About this post: In January 2019, I embarked on a journey from Thailand to India by road, crossing Myanmar over land. This road trip took me from Chiang Mai via Myanmar to Manipur, without boarding any flights. The India to Thailand road route is marked by stunning scenery, misty sunrises, old temples and rice paddies. In this detailed post, I talk about why doing India to Thailand by road should be on your bucket list.
When I got asked to conduct a digital marketing workshop for responsible tourism businesses in India in January 2019, I felt like an imposter. Despite being vegan, choosing eco-friendly accommodations and cutting out most single-use plastic from my lifestyle, I’m extremely guilty of the carbon footprint of the many international flights I take every year. So I began 2019 with a pledge – to cut down flying as much as possible. The only challenge was that I was living as a digital nomad in Chiang Mai and needed to travel to India to conduct the workshop.
So to keep my pledge, I set out on an epic land journey – using public transport – from northern Thailand, through the length and breath of Myanmar, to Manipur in the remote northeast of India. Over a fortnight, I took many buses, drove an electric bike, kayaked on rice paddies, went on a crazy motorbike adventure along narrow winding mountain roads, took a canoe and hiked.
Even as I crossed the land border from Thailand to Myanmar and changed my greetings from sawadeekha to minglaba, I had no idea what Myanmar would offer me. Much to my surprise and delight, my land route was filled with karst mountains, misty sunrises, ancient temples, rhododendron forests and the tribal wonders of Chin State. I’m now convinced that long land journeys are infinitely more adventurous than hopping on a plane – and better for the planet too.
The road route I took from Thailand to India
My road route from Thailand to India: Chiang Mai – Mae Sot – (Thailand-Myanmar border crossing) – Myawaddy – Hpa An – Yangon – Bagan – Mindat – Chin State countryside – Kale – Tamu – (Myanmar-India border crossing) – Moreh – Imphal
I travelled by a mix of VIP and regular buses, mini vans and shared taxis. The VIP buses from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot and Yangon to Bagan (overnight) can be booked online. It’s best to book the rest atleast a day or two in advance, through your guest house. Except for the Myawaddy – Hpa An and Moreh – Imphal stretches, the roads were excellent.
Myanmar E-visa for Indians
Scoring an e-visa for Myanmar was a breeze, even on an Indian passport. I applied online, and received it within 24 hours. The visa is valid for 90 days, and allows you to stay in Myanmar for 30 days.
Border crossing: Thailand to Myanmar
Even though Thailand has many borders with Myanmar, the one I chose to cross was the Mae Sot – Myawaddy border. If you cross any further north, in the Shan State, you can’t journey into the rest of Myanmar by land because of military restrictions.
The green bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot dropped the handful of passengers going to the border at an intersection before heading into Mae Sot town, from where we all shared a big tuk-tuk to the Thai border, got stamped out, walked with our luggage across the Thailand-Myanmar friendship bridge and entered Myanmar. At the immigration office in Myanmar, I got stamped in easily, no questions asked.
While most travellers then haggled with a shared taxi to continue on to Hpa An, I opted to stay at an Airbnb in the border town of Myawaddy, hoping to break the journey. In retrospect, I’d rather have endured the long ride and missed out on the scenery, for Myawaddy is dusty, busy, un-walkable and doesn’t really offer anything.
Border crossing: Myanmar to India
There are two options to cross into India from Myanmar. The first is the Tamu – Moreh border, which I crossed from Chin State in Myanmar to Manipur in India. Moreh is a 3 hour drive from Imphal. The second option is the Rikhawdar – Zokhawthar border, from Chin State to Mizoram. I heard that this one features winding roads and welcoming tribal folk on both sides, but I didn’t end up taking it because given my time constraints and the poor connectivity in this part of northeast India, the journey further would become much longer.
The crossing from Myanmar to India takes longer because you’re entering army territory. After getting stamped out from Myanmar and walking across the Indo-Myanmar friendship bridge, I had to walk about 500m to reach Indian immigration. My passport was stamped and my luggage checked manually at customs. Ordinarily, I would’ve had to catch an auto to Moreh town and wait on the road for a shared taxi, but I lucked out and got a ride with an Indian-Burmese family heading to Assam.
While in the taxi, we stopped thrice again – at an army checkpoint to enter our passport details, at a second checkpoint to deposit a passport photocopy (carry one with you) and at a third checkpoint to have our bags checked again. Phew. The army personnel were really friendly and fun to chat with though!
India to Thailand Road Route: Things to know before you go
- While crossing the border from Myanmar to India, I learnt that this border can be used by anyone with a valid visa or residence for India. Visa on arrival is not available here though.
- Being an army border, I heard that it is closed at sensitive times, like 3-4 days around India’s Republic Day. There’s no way to find out until you get there though!
- The roads in Myanmar are fabulous, but unfortunately potholed and under construction on the Indian side. Ironic, because India built the roads on the other side of the border! With the many checkpoints and broken roads on the Indian side, the journey to Imphal or even a restaurant to get food is a long one. Stock up on snacks and water. There’s a small shop in the Indian immigration complex to buy sweet lemon tea.
- Crossing over from Myanmar to India is a bit of a culture shock – with cows and trash lining the streets, incessant honking and broken roads – but if you manage to keep your cool, you’ll end up meeting some amazing people!
Highlights of Myanmar
Hiking in the karst mountains of Hpa An: Although I landed up in Hpa An to break the long journey from the border to Yangon, I was delighted to find a small town on the banks of the Irrawaddy, surrounded by dramatic karst hills, home to peaceful pagodas and friendly ethnic hill tribes. I can’t wait to go back there and slow travel as a digital nomad!
Exploring the lost treasures of Bagan: It was one thing to lose myself among the centuries’ old temples of Bagan on my e-bike, quite another to discover them with a passionate female local guide from Three Treasures – hanging out at a permaculture farm, visiting a library made with recycled plastic and talking candidly about our lives over a misty sunset.
A motorbike adventure in Chin State: I went on a 3-day motorbiking adventure with Uncharted Horizons through some truly uncharted territory in Chin State. We rode on narrow winding mountain tracks, through blooming rhododendron forests, to Chin villages where elderly women still have facial tattoos and smoke cheroots (pipes), having some truly unforgettable encounters.
I had originally planned to travel to southern Rakhine State – undisturbed by the conflict in northern Rakhine State – to spend time at Arakan Eco Lodge. But the detour was too long and my time too short, but it’s good to have this among many reasons to go back!
Is it ethical and safe to travel to Myanmar in 2019?
A daring motorbike adventure through Chin State in Myanmar
A responsible travel guide to Myanmar
The secret to finding vegan food in Myanmar