Travelling between India, Myanmar, and Thailand has become much simpler since the India–Myanmar–Thailand trilateral (IMT) highway has opened. For a backpacker, this has many advantages as flight journeys consume a large part of the budget. This easier and budget-friendly travel option was the initial reason that led me to plan my cross country itinerary.
My heart raced as I stood at Tamu checkpoint for the first time as I was planning to cross not one but two international borders in the next 20 days. Tamu immigration counter looked as laidback as one can imagine. And even though all the paperwork was in place, I was worried about being denied entry across the border.
The paperwork process
Attaining a visa for Myanmar is easy when you are entering the country through land. You are expected to apply for the visa online and share the details of the point from where you plan to enter the country. If you are travelling from or via India you have to mention the Moreh-Tamu border and if you are entering from Thailand then you need to specify the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border in your application.
Paperwork for Thailand is a bit more complex as the visa on arrival is only available for travellers who present accurate details of their arrival and departure from any of the airports within the country. And for long-stay visas (more than 15 days) travellers can directly contact the embassy. All details have to be presented in the application, for example – the date and point of your arrival and departure. You are also expected to present a proper and detailed itinerary of your travels along with the visa request form. Thailand has also made the visa on arrival free of cost for all air travellers. As a first-timer, I applied for my visa through a travel agent in Delhi and luckily my visa permit arrived in 10 days.
Finally August arrived and I was all set for my journey. One needs to be prepared for the road ahead and my advice to travellers is to carry the following documents - visa for both Myanmar and Thailand. Keep all your approved letters (by the Thai Embassy) and itineraries safely, passport with a minimum of six months' validity, travel insurance, and all your return tickets. And if you plan to self-drive between these three countries then you would require an international license and a few driver permits.
First border crossing
I took a flight from Kolkata and arrived in Guwahati on a rainy August morning. It poured throughout my journey from Shillong to Kohima, the capital of India's northeastern state of Nagaland. I decided to halt in Nagaland’s capital and spend some time at the homestay where I devoured the best Naga pork dish of my life. After the hearty lunch, I took a shared tempo-traveller (a minibus) to Imphal followed by another shared taxi to Moreh – a town in Manipur. After spending a day at a local hotel in this border town, I made my way to the India-Myanmar Friendship Gate 1 and got clearance from the Indian immigration centre.
After a wait of over 20 minutes, an official cleared my papers and I was all set to enter Myanmar. Not many tourists or public transport services were passing on this route because of the heavy rainfall. Luckily, I was offered a lift by a generous Tamil person who belonged from a family of second-generation Tamils living in Tamu. Tamil people arrived in Myanmar during the British era to work at the rubber plantations. Many stayed behind and now have flourishing businesses in Yangon and Mandalay. The food culture of Myanmar is widely influenced by the Tamil population.
There is something about crossing international borders on foot that makes the journey more exciting. As a backpacker, it gives an assurance that the money saved on the flights can be spent on better meals and buying some nice souvenirs for family and friends.
August is known as the off-season in South East Asia as the rains come lashing down and the chances of flash floods are very high. Because of which my visit to Inle Lake - a freshwater lake located in the Nyaungshwe Township, part of Shan Hills in Myanmar was cancelled. And in Bagan, I didn’t spot any of the famous hot air balloons either. I also missed the chance to visit the caverns and caves of Hpa-An, Myanmar because the caves were closed.
In Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, there are numerous new restaurants, bars, and shops. The city remains fixed on Shwedagon Paya, an awe-inspiring golden Buddhist monument. Close to it are beautiful parks and lakes. Then there's downtown, its pavements one vast open-air market, which is home to some of the most impressive colonial architecture in all Southeast Asia.
From Yangon, I journeyed to Myawaddy and by day 10 I found myself in Mae Sot which is among the most culturally diverse cities in Thailand. Day 11 brought me to Chiang Mai - the laid-back city of artisans and academics is known for its enduring northern Thai (also known as Lanna) characteristics; for the quaint, walled quarter filled with temples and its guardian temple-crowned mountain believed to be mystical.
Post Chiang Mai, I ended up spending two additional days in Bangkok (because of my cancelled trip to Inle Lake and Hpa An from Myanmar’s itinerary). And if I had a few more days in hand, I would have hopped on a bus to Siem Reap in Cambodia.
I had great plans to extend and continue this journey in March 2020, wherein I planned to cover Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. But you can already guess how that turned out.
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