Island View: Burmese border visa run by car

PHUKET: Being relatively close to Phuket (about 350km), the Burmese border is a destination of choice for visa runs and can be done by car in a day.

When you drive yourself, you can stop and snack or stretch out whenever you want, or even spend some time at one of the many beaches along the coast as you pass through Phang Nga and Khao Lak.

Google tells us the journey each way should be under three hours, but the winding roads and the occasional slow-moving lorry can make it anything between four to six hours each way.

I once tried starting out extra early with the aim of getting back to Phuket in the early afternoon, but a 4am start meant I was trundling along dark, unlit roads in Phang Nga for the first part of the journey, and no amount of coffee could shake my body’s desire for a few more hours’ sleep.

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So a 6-7am start will likely get you to the border by around midday, travelling mostly within the speed limit.

Apart from your passport – hopefully with your white TM card still stapled to one of the pages – the only thing you really need to prepare in advance is a crisp US$10 bill to hand over to Myanmar Immigration when they stamp your passport in and out.

There is a Bangkok Bank in Ranong, directly opposite the border crossing, where you can change your baht for dollars, but if you go on a weekend, you will have to pay over-the-top rates to have one of the touts exchange it for you.

It’s also good to have a pen on you to fill in the Immigration forms and TM card when leaving and entering Thailand.

Directions are straight forward. Head off Phuket into Phang Nga on route 402 until it joins Highway 4 (Phetkasem Road). Hang left and stay on that road as it hugs the coast and winds its way up and down through dramatic mountainous scenery until you get to Ranong.

Once past Ranong Airport, it’s a few more kilometers to the Ranong Immigration check point at Saphan Pla Pier, where you can park at the PTT gas station for 40 baht.

As soon as you park, a tout will offer to take you across the water to Kawthaung in Myanmar, which takes about 20 minutes. Haggle if you like, but the average price is 500 baht for a private return trip. Or you can wait and pay 50 baht to get on the next long-tail ferry packed with locals. First though, get copies of your passport at one of the shops in the gas station forecourt.

There are a few stops along the way as you leave Thai waters and then cross a patch of open sea before entering Myanmar’s waters. These are what the photocopies are for. Your boat driver will take care of it.

Once across the water, hop off the boat and walk to the Myanmar Immigration office. A few local lads will offer to escort you and help buy duty free. They are harmless and genuinely helpful, but will ask for a few baht in return for their assistance.

And if on the return journey you find your boat driver has picked up a couple of extra fares, roll with it.

— Nick Davies


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