Update from Jan, who crossed the border on 2/01/17 (see comments at bottom of post):
1. No permit for state of Manipur needed, at least not for foreigners. It may be possible that Indians need one, although this isn't confirmed.
For past 60 days or so there have been some political problems in Manipur, so be cautious. Jan had some difficultities organising transport from Dimapur (Nagaland) to Imphal (Manipur). Supposedly government buses travelling to Imphal get burnt to ashes. Jan ended up paying for a pretty expensive shared car (1500rp).
2. MYM government changed the conditions recently, so now you need to pay for a two-way crossing (even though if you only cross once), which $160. Jan went through the same agency mentioned in the post below.
3. Shared taxi from Imphal to Moreh cost Jan 500rp. It should be the local price, his friends from Imphal arranged it, and three passenders shared the van. Our price mentioned below was probably a complete rip off...but it was boxing day, so we didn't have many options.
With India committed to developing tourism in the North-Eastern states (hello living tree-root bridges and hill-tribes) and Myanmar looking to uphold its cooly-undiscovered-but-totally-discovered image for at least another few years, it’s natural that the passage between the two is going to develop rapidly.
Follow the official websites and guidebooks and you’d be left scratching your head wondering how to cross between the two by land. If it wasn’t for travel bloggers out there, we’d think it wasn’t possible.
It is possible. And it’s easy with a bit of planning.
Most articles we’ve read have shown how to cross from Myanmar into India, so we’re adding to the pool of knowledge out there with our experience doing it from India to Myanmar. And we did it on a Sunday - so there were a few extra steps.
Click 'Read More' below to find out how!
WHAT YOU NEED
A Myanmar visa in your passport. We got our visa in Kathmandu, Nepal and it was easy - just a form, photos and payment in crispy, fresh U.S. dollars. We heard from some travellers that the Calcutta embassy was being difficult. Don’t even think of getting your visa ‘on arrival’ at the border.
A permit for that area of Myanmar. They take about 3 weeks to arrange, so plan this accordingly. We went with Exotic Myanmar Travel (email@example.com), who charged us USD90 per person, and took exactly 3 weeks to arrive. You need to tell them the exact date you’re crossing. The permit itself was emailed to us and only had one name on it - it’s more of a formality than an official document. We printed it in Imphal (highly recommended!)
Photocopies. The Myanmar border guys asked for a copy of our passport and Myanmar visa. It makes them happy.
HOW TO GET FROM IMPHAL TO MOREH
Imphal is the capital of the Indian state of Manipur (you don’t need a permit to visit). As Christmas had just finished (a huge percentage of the population is Christian), the city was in holiday mode, with no shared taxis going to Moreh. We went to the shared taxi area anyway at around 9am (see map below for location), and ended up paying a driver for the whole journey. It wasn’t cheap - INR3000/GBP30/USD45. But it’s a windy 3-hour drive, so fair enough.
The drive gets very scenic, and the road is surprisingly good for most of the journey. Every town had army checkpoints, but it wasn’t until we went past a few Assam Rifles army bases that we had to stop and register at two checkpoints. The guards seemed as surprised to see us tourists as we were of them.
WHAT’S MOREH LIKE AS A TOWN?
It probably won’t be the highlight of your trip around India. We arrived in the early afternoon, getting dropped off on the main road at the dismal De Khunai Resort (INR500/5GBP/USD7.5 per room) at the suggestion of our taxi driver. There are hotels lined up next to each other, and each one looks as dilapidated as the next. If you’ve been travelling through India for a while, you probably have an idea what it’s like.
Since Manipur is officially a ‘dry’ state, our guess is that locals head to the border to drink heavily and let loose - Moreh is far from prying eyes, after all. We were woken up at all hours of the night by drunken revellers...
CROSSING OVER ON A SUNDAY
Up bright and early, we cranked some music as we packed and walked the 1km or so through town to the Friendship Gate. Only we were waved away. Perhaps this isn’t the one for foreigners, or perhaps it was closed for foreigners on a Sunday. Either way, we took one of the dozens of rickshaws (INR30/GBP0.30/USD0.45) to a different crossing about 2km’s away.
The friendly guard slung his machine gun over his arm, inspected our passports and confirmed what the huge sign said - the border was closed on Sunday.
But with an assurance that the border was open from our Myanmar permit, it seemed that ‘closed’ is just a formality.
Step 1: Get an exit stamp
We left our bags at the checkpoint (good security, guys) and walked 1km back along the road and found the immigration office. It’s opposite the Police compound, where a traffic controller waves his stick angrily at drivers ignoring the ‘don’t drive along this road’ sign. We were pointed to a few different areas, before sitting at a shaded table where a tired and bored official finally turned up with his immigration briefcase, checked that we had permission to cross the border (he couldn’t read the Burmese letter), and stamped our passports. Woohoo!
