This is part of the Trip Report So Long Mongolia, Hello SE Asia (December-January 2015) which covers:
- Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Chiang Rai, Thailand
- Yangon, Myanmar
- Ngwe Saung, Myanmar
- Mandalay, Myanmar
- Bagan, Myanmar
- Hong Kong
- Orlando, Florida
Catch up by reading the preview, The Banana Pancake Trail to Myanmar Starts This Monday, then the overview, Thailand, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Disney, Home, where the game time decision was made to leave Mongolia for good.
I am an idiot when it comes to visas. No matter how much I try to pay attention to the rules, I still end up with visa issues. It happened in Sudan, it happened in China, and it happened in Brazil. So obviously I wasn’t going to let it happen to me for Myanmar.
STOP HERE! Before you waste your time reading this, take note that there is a visa on arrival program for Myanmar now which can be done online. If you like torture or overlooking details, then read on for how the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok almost ruined my trip and that of many others.
If you want a same day visa and you happen to be in Bangkok then head on over the Myanmar Embassy. All you need to bring is your passport. You don’t need the forms or passport photos or proof of travel. The documents are provided at the scene and there’s even a guy to take your photos. Hypothetically speaking, all you have to do is arrive in the morning and wait in the endless line. Then come back in the afternoon at the designated time to pick up your unimpressive Myanmar visa.
Of course it isn’t that simple. First, realize that the embassy is closed on national Thai and Burmese holidays. Next, realize that it is also closed randomly with no prior announcement anywhere.
December 19th: Bright And Early
We arrived on a Friday, December 19th to go through this arduous process and were excited that there was no line outside the embassy. We soon found out it was because the embassy was closed. We and other angry would-be travelers were frustrated because nothing on the website had warned us of this inconvenience. Furthermore, believing that we had to book an outbound flight to Myanmar, we had a booking from Chiang Mai to Yangon on the 25th. Our plan was to leave to Chiang Rai on Sunday the 21st (which was delayed till the 22nd) then go to Myanmar from there.
Rule #1: The website for closings is not to be trusted.
No worries we thought. We will return on the 22nd in the AM, pick up our visas in the afternoon then head out via a late train to Chiang Rai. (I’m not using Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai interchangeably. There is a train to Chiang Mai then a bus to Chiang Rai.)
Rule #2: Only do an on-site visa application from your departure city. If you’re going to Myanmar via Chiang Mai, do it at the embassy in Chiang Mai. If you are going via Chiang Rai, then go to Chiang Rai first and return to Chiang Mai or Bangkok to do the application.
Rule #3: If you are doing an on-site visa application, don’t believe it will be completed the same day even if you weren’t tripped up by Rule #1. If you didn’t follow Rule #2, this may cause you to miss your plane or train.
Dec 22nd: Bright And Early
We arrive at the embassy. Looks like everyone who was disappointed from Friday and then some are here to wait in this endless line.
Dec 22nd: Bright and Still Early
The line isn’t moving but the forms are filled out. I scribbled this and that on the form because there’s no reason to go into great detail about who I am and what I do. SCH (Straight Cash Homey) was my employer.
Dec 22nd: Bright
Waiting in line forever and ever we finally make it inside where we have to wait forever and ever for our number to get called.
Dec 22nd: Approaching Noon
Success! We have paid for our visa and must return at 330PM to pick them up. Our train to Chiang Mai leaves at 7.
Dec 22nd: Afternoon
Lunch is served!
Dec 22nd: 330PM
We return to the embassy promptly and the line is even longer than it was from the morning. The line is split into two: one for Thai Nationals and one for foreigners. The doors are not open.
Dec 22nd: 430PM
Doors are still not open. No one is moving. Suddenly there’s an announcement. Thai Nationals will receive their passports first.
Dec 22nd: 530PM
Doors are open, people have been inside for an hour, no one is coming out. Am I crazy? Is there a back door? Panic is setting in. We are not going to get our passports back in time to make the train. At this point, I skip the long line and head inside to see what is going on.
Bad news: Everyone is huddled inside. There is no line, there are no counters open, nothing is happening.
Dec 22nd: 6PM
Some Thai lady is in the front on the phone. I observe her talking simultaneously to an American girl. The American girl is yelled at by a gentlemen. The American girl leaves.
Dec 22nd: 6:02PM
I approach the same Thai lady and tell her my problems being mindful of the angry gentlemen. I show her my train tickets. She takes my passport receipt and motions for me to step away.
Dec 22nd: 6:09PM
A few more desperate gazes later, I approach the Thai lady again. She gets back on the phone. She approaches the customer service counter. She retrieves a stack of passports. There are two blue ones on the top.
Dec 22nd: 6:09:30PM
I take my passport! I thank the lady! I get the hell out of the embassy! We are on our way to Chiang Rai!
Dec 22nd: 6:09:35PM
Oh shit, I forgot about Bangkok traffic.
Tick, tick, tick.
We are stuck.
Tick, tick, tick.
We are stuck.
We are moving!
Tick, tick, tick.
We are stuck again. After all this are we really going to miss the train?
Stop, go, stop, go, go forwards, go backwards, go through side-streets, go to Wall St, back to Main St, no way this is happening.
Then when all hope was lost, the taxi driver made a quick maneuver and dropped us right at the train station. Scrambling to figure out which train was ours we asked for directions and were escorted aboard.
Moments later we were on our way.
The Golden Rule: Don’t rely on me for visa advice unless you are an idiot.