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Once only! Daring the stunning mountain route to Yangon


After visiting some of our projects in West Thailand, Sven, Toto and volunteer Ram extended their trip to visit Yangon in Burma. They took the scenic (but very slow) route over the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge and through the mountains. Ram tells us a little about their trip and, since information is not easy to find, also offers some advice for anyone inspired to follow in their footsteps.

The Trip

The process of crossing the Friendship Bridge, which runs from Mae Sot to Myawaddy over the river Moei, was relatively casual and all the officials were polite and courteous. As soon as we entered Myawaddy, it felt like a different world: hustling and bustling, horns beeping above the already noisy streets.

The staff at our guesthouse were very helpful, negotiating with a trishaw rider to take us to a good local eating place. The poor driver had to use just pedal power to take three of us and even had to get out and push the bike over a hilly part of the road! The eating place was simple, busy and noisy. One of the things I liked most about these places was the Burmese tea always on tap. 

The next morning we rose early to start our 450km journey to Yangon. We shared a minibus with a mother and her small son as well as a monk and his friend. Once we started climbing the mountain pass, it was easy to see why traffic is only allowed to flow one way, as the road soon turned into a narrow dusty single track. We encountered several delays due to an overloaded truck tipping back on itself, but this seemed to be a common occurrence and there were even drinks, fruit and snacks provided each time there was a hold up! These delays provided a good opportunity to stretch our legs, take photos of the stunning scenery and chat with our fellow travellers who were very friendly.

Eventually we began to descend, sometimes a little too quickly for comfort: it seemed we were on the edge of a precipice. It was exhilarating, but I decided it would be the first and last time I did the journey. Once we were lower down there were a number of simple roadside stops serving local Burmese snacks and freshly pressed sugar cane served with lime and ice. It was very refreshing and seemed a very popular drink.

After a total of 13 hours of travelling past many villages, mountain top pagodas, rice fields, sugar and rubber plantations, and newly planted teak trees, we finally checked into our guesthouse. From the top of the building we had a wonderful view of Yangon and our local pagoda which looked especially beautiful lit up at night. The experience was made particularly special by the extremely friendly and obliging staff. While in Yangon, we took the opportunity to visit the local sights. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the must see place. It’s one of the most impressive sites not just for its sheer size but also its beauty. However, having taken off my shoes and socks, walking on the paving at midday was like walking on hot charcoal and left my feet very sore! I would also recommend the Myanmar National Museum. The museum is split on several levels, with the lion throne room on the ground floor – with lots of space given to the large, ornately decorated throne – and other floors exploring the many ethnic groups of Myanmar: their culture, clothes, customs, history and art.

For shopping the best place to go is the Bogyoke Aung San Market, also known as Scott Market. It is particularly famous for its gems: jade, rubies and other jewellery and lacquerware. I have no idea about that, so I spent most of my time window shopping. Clothes – including longyis, the “skirts” worn by Burmese men – and fresh food are also available.

We returned to Mae Sot by plane, from the small but modern airport. Arriving back in Thailand, we all promised that this would not be our last visit to Myanmar!

Travel Advice: Mae Sot - Yangon

  • You cannot receive a visa on arrival, so be sure to obtain a tourist visa from your nearest embassy in advance.
  • Traffic flow to and from Myawaddy is limited: on even numbered days you can travel east, i.e. towards Myawaddy, and on odd days west out of Myawaddy towards Hpa-an and Yangon. Arriving a day before you travel gives you the opportunity to sort out transport options.
  • Transport options include the following:
    • A VIP bus leaves around 9:30 am. We didn’t find out the exact price but maybe around $10.
    • We were quoted around $330 – 400 for a private driver.
    • Our minibus cost about $28 each.
  • Note the time difference. Myanmar is GMT +6:30, so half an hour behind Thailand.
  • Exchange rates are better in Myawaddy than Yangon. You can get a good rate on the street, but I felt more comfortable using a bank. The money exchanges on the street accept Thai Baht, but the banks only take US dollars, Singapore dollars or Euros. The exchange rates in Yangon airport were also reasonable.
  • There were a number of ATMs accepting VISA and MasterCard. I had read scare stories online, so decided not to tempt fate, but I did see tourists using them apparently without problems.
  • If, like me, you are vegetarian, I recommend bringing a packed lunch for the journey as the food available was very meat orientated.
  • Be ready for delays on your journey. We had to go through 6 checkpoints and the incident with the truck seemed to be a regular occurrence.

Blog posted from Yangon, Republic of the Union of MyanmarView larger map

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