Jan & Karina - www.nie-mehr-radlos.com
cycling around the world since 2011, so far 21 countries and 32.000 km
writing about our experience cycling through Myanmar, April/May 2014
We cycled from Thailand via Myanmar to India by land! Just some months ago, when we were investigating and applying for the visas, we wouldn't think it would be possible, as so many websites were telling us, it is impossible... But yes, it's possible, we did it!
Our Route: Myawaddy - Kawkareik - Hpa-An - Kyaithyo - Bago - Yangon - Pyay - Magway - Mt. Popa - Bagan - Pakokku - Monywa - Kalewa - Tamu, about 1700 km.
Myawaddy-Kawkareik and Monywa-Kalewa were mountainous, the rest of the route was mostly flat. Landscape-wise the area around Hpa-an and Mt. Popa were the most beautiful and interesting. From Pyay northwards it's flat, dry and dusty.
In our opinion you don't travel to Myanmar because of the countryside, but because of the people. The people are so friendly, interested and curious, open for foreigners, smiling, honest and pure. In no other country we encountered so many pure smiles, coming directly from the heart. It's the land of golden smiles!
The roads were better than expected: mostly asphalted. Sometimes a pothole-labyrinth and a bit bumpy, as streets are 'handmade'. But we still had the worst road of our whole trip (32.000kms in 21 countries) in Myanmar: 70 km after Monywa, the road to Kalewa is a 120 km dirt road with big rocks, a lot of dust and quite steep climbs.
With a valid visa for Myanmar it is no problem to enter Myanmar by land from Thailand. For the visa application it's maybe useful to have a flight ticket reservation instead of telling to enter by bicycle, so you get the visa quicker (24h). On our visas there was no information about the entry point or means of transportation.
There are four borders open, but not all of them lead you very far into the country, so check before. We cycled over the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border, which was no problem at all. The whole way to Hpa-an (and also Moulmein) is permitted area, you just have some military checkpoints, where your passport details will be copied. Be aware of the changing road direction: 15 kms after Myawaddy until Kawkareik it's a one way road over the mountains. It changes direction every other day, at least that rule applies to cars. In April 2014 the traffic went westwards on the even days. We cycled the road on an uneven day, which was ok, but we do understand why it is probably wise to wait for the right day, as there're some blind and narrow stretches..
In Yangon we applied for the Special Permit, to cycle in the restricted area between Kalewa and Tamu, as well as for exiting Myanmar in Tamu. Our travel agency that applied for us was "Seven Diamond Express Travels Co., Ltd." (www.sevendiamondtravels.com). Don't go to the MTT (Myanmar Travel & Tours) office, they just tell you, you need to book a tour package and guide to enter the restricted area! Contact details of Seven Diamonds Travel - Yangon: Corner of U Wizaya Road & Damazedi Road (in front of CB Bank), No. 99 (B) 3rd Floor. Talk to Mr. Thit Lwin, [email protected] or Ms. Mar Swe, [email protected], both very competent and friendly. The application cost 100$/person (they maybe give a group discount, if more than 2 people apply). We needed: passport (they copy the personal details, visa, entry stamp), travel itinerary, money in cash. It took 1 week to get the permit (but can take also 2). They sent the permission letter to the immigration office in Tamu. We were in an area without internet, so couldn't receive the e-mail ourselves. Normally you should have a printout with you to show it at the immigration checkpoints in the restricted area (about 70kms before Tamu and in Tamu).
Cycling in the Restricted Area was no problem. We even stayed in an monastery for the night, because it's 150 km from Kalewa to Tamu, that we didn't make in a day. The police of the town just copied our passport details, as usually, and asked us if we had the permit to be here. The last 120 km to Tamu was the best of all roads we cycled in Myanmar, very smooth. And funnily we saw more English signs along this restricted road, than all over Myanmar.. If you don't have to, don't stay in Tamu's tourist hotel, it's expensive (10$/p) for a clean room, just 3h electricity and maybe wifi. Better directly cross the border to Moreh/India. We stayed in the hotel "Sangai Lodge", about 2 km after the border bridge on the left side. 100 Rupees (1,7$)/Person, clean rooms, friendly owner. Electricity 8-12h/day, cut offs are normal in India, then the hotel's generator runs 6h in the evening.
