How to go to Myanmar with a car

(or motorbike, or camper van)

Authors note:

Just like in China, it is not possible to drive a foreign vehicle in Myanmar without a tour guide. The following blog is aimed at those considering driving through Myanmar and has all the information we think is needed prior to doing this.

Our experience of our guided tour through Myanmar could not have been more different to that in China. Our main piece of advice is that if you have the money, book a tour with enough time to see the country. Our extremely short five days involved a lot of driving and very little else. If we were to go back in time and start our Myanmar crossing again, we would have chosen a longer tour with the same company.

Preparation:

Several months previously, we had done some research on the different companies that offered guided tours through Myanmar. The two companies that appeared to have the best reviews were Osuga Travels and Tours, and Myanmar Expert Tours. During our initial planning (before everything changed in Nepal), we’d been in touch with both companies. Based on email correspondence alone, Osuga quickly became our preferred option – they were very quick to respond, communicated clearly and effectively, and able to answer all of our questions. In the end, this was the company that we travelled with, but this was purely by chance rather than choice, as we joined a group that had already pre-booked the tour.

At least two weeks before the beginning of the trip, copies of the following documents need to be sent to Osuga:

  • Passport
  • International driving licence (1968)
  • Pictures of the four sides of the vehicle
  • Detailed information about the vehicle (type, number plate, chassis number, engine number, colour, year of production, driver name)

They also requested our Myanmar visas (an e-visa that is purchased online) and Carnet du Passage. We applied for our Myanmar visa about a week before we entered the country, so were not able to send this at the time of booking – this was not an issue. We refused to send over our Carnet du Passage, as Myanmar does not require the Carnet for entry and we do not have enough spare pages to get it stamped in every single country we go to – again, after a small discussion, this was not an issue. For more information about the visa application look here and the Carnet du Passage, look here.

Itinerary and Cost:

Osuga offer several different itineraries at various prices depending on the size of the group. They also offer personalised itineraries. The prices included accommodation with breakfast (camping in our car was not an option), tour guide (in their own car with a driver), permission documents, sim cards with internet, and road toll fees*. The prices excluded visas, lunch/dinner, fuel, entrance fees to tourist sites, and other similar costs. Our itinerary and quoted prices were as follows:

Our itinerary. We have listed the time we actually spent driving each day below. We drive slowly compared to the majority of other overlanders we have met, and the estimated times listed here were fairly similar to the time we actually spent driving
The prices we were quoted for the different itinerary options – correct at the time we booked, but Osuga’s prices may have changed since then.
We were booked onto a 6 day/5 night tour in a group of 10 people, so paid $390 USD each

A big difference between our guided tour through China and Myanmar, was that in Myanmar, the group does not need to stay together. The tour guide travels last as they have to stop at each of the checkpoints and hand over our paperwork (we were waved through all of the checkpoints with only one exception). We were able to leave whenever we wanted – this particularly suited us, as we drive very slowly and were concerned about holding the rest of the group up, or not getting to the hotel before dark. We had to let Chan (our guide) know when we left in the morning, when we arrived in the afternoon/evening, and give an update on our location around lunch time. Our tour included sim cards with data, so this was easy to do via Whatsapp at no additional cost to us.

Eating out in Myanmar was unbelievably cheap – by far the cheapest country of our trip, costing less than £3 for both of us to eat out!

*The fees for the road tolls were supposed to be included within the price of the tour. At first, the staff at the toll gates let us drive through without asking us to pay, however, after the first day this did not happen, and we were asked to pay at every gate. Chan was available on Whatsapp throughout the day, so on hand to help. In the end, we paid the fees, and then Chan reimbursed us the money at the end of the trip.

Our group (from left to right):
Maia and Julio from Spain and their huge bright blue Mercedes camper behind them
James from the UK
Brian from Denmark
Kitty from the Nederlands (who we also travelled with through China)

Our experience:

Day 245: 19/11/19
Miles Driven: 97
Location: Kale, Myanmar

85 days after initially arriving in India, we finally left.

The glorious moment when we left India (white side of the bridge) and entered Myanmar (yellow side of the bridge)

Leaving India was representative of our entire time in the country. Arguments, rudeness, unnecessary waiting and stress. We were greeted on the Myanmar side of the border by Chan, our tour guide. Immediately it was unbelievable how big of a difference a completely invisible line on a mass of land made. Chan welcomed us to his country with a huge smile, despite us being more than 2 hours later than our agreed meeting time, and having held up the rest of the group whilst we battled with the border guards in India. Entering Myanmar took minutes, we showed our visa, filled in a form, and were done – Osuga had already done the rest for us. We were given welcome presents, sim cards, and taken straight to get lunch. We’d been there all of five minutes, but already we knew that Myanmar would be a wonderful country.