Step 2: Get customs clearance
Across the road was another little compound with shabby buildings. We waited for another tired and bored official to finish brushing his teeth, before he sat down to write down our details on a blank A4 page. We told him how many bags we had, and that was it. We didn’t get any confirmation of the process and no checking of our bags (which were back at the checkpoint anyway). We probably didn’t even need to do this.
Step 3: Back to the border
We grabbed some snacks on the way back, the army guys checked our exit stamps and waved us through. Further down the road we passed the closed immigration office, so our guess is that normally we’d just be waved through to do the formalities there. ‘No Mans Land’ between the borders was an easy kilometre-long walk.
Step 4: To Myanmar and beyond!
We crossed the short bridge over the river, and promptly lost 1 hour on our clocks. There’s a barrier here, and the guys waved us through to a small hut up some precarious stairs to our left.
Here’s where we presented our permit letter: the guy there called a representative from the permit agency, who arrived on his scooter 5 minutes later. We handed over photocopies of our passports and Myanmar visa, while they creepily took photos of our documents on their mobile phones as well. Given that everyone’s casually dressed and music is blaring from mobile phones, it’s all rather informal.
With a quick ‘ok’ through betel-nut stained teeth, we went back down to the checkpoint, had our passports checked for the umpteenth time that day and hurrah - Welcome to Myanmar!
NOW WE’RE IN TAMU. WHAT NEXT?
It’s another 2km or so walk into Tamu itself, but it doesn’t really have a centre like Moreh, instead it’s spread along the amazingly well-paved ‘Friendship Highway’. The walk feels long and in retrospect we would have liked to have our ‘border permit helper’ arrange a taxi. There isn’t any transport waiting for you on the other side. Not that we had any Burmese Kyat anyway.
WHERE TO GET MONEY
There is no official exchange, and the banks are closed on the weekends. In fact, we were told the ATM’s are turned off on the weekends, so we were out of luck. Seriously - there’s nothing in Tamu to help your arrival.
We only had a USD20 note and about IND3000. You’d do well to cross this border with more than this.
We walked down the road, hoping to reach a bus station. The people here are genuinely friendly and helpful - and kept pointing us further down the highway. Eventually a rickshaw driver drove us a minute further up the road for free. If he only knew how much that small gesture meant to us.
AT THE BUS STATION
Further along the main highway, you’d be forgiven for missing the bus station (or whatever you want to call it). There is no English-language signage, and we still don’t know how it all works.
We presume there are two different long-distance bus companies operating from different sides of the road. We picked one, and with a lot of finger-pointing and broken English, we realised there was a 12-seater van heading to Mandalay at 1:30pm.
The lady at the desk pointed us to a hotel across the road - probably the only one in town - that would exchange our U.S. Dollars and Indian Rupees. Their rate for both currencies was actually really good - better than if we had withdrawn the same amount from an ATM (using xe.com rates) and incurred the regular bank fees to go with it.
ONWARDS TO MANDALAY
The Mandalay van cost MMK25,000 / GBP13 / USD19 per person, so we had just enough to get us to where we needed to go. Food at the stops was tasty and gigantic - more rice, vegetables and meat than we could eat, for MMK2,500 / GBP1.20 / USD1.90 per person.
Despite the enthusiastic driver and the smooth Friendship Road for the first hour or two, ultimately the 16-hour drive on non-reclining seats was rough. We were pretty wiped out arriving in Mandalay around 7am. There were other destinations available from Tamu, but you’d want to be well researched before you arrive. It’s not really a town for on-the-spot planning.
On his recommendation, our driver dropped us off at the Royal Guesthouse, which had hot water, wifi, towels, a soft bed and included breakfast. Pure luxury for us, considering we had precisely two hot showers in India. We paid GBP13 / USD20 for a windowless room with a private bathroom. And their service was spot on.
IMPHAL TO MANDALAY
We did read elsewhere that there may be a direct bus service from Imphal to Mandalay beginning sometime in 2016. We’re not sure how that would work given the 3 weeks required for permits, let alone all the military checkpoints and the sheer journey time through mountainous terrain.
Breaking it all up makes for a more interesting journey anyway, and although it wasn’t a particularly scenic border crossing, it did give us a lot of fond memories. Having all those Myanmar people wave hello, smile and giggle at us as we crossed over with our backpacks was priceless.
If you have any questions or anything to add, leave us a message in the comments.
EMMA & PETE
We're just two Aussie's who met in London, married in Prague and travelled overland back to Australia.