For Sleeping Places we mixed
- Tourist hotels (touristic cities)
- Camping. Find a spot at dusk, but let nobody see you. We never used flash lights. Be aware of thorns, we had various flat tyres!
- Monasteries (we gave donations), with always friendly monks and interested locals to get in touch with
- Invitations of families. 2 families invited us along the way, even though it's not allowed (we didn't tell the military when they asked). The stay with a 3rd family was even organized by a police officer as it was a remote area and no hotels around. In Yangon there are some Couchsurfing/Warmshowers contacts.
About Money: There's an ATM just after the border in Myawaddy, to get Kyats. Be prepared to pay 3000 to 5000 Kyats fee per transaction. If it ever doesn't work, there's an 'unofficial' possibility of changing Thai Baht in Burmese Kyat near the bank. Other ATMs you find all over the country in bigger cities. We just got money twice, but never had problems with empty automates or other issues. Dollars (beautiful, new, unfolded) we only used for paying the hotels (you get a better price in $), for everything else we used Kyats. The left over Kyats we exchanged into Rupees at Tamu's market (our exchange rate was around 1R for 15,4K), there are several money changers next to the Border Gate 2.
General Costs: Accommodation 4-11$/Person; Vegetarian Food/Restaurant 1000-2000K, Finger Food/Street 100-600K; Coffee 150-300K, Sugar Cane Juice 150-400K, Tea and Water out of 20l Water Canisters mostly for free! There's also water inside of clay pots all over Myanmar, provided for travelers, but we were not always sure about the origin..
To exit Myanmar at Tamu, at the Bridge Gate for foreigners, we just had to wait a little bit at the immigration office (just before the bridge) until the officials prepared all the papers and then stamped our visas with "Left on (Date)". Check if the date is correct (ours wasn't)! When you enter Moreh you find the immigration office (operated by the police) about 1km after the border at the left side of a bigger crossing. Don't believe anybody telling you, you get the entry stamp only in Imphal (we heard that twice!). Finally, they told us to register ourselves in Imphal at the Foreigner Registration Office (ask for CID (SB) Office), that's next to the Police Headquarters on Mahatma Gandhi Avenue/National Highway 39. They copied our names and printed a stamp inside the passport with the duration of our stay in Imphal. We don't know how important that was, and what would have happened if we wouldn't have done it, like other travelers..
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Greetings from India! Karina & Jan
I'm soooo happy to hear you can cross into India, I'll do that next year, and so I have the opportunity to go back to Myanmar which is indeed full of great people.
Did you say you were going to India when applying for the permit ?
How was it to cycle in this region of India which, some people say, is "unstable" ?
Have fun in India
We applied for the special permit in Yangon. Possibly you could arrange the permit from outside of the country, contact the Travel Agency for advice!
Cycling in Manipur and Nagaland is no problem so far. People told us to stay at the main highways to not get in trouble with paramilitary groups or head hunters, but that's possibly just rumors.. They also told us it's more secure since 1-2 years now. Camping is maybe not the best idea, as there're mines in the border area. And note that there is still always the possiblity of suddenly closed down areas, specially in Manipur. So keep updated when you travel there.
The people (mostly hill tribes) we met were all really friendly and trying to help us. We were invited by a famliy in an area where there aren't any hotels. In Imphal we got in touch with a very friendly bicycle club (Pedal Attack in Facebook).
What we do notice is, that people are not used to see foreign individual travellers, so sometimes they would stared at us instead of greeting. But that's understandable, isn't it?!
