of information about the Myanmar border so choosing this was a gamble. Luckily it paid off and I am here to pass on my experience to those looking to do the same.
– You should not need any prior visa to get into Myawaddy for the day. Just your passport will do.
– You will be charged 500 baht (half as much as a Laos visa at Vientiane from what I understand) for the same-day visa and they will keep your passport.
– You will get the opportunity to explore a part of Myanmar which is vastly different from the city just across the border.
Disclaimer: This is solely based on my own experience and I cannot guarantee the conditions for Myanmar’s border will remain the same.
First off, I combed the internet for relevant information and found a sole blog post with any information of use. After reading it a few concerns still remained. I had no way of knowing if the border was still open given the tumultuous politics of Myanmar and I had no idea if I needed or could obtain a visa ahead of time.
My next step was to call the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok to confirm the border was at least open. At this point I learned the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok was closed. I resolved to try the D.C. Embassy who told me I would need a visa ahead of time and could not tell me if the border was open. However upon asking some other teachers I heard multiple success stories about doing border runs to Myanmar without a prior visa. I decided to take a gamble and go for it.
Getting to Mae Sot
For me, I took a minibus from my small village to Khampaeng Phet city where I caught a bus to Tak, from Tak, buses to Mae Sot leave every hour or so to Mae Sot until about 17:00. I got on one without trouble and relaxed for the 1.5 hour ride through the mountains. This bus costs 78 baht. As I understand it there are buses to/from Chiang Mai and Bangkok to Mae Sot at least twice a day as well. The city is small and easy to walk around although there are motorbike taxis everywhere if you prefer.
Finding a place to stay
From the bus station you’ll want to go towards the Zee Guest House and walk down the road to the right. Follow that road until you hit the main road and turn right again. Walk about 5-10 minutes and you will start to see a few guesthouses. The first 3 I checked were all full but I kept walking and found the Phannu House. A nice place with air-conditioned rooms from 400 baht. They also have rooms with fans from 300 baht. If you want something cheaper it is easy to keep walking until you find the Smile Guest House. The walk along this road will take you past many good food places and convenience stores.
Getting to the border
The next morning I was able to catch a motorbike taxi to the border which is 5-7 kilometers away. You can tell the driver “Myanmar” which he will likely understand or you can ask for “Rim Moei” which is a market right on the border. The proper price for a motorbike taxi is 80 baht and the proper price for a tuk-tuk is 100 baht.
Go on the left side of the road at the entrance to the bridge and shimmy past the lines of Myanmar passport holders down to window number 9, which is for foreign passport holders. The agents were very helpful and friendly and will tell you where to go. After getting stamped out of Thailand you will take a walk across the bridge and have your first real view of Myanmar. Note: several people have told me they are cracking down on visa runs so it might be a good idea to tell the border police you are going to shop/explore/say you’ve been in Myanmar or something if they ask.
Once you’re on the other side you will need to cross the road because everything is now switched back to the right side. You will see a door for foreign arrivals and again people will be helpful and friendly. Upon entering this room I waited with bated breath to see if they would let me pass without a proper visa. My concern was for nothing as he took my 500 baht and handed me a one day “visa” in exchange for my passport.
I assume at this point I could have gone back and gotten my extension without trouble. However I can definitely recommend exploring the town a little as it is full of friendly people, good food and a few nice sites. I would definitely recommend checking out Shwe Muay Wan. It has a great art exhibit depicting the life of Buddha and an awesome temple on top of a giant crocodile. There’s enough to do or see for a few hours. To read about my own experience click here.
Return to Thailand
As of January 1st, 2015, you have until 8pm to before the border closes for the evening to get back to the bridge. Also Myawaddy time is 30 minutes behind Mae Sot so if you’re like me and didn’t bother to change your clock you have until 8:30. You will likely not want to spend this long in Myawaddy so this should not be a problem. Even though there is an office that says foreign departures on the left you will want to ignore this and go back to the same office you dropped your passport at. Walk over the bridge again and go to window 8 to get stamped back into Thailand. You will need to fill out an arrivals card again. If everything goes smoothly, you will have been to Myanmar and have 15, 30 or 90 more days to stay in Thailand.
Overall I would definitely recommend this crossing for a visa run. The cities of both Mae Sot and Myawaddy are great places to see and explore and the crossing itself could not have been more simple. If you’re living in the western part of Thailand or even near Bangkok this is definitely a good place to consider.