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The Epic Land Journey from Thailand to India via Myanmar.

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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.

Also read: How Croatia Compelled Me to Rethink Travel Blogging

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Kayaking on the rice paddies of Hpa An, Myanmar.

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.

Also read: Myanmar Visa on an Indian Passport: A Quick and Easy Guide

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.

Also read: An Open Letter to Indian Parents: Let Your “Kids” Travel

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.

Also read: How I Manage Visas on My Indian Passport as I Travel Around the Globe

Border crossing: Thailand to Myanmar

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The border crossing from Mae Sot (Thailand) to Myawaddy (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.

Also read: 6 Months, 6 Countries: Epic Memories from Central America

Border crossing: Myanmar to India

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Entering India from Myanmar!

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!

Also read: Meet the Courageous Indian Woman Travelling the World Solo – on a Wheelchair

India to Thailand Road Route: Things to know before you go

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A VIP bus in Myanmar, with charging points and gorgeous scenery.

  • 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!

Also read: Travelling Abroad First Time? 10 Questions on Your Mind

Highlights of Myanmar

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A surreal sunrise in Bagan.

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!

Also read:
Myanmar Tourist Visa on an Indian Passport: A Quick and Easy Guide

Coming soon:
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

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45 Comments

  1. izumi and godfrey says

    We have chillin out here in our home, in rural Bali—waiting to hear when it’s possible and good to drive our Toyota Kijang from Bali to India…Shivya, what is your advice on this?, here in March 2019.? BTW, we have had a house in South India, travelled in Myanmar, motorcycled Thailand and Laos,etc

    • izumi and godfrey says

      Another BTW, we both are longtime vegans, left Japan to travel back in 2004, surfing and beachcombing places like the Andamans, Panama, BC, etc….

      • Shivya Nath says

        Wow, what an adventure you’re on! Hope our paths cross soon!

    • Shivya Nath says

      I guess you’ll have to travel some distance by ferry, but it would be such a fab adventure!

  2. Hey sista, that was my intention at first when I was in Myanmar wanting to get to India. However, everything seemed so difficult to get the Indian visa in Mandalay (I gave up, it was too expensive). Then I talked to some people who strongly discouraged me from going to India because the borders were considered highly unsafe. Anyway, I entered Myanmar via Mae Sai (near Chang Rai) just like you but I was forced to fly to Mandalay because they told me it was not possible to travel by road because of the military. So I did, this was in 2015 so I guess things have changed since then. A local travel agent told me that I would never be able to buy a plane ticket at the airport without booking it in advance. As a new age person I did not believe her and managed to obtain a ticket in Tachilek. I then spent 2 weeks in a monastery near Mandalay and then proceeded to Yangon by bus. The city is chaotic and the noise pollution exactly the same as in India, namely unbearable! After that I ran back to Thailand by getting a bus to Mae Sot. People in Myanmar are very friendly and respectful and the place is incredibly beautiful it is very difficult to understand why all those army people. Great article, great stories: thank you for sharing!

    • Shivya Nath says

      There are military restrictions in the Shan State, which is why I chose to cross the Mae Sot – Myawaddy, from where there are no restrictions to travel by land. Which monastery did you spend time in?

      • I don’t remember the name. It was in the north west I believe. It’s a 2 hour drive from Mandalay. I think the name was Kyunpin or something like that. If I find the exact name I’ll tell you.

      • Yes, Kuynpin monastery. You can get there by river boat but you must arrange it in advance. They speak good English, excellent vegan and non vegan food. Clean individual private rooms. Many monks and nuns, locals and very few foreigners. They teach Vipassana meditation which I found great because they alternate the breathing meditation (like pranayama) with the walking meditation so you don’t get overwhelmed. Basically you meditate all day and only have short breaks for breakfast, lunch and for doing your laundry. I had a great time there!

  3. I forgot to ask you, do you have a vlog as well on You Tube? I love watching videos because images speak more than a thousand words…

  4. Truly it was not. When I thought of Thailand I always thought of visiting via a plane from Kolkata airport. But this article had injected an rush into my bloodstream and now I’m eager to do road trip of Myanmar & Thailand. I wanna have those windy rides alongside the rice paddies!

    • Shivya Nath says

      Super awesome, I’m sure you’ll love the adventure!