Greetings from Kohima/Nagaland
Karina & Jan
Do you still plan to cycle through Myanmar?
I am planning cycling trip through Myanmar and Laos, with fly in in Bangkok and going Myanmar after I get visa. Then moving North and getting out in Chiang Mai and entering Laos then.
I am planning to start in the end of November and will have 2 months for this route. And I am looking for smb to travel with at least on one of the legs.
Stay safe with your travels
Hello Karina and Jan,
Thank you for this informative post. What a fantastic news for overland travelers in Asia!
Thanks for that guys, I'm heading across Burma and into India now as well on the same route.
One update - a few weeks ago the Indian embassy in Bangkok stopped issuing 6 month double entry VISAs for India. You now get 3 month single entry and it starts from when you get the VISA, not when you cross the border. I was gutted! Obviously this might have consequences for those riding this route.
Steve - www.cyclingthe6.com
Hello Karina and Jan!
Thank you so much for the info!
I don't know if i ever get there but i just want to be part of this forum so i can get your news once in a while.
Keep going on wonderful people!
Enjoy The Miracle...
I crossed Burma in July. Here's some more advice I put together...
I am in China, thinking of crossing into MYanmar....as far as I know there is a chance of getting a visa in Kunming. BUt a Indian visa only in Rangun which is far away for a cyclist...
Is there a visa extension possible in Myanmar.
Did someone just recently crossed from China into Myanmar ?
I would love to get some up to date informations...
I live in Delhi, India. So, if you visit India, particularly Delhi, please let me know, and I'll love to host you, and if possible join you too for a part of your trip.
I'm heading for China next week, and also planning to go from Kunming to Myanmar (and then down to Laos). Actually I'm planning and organizing myself so, sorry I don't have the information yet. If I find out, I'll let you know! Maybe if you have more information you can let me know?
Have fun cycling!
thanks to your post, we are planning to cross Myanmar, but upside down, entering from India and exiting to Thailand. We contacted the agency you mention. Thanks so much for the tips. You were key to us deciding to go to Myanmar.
Daniel and Robin,
Dear Daniel and Robin!
Great to hear that :) Myanmar was one of our very special countries around the world. I'm sure you won't regret the desicion!
Enjoy cycling! Beginning in India is a though one... Have attention everywhere, ear plugs, breathing mask and a lot of patience!! ;)
Karina & Jan
just recently back home in Germany :)
Hello Jan and Karina!
Congratulations for your successful ending of your trip!
I was wondering if you or any one else in this forum has any info for crossing the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh.
I am planning to cross into Bangladesh from (near) Kolkata and go 'east' ...
I would like to continue east from Bangladesh... but... is it possible?
I would appreciate any info...
May you have an 'easy' 're-integration' into the 'routine everyday life' after such a long adventure...
Sorry, but information about crossing the border to/from Bangladesh we don't have. You should start your question as a new comment!
Thanks for the good wishes! We enjoy being and having a home and close to friends and family :)
For you all the best as well!
Karina & Jan
We want to get to China from Myanmar via the Muse border... Does anyone know of anyone who has done this route via bike/bus/ guide and was successful?
China / Myanmar Crossing
we crossed recently and it was all fine but it is an expensive option as you need a permit and we needed to hire a guide, meet him in Lashio and get a taxi to Muse.
We really wanted to get to China though so had no choice. Luckily we teamed up via a forum on warm showers with another cycling couple and we shared the costs.
There is still a certain amount of questions around whether you can cycle all the way to Muse... We think it is possible but didn't have time to try it. The only problem you might have would be 12km from Muse town there is a check point. Maybe you could cross after dark and get through. Or you could arrange to meet the guide at the checkpoint...
Here is our blog with the full story:
Good luck and let us know how you get on!! The guide is the biggest cost so if you can get round that it would be useful for others to know.
The permit takes 20 days to apply so you need to start arranging before you arrive into Myanmar...