For a more detailed description of this crossing, and all of the border crossings we have experienced on our trip, take a look here

Day 246: 20/11/19
Miles Driven: 247
Time spent driving: 9 hours 45 minutes (with probably around 20-30 minute lunch break)
Location: Bagan, Myanmar

We drove to Bagan along a road full of very rickety bridges. Driving across them, we were grateful that our tour group companions Maia and Julio in their huge 4 tonne Mercedes Camper van were ahead of us – if the bridge could take their weight without breaking, we guessed we (at less than 3 tonnes) would probably be fine.

Thankfully only our first day was filled with bridges like these two…

The road side views were completely different to those we had seen before – there were very few cars, Buddhist temples were scattered in every direction, the houses were on stilts and made from intricately woven bamboo and wood. The streets were tidy, with very little rubbish – something that we had not encountered for a very long time! The people were dressed in a Western style on their top half, but both men and women wore long skirts. The women and children’s faces were often painted with a white paste made from ground bark. It felt like we had stepped back in time, but in the best of ways, and were seeing a country that was yet to be consumed by the modern world.

Not a great photo, but the only photo I took that shows the woven bamboo/wood of the buildings
We didn’t take any photos of local people, so I found these two photos online to show the white face paint that so many people wore

Our hotel that night was absolutely beautiful – easily the most luxurious hotel we have stayed in since we embarked on this journey. We swam in the pool until dark and then enjoyed a dinner of Pad Thai with the rest of the group.

The view from our hotel room balcony
Our hotel was so posh that we had towel swans on the bed!

Well at least we thought we enjoyed the Pad Thai. A few hours later, and for the rest of that night, the next two days (for Chris) and two weeks (for Charlie), we very much did not enjoy the Pad Thai. Eating at the poshest restaurant of our trip so far, everyone that ate the Pad Thai (5 out of the 7 people in our group) suffered food poisoning. Fighting over the toilet, unsure as to which end we should direct where, it was a very long night.

Day 247: 21/11/19
Miles Driven: 170
Time spent driving: 6 hours
Location: Kalaw, Myanmar
&
Day 248: 22/11/19
Miles Driven: 117
Time spent driving: 5 hours. We didn’t eat lunch either day, and only stopped very quickly for the odd emergency toilet stop!
Location: Namsang, Myanmar

The following days went by in a bit of a blur for both of us. Still suffering from food poisoning, and not able to rest and recover, we had to drive through it. We woke up, drove, arrived at our hotel, and went to bed.

Many travel to Bagan to see the Pagodas (temples). Unfortunately we did not have time to see them properly, but drove past quite a few!

Day 249: 23/11/19
Miles Driven: 201
Time spent driving: 9 and a half hours (we ate lunch whilst driving, so stopped for a total of maybe 10 minutes this day)
Location: Kengtung, Myanmar

Our final full day in Myanmar was the longest driving day. We drove through a region in which tourists are not allowed to stay overnight. So regardless of the length of the tour through Myanmar, if crossing the Tahcileik/Mae Sai border with Thailand, your tour will include this mammoth driving day. The dirt track went through the mountains and just went on and on and on. It was long and boring, but a lot easier for us in our comfortable car than it was for the three on their motorbikes!

Roadside views of the mountains

Day 250: 24/11/19
Miles Driven: 131
Location: Chan Chwa Tai, Thailand

Our hotel was about three hours drive from the border. Leaving Myanmar was straight forward. Chan was there to ensure that everything went smoothly, but the border staff knew what they were doing (a rare occurrence!) so his final job was an easy one. We said our thank yous and goodbyes, and drove over the little bridge to Thailand.

Unlike the other members in our group, we already had a permit for Thailand (see more about this in our previous blog), and so weren’t overly concerned about whether or not we would be able to get in. In an attempt to give them an advantage, we gave the others a head start and left for the border around 08:00.

The other five members of our group split into two: the camper van and the three motorbikes, arriving at the border separately. Despite arriving at the same border on the same day, our three groups all had completely different experiences. Their experiences are not our stories to tell, but demonstrate how inconsistent this border currently is, and the fact that what worked for us, may not work for others – even on the same day! For more detailed information about how to get into Thailand, go to our Border Crossings page.

Another view from the roadside during our 9 and a half hour long driving day

Final thoughts:

Despite not being able to truly see or experience Myanmar due to the long driving days and food poisoning, we loved it, and would definitely return. We cannot recommend Osuga enough. Chan was extremely friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. He worked so hard in the background; sorting out paperwork at all of the different checkpoints we drove through, and registering us with the local police each night when we arrived at the hotel. He was constantly available throughout the day if we had any issues, concerns, or just random questions about the country and its culture. His English was great, and he really added to our whole experience. We plan to return to Myanmar without a vehicle in the future, and would probably book a non-car tour with Osuga because they were that good.

Our final piece of advice is simply to visit Myanmar. With or without a vehicle, it does not matter, but go sooner rather than later. It won’t be long before it succumbs to vast quantities of tourism, probably resulting in the loss of its wonderful culture, charm and traditions that made it so special.

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