Our Visit to Thailand was longer than planned, and we ended up staying for 26 days. Now it has begun to look like we are a bit in hurry to manage to get through North America still during summer – We are Finns that are afraid of winter.
Next up was Myanmar, a country number 35 for us together. We have read many positive things about Myanmar, seen beautiful images of the place, and heard of the conflicts between the ethnic groups. Other than that, the country has been a mystery to us.
Crossing the Mae Sot – Myawaddy border
There is a 420 meter bridge connecting the cities of Mae Sot (Thailand) and Myawaddy (Myanmar). The border crossing is quite much as expected. First you depart Thailand by visiting a booth for foreigners, where they check that you haven’t overstayed your visa, after which you get a stamp in your passport. We were told that occasionally the officials haven’t remembered to update the date, which would lead Myanmar officials to refuse access, so we checked that before continuing.
After departing Thailand it’s time to cross the bridge between the countries. On Myanmar side, the process gets a bit more chaotic. We had no idea, where we should go, but there was always someone pointing us the right way.
First we had to fill an arrival card, with the regular questions. Soon one new guy came to help us fill the form; he was very friendly, but in a hurry. We didn’t know what was his role, but believed he had something to sell us, and by helping us he tried to make us feel indebted to him. After getting the card partly filled (Laura didn’t manage to put in her visa number or planned duration of stay for example) he took our passports and said, that it’s enough and that we should follow him to booth number 7.
In the booth, there were some Chinese tourists and two friendly looking officials. We heard that the electricity was off, and the computers were not working, so everything had to be done manually. The salesman said, that we would need to go to a photocopy store to take copies from our passport and visa. Risto followed the guy to a nearby shop, where the documents were copied – the price was 10 TBH (0.3 EUR) per page times four. Now we returned to the immigration booth, where the officials took the copies, snapped photos of us with a cellphone, and gave back our passports and visas with stamps. That was it, we were now officially in Myanmar.
Myawaddy to Hpa-an
When entering to Myanmar, you can easily notice, how much poorer the country is than Thailand. The difference in GDP per capita is 5 to 1, and even with the purchase power parity 3 to 1. The experience was a bit similar, although much milder, to what Risto had experienced in 2008, when entering from Thailand to Poipet in Cambodia.
The guy that had “helped” us through the immigration, now wanted us to follow him. He led us to a shared taxi stand, where we could take a ride to Hpa-an for 270 baht or 12000 kyat per person (7 or 7.60 EUR without the ATM fees). After thinking for a while, we decided to accept the shared taxi. We felt the price was reasonable and we had no pre-paid sim and thus couldn’t check where and when the bus leaves and how much it costs.
Risto decided to withdraw 150 000 kyat (90 EUR) from a nearby ATM. Even though the we got notified about the possible fees, we believed there wouldn’t be any as the machine didn’t specify, how much it would be. Later we found out that it was 6500 kyat (4 EUR) – a bummer, but nothing serious.
Our taxi was a minivan for up to 7 people, where we saw a Japanese traveller waiting for more passengers. He had already sat there for an hour, and seemed thankful that we joined him. Soon enough a German girl came in, and we were ready to go. A positive surprise, as we were almost certain, that we would have to fill up all the seats.
The distance between the two cities are only 140 kilometers, yet the roads in Myanmar are in so bad shape, that it takes hours to get to Hpa-An. For us it was about 4 hours including 2 breaks.