I hate pointless bureaucracy. Officially, part of the clause of my Myanmar visa is that I have to exit from the same border I entered from. I don't want to do this. I want to enter Myanmar from India and exit Myanmar to Thailand. The India – Myanmar border is a complicated one anyway, as the Myanmar government require you to buy a permit ($80) to make the crossing. No permit, no crossing. Fine, I grumbled about the expense but bought a permit anyway. But then, although I plan to cross into Thailand (not really allowed), I have told the Myanmar Government I will be complying with their rules and crossing back into India. To uphold this deception, and the only way to enter Myanmar from India currently, I had to buy a second permit for $80 for my fictitious return trip even though I have no intentions to ever use it!
Did you follow that? Yep, it confused me too! A long story short – I had to pay for my Myanmar visa ($50), two permits ($160) and after all that, I may reach Thailand and be told I'm only allowed to exit back to India. By which time my Indian visa has expired. Leaving one option. Deportation. Wonderful!
I went to get stamped out of India.
“You're going to Myanmar?” the officer asked. It seemed a redundant question as I was roughly 50 metres from Myanmar. I wondered if anyone had suddenly realised at this point how lost they were.
“And where do you go from there?” he probed, bordering on uneasy territory.
“I come back to India in one month.” I lied, sticking to my cover story.
He flicked through my passport. The precious stamp lay on his desk, but he wasn't reaching for it. Time was very slow.
“You don't have another Indian visa to come back.” he stated, after what felt like a lifetime.
I swore in my head. My face began to scrunch up with disappointment. I had got so close, but it didn't look like I was going to make it. I could continue the lie, and tell him I was going to apply for a new Indian visa in Myanmar. Plausible, as long as there was actually an Indian Embassy there. Instead I went for option two and confessed the truth.
“Listen” I whispered, as if the Myanmar border guards 200 metres away could hear me. “I'm actually crossing into Thailand, not coming back to India. But Myanmar think I'm coming back to India so shhhhh.”
He flashed a blank look over to his colleague, whose face was equally hard to read. I figured this was the first time either had been confronted by this. “We need you to go and ask the Myanmar border guards if you're allowed to do this. If they say it's okay, we will give you the stamp” they instructed after some discussion.
“Of course I'm not allowed to do it. That's literally exactly what I just told you, you clowns!” I wanted to yell. I didn't. Instead I went outside and made a very urgent phone call. Included in my $160 permit fee I got an agent, Mr Phoe Soe, who could help me across the border; that money was starting to seem exceptionally well spent. By now, I had dug a very big hole, and was out of my league. I needed help. It took two nervous hours pacing up and down the pavement, feeling a constant need to urinate before my Mr Phoe Soe turned up. My immediate future was in his hands but I kept quiet; he couldn't do a much worse job than I already had.
After only a few minutes, the border officer finally reached for his stamp, letting a heavy exhale fall all around the room. He lifted it above my passport and pressed it down, releasing an explosion of butterflies inside. I had forgotten this was only the first half of the border crossing and I still had to get stamped into Myanmar. But, I was feeling confident, armed with Mr Phoe Soe, who I had come to revere with a respect akin to Aladdin's magic genie, saving me whenever I got into any difficulty.
Sure enough, my passage into Myanmar was swift and without event, except for the one time I nearly died, when no-one warned me the roads switched from left-side drive to right-side drive. I was jubilant to have made it. A few years ago, this would have been impossible, and it nearly was for me. A new land awaited me, and I had a good feeling about this one. With a wide grin, as vast as the open Myanmar sky that enticed me onwards, I waved 'Farewell' to the border guard and prayed that I'm not getting sent back to him from 'Almost Thailand' in 28 days. But if I am, I know Mr Phoe Soe is there, and so far, I've only used two of my three magic wishes.
Advice for other people wanting to cross from India to Myanmar at the Moreh – Tamu border.
An MTT Permit (Ministry for Travel and Tourism) is required.
It is an official government permit but Exotic Myanmar (a travel company) can arrange this for you. I'm not aware of any other companies currently issuing it. They also have the most up-to-date knowledge and are very cooperative. Send them an email.
Currently, you are meant to exit from the same border you enter. Officially this prevents overland travel, but I don't believe this is enforced, as people report having no issue leaving from another border. This rule is expected to change later in 2017.
While the above rule stands two permits are required ($160) to cross, and to cross back.
I never saw my permits. An agent (your very own Mr Phoe Soe!) will come and meet you in Moreh. He will have already shown your permits and will guide you effortlessly across.