Aug 6, 2013

Easier Access to Myanmar

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information says the country will allow visitors to cross the border at Tachilek, Myawady and Kawthaung from points in Thailand without having to return through the same checkpoint.

According to local media report, it will encourage more foreign visitors to use land checkpoints by allowing them the freedom to enter and exit at different checkpoints.

Geographical restrictions are still in place and travellers have to be aware there are provinces in the country that are still off-limits. However, around 80% of the country has now open to tourism.

The ministry said: “Visitors can go anywhere except where there are security concerns and depart from any exit point recognised by the government.”

The Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint has the most potential for international visitors, who are touring North Thailand and want to continue their Mekong Region holiday in Myanmar. They will be able to use Chiang Rai as the gateway to travel to Mandalay and Bagan.

Mae Sai is around 80 km north of Chiang Rai and visitors are allowed to cross the border, but they must return to the same point. To ensure this, officials at Tachilek hold on to passports until the traveller returned usually the same day or at the most two days later. All that is about to change.

The provision should come into force later this year, but travellers should double check at the time they get their visa from an embassy or consulate. It will still require travellers to have a valid visa for Myanmar. The so-called visa-on-arrival is really a pre-arranged visa approved in advance that is activated at a border checkpoint. There are clear differences between pre-arranged and visa-on-arrival. One of them is the need to provide details and a letter of invitation from an organisation in Myanmar to allow the country’s immigration to authorise a visa that is then stamped in the passport at the specified checkpoint of entry.

According to the bilateral agreement between Myanmar and Thailand for border crossing, the official entrance and exits are Tachilek-Mae Sai, Myawady-Mae Sot and Kawthaung-Ranong.

Department Head of Immigration Administration and National Registration of Myawady district, Aung Win Thein, said: “We expect the tourism industry will show good signs of improvement once the new measure is introduced.”

It is also very likely that the country will allow 14 days visa free entry for ASEAN citizens by 2015, when the ASEAN Economic Community comes into play. Once free trade principles are introduced it would be very difficult for Myanmar to justify not giving ASEAN member nation citizens the privilege of visa free entry.

The country aims to attract 1.8 million foreign tourists by year end. The government projects 7.5 million tourists by 2020.

Tourism in Myanmar has showed a positive sign since 2011. Last year, 1.06 million tourists visited the country, an increase of around 30%. The country has about 30,000 hotel rooms. Another 10,000 more rooms will be ready by the end of this year across the country, although the main concentration of new rooms will be in Yangon initially to serve business travelers.

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