  5. Great post! I’ve wanted to travel to Myanmar for years, but I’m not sure about the current political situation. Really looking forward to your post about the ethics of travel in Myanmar.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Going to write about that soon. There’s no country in the world that isn’t plagued by / party to an ethical conflict. The one in Myanmar is terrible but I don’t think boycotting the country for its politics is the answer.

  6. Shivya, I can feel it , that there will be another book coming out at some time. Myanmar is the dream for me as a female , solo travelling buddhist photographer. I do not like to travel with a group for many reasons, yet I am told that for certain destinations I would need a guide. Any recommendations on that? Loved , loves your post.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Haha, I’m not so sure about that Cornelia, but we’ll see! I’m sure you’ll love all that Myanmar has to offer. I don’t think you need a guide in terms of safety and figuring your way around – atleast in most of the country I felt that way. But you might need a translator to have deeper conversations.

  7. Lydia says

    I prefer buses or trains over planes anytime! The good thing is that visiting several countries in Southeast Asia is super easy by bus (especially if you’re not squeezed for time). As for the roads in Myanmar, they’re not all like the nicely paved ones found in the touristic areas. The roads in the South of Myanmar (3 years ago) were really bad and unsafe taking hours just to cover a few kilometers.

    • Shivya Nath says

      Yeah, Southeast Asia has pretty decent bus infrastructure. I haven’t gone south of Myawaddy, but yeah, the road from Myawaddy to Hpa An was pretty bad. Amazing scenery though!

  8. What a beautiful post! Yes, it’s on my bucket list too. Lovely photography as usual.

    • Shivya Nath says

      You’ll love it Aprita; there’s so much to explore and take in!

  9. Srideep Das says

    Beautiful post! You’re experiences are inspiring! 🙂

  10. Hi Shivya,

    You always share to the world with something new and stunning places to go with travel hacks. Thank you so much for sharing the list of places to go in 2019.

    I agree with your ideas and experiences. I got chance to visit Myanmar, and I found there so many stunning scenery and traditions. Yes it’s true that we can enjoy a lot planning a road trip instead boarding a flight. However,I am not sure how can it be handled properly with so many strikes because of the political situation.

    I definitely try to visit on road trip as you explained. How long does it take to complete the trip?

    • Shivya Nath says

      I did it over 2 weeks, but could easily have spent a month or more! So much to experience and discover, and so many places to slow down. The political situation is tense only in very specific areas, so as long as you research well, it should work out well!

    • Shivya Nath says

      I’m glad; can’t wait to go back myself. Which parts did you go to?

      • I went to Yangon,Bagan, Mandalay and Nyaung Shwe. Crossing road border and visiting Chin State are on my list for the next visit. 🙂

  11. Such a dovish environment is in Myanmar. I think one must go to such places to achieve peace!!! And nature’s lap help us to achieve this !!!

  12. What a truly inspiring read! I too have been trying to “go green” in my daily life with a lot of success, but nothing seems to compare to the footprint of constant air travel. I hope to someday become a digital nomad full time which would give me more space/time to travel by land. Kudos to you! Love your blog

    • Shivya Nath says

      That’s great Justine, I think every bit counts! Highly recommend watching the documentary Cowspiracy to understand the impact of our lifestyle choices on the planet. I hope you’ll kick off your land adventures soon.

  13. Love your blog! I would love to go to Myanmar! Another place for the bucket list!

  14. Harish Somayaji says

    Hi Shivya. First time here. Driving from manipur to myanmar has been on my bucket list for a while. But, your blog had given me a new option – traveling by public transport. Waiting for your next articles on this. Thanks for sharing the details.

  15. I want to travel full time too.. But it seems such a far fetched dream to me. Can you give some advice please.

  16. Wow, this sounds like an incredible journey. I would love to incorporate more overland travel as well and your trip is truly an inspiration. When I travel across Europe, I do it as much as possible, but when I am in India, I have to do it more. Thanks for inspiring me to do it next time I am there!

  17. Pingback: Myanmar Tourist Visa on an Indian Passport: A Quick and Easy Guide. – Alone Together

  18. Hi, You are simple awesome in blogging i have gone through you Iran post that was outstanding, this one is also speechless. I am following all you post.

  19. This article is exactly one would want to read! A complete guide for a perfect travel. Will follow the tips you shared. Thank you so much Shivya for the rescue, always!

  20. Pingback: Is it Possible to Fly Responsibly? What I Learnt on my KLM Flight. | The Shooting Star

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