Before getting into the articles about my time in Burma, we're going to flash back to my time in Hanoi, and walk through how to get a visa into the country. After I booked my ticket taking me from Singapore to Burma, I was eager to start the process of getting my visa. I went online to one of Burma’s government websites to apply for my visa. However, at the end of the application process I encountered a series of very specific questions that I did not have answers to. The questions concerned my accommodations and exact itinerary for my stay in Burma. This was a small set back, but I would have needed to figure all this out eventually.
Luckily, I live in a capital city. Almost every country in the world has an Embassy within 10km of my house. Compared to the 8 hour road trips over to Washington D.C. that I made when I was in America, this is pretty awesome. The Burmese Embassy is particularly close to my house so the next day I went over there and asked them exactly what I would need.
What You Need To Get Your Burmese Visa
- Your passport (obviously)
- A copy of your tickets into and out of the country
- The address and contact information of the first hotel/hostel you will visit
- A rough outline of your travel itinerary, including how many days I will spend at each place
- The typical visa head-shot – 2 passport sized mug shots to be attached to your application
- The visa fee: 20 USD (in USD, not the local currency)
Here’s the thing: Burma is expensive to travel through. Obviously it’s still worlds away from the cost of living in the West, but it is one of the pricier places to traverse in the region. This is because the tourism industry is still so new that there is no bargain hunting to be had. What you see is what you get. There is no cheaper price waiting just down the road. I have a long trip ahead of me, and I need to book my ticket out pretty far in advance to appease Burma’s ridiculous government, so I need to be sure I will have exactly the right amount of time. If I buy a ticket that departs too soon I’ll get on the plane kicking myself but if I buy a ticket that departs too late I run the risk of not having enough money to do everything I want to do down the road.
I need to submit a travel itinerary anyway, so I mapped out a pretty specific attack plan. It’s going to be sort of a sprint. Once I get out of Burma my travel arrangements will be much looser but as long as I am there I will be draining my funds fast.
So here’s the run-down. There are 4 places I want to see.
#1 Yangon (formerly Rangoon)
The largest city in Burma, and by far the most common point of entry, this is a pretty unavoidable destination. It’s pretty hard not to come here if you are going to visit Burma. I don’t want to downplay its coolness though – I think it’s going to be a good time.
Bagan is an ancient temple complex on par with Angkor in Cambodia. It is a solid 13 hour bus ride north of Yangon so it’s a pretty solid time investment to get up there. Everybody raves about how amazing it is though. They also recount the horrors of the overnight bus rides to get there though. I’ll be in the market for some Valium.
#3 Mandalay (+ Mingun)
Mandalay always seemed to awkwardly fill position of Burma’s 4th best place to go behind Inle Lake, Yangon and Bagan. From what I have heard it is a pretty unimpressive location. I was going to scrap it from the trip to save some time and money… until I finally tracked down the location of a photograph that I had seen over and over.
It turns out that there is an odd temple complex just a few hours up river from Mandalay in a place called Mingun. I would like to figure out a way to get up river and see it.
#4 Inle Lake
Conveniently located about halfway between Yangon and Mandalay, Inle Lake will be my last stop in Burma. I’ve seen some pretty pictures so I intend to go take some of my own.
After this I will high-tail it back to Yangon to fly out.
Here is my OCD excel sheet that I made to figure out exactly how many days I would need…
Burma has been on my mind since I first came to Southeast Asia so I want to give myself the wiggle room to spend some extra time somewhere if I feel led so I’m tacking on another 24 hours. Think of it as an insurance policy. Although, if I feel really strongly about staying longer, the visa that I received in the end affords me 28 days... for some reason. I can always book a later flight.
Burmese Embassy: Applying for the Visa
When I went to apply it was 1pm. They only accept visa applications from 8:30am until noon each day. Of course, they didn’t tell me that until I had already filled out their whole form and given it to them. For “occupation” I had written “teacher.” They asked if I worked in Vietnam. I said that I did. They replied that I would need to show them a teaching contract to prove that I was, indeed, a teacher. This was weird, but not a problem.
What was a problem though was that I was teaching on a tourist visa. I had had the business visa in the beginning but soon found that, in practice, business visas were next to worthless in Vietnam. I might as well save myself some money and get a tourist visa like 90% of the other teachers I know here. Still, I bet most of that 90% would be smart enough to write “unemployed” on their forms before handing their passports with their tourist visas over government agencies. Although this was the Burmese embassy, I’m pretty sure the workers were Vietnamese. I told them I would come back later with my contract. It was only as I walked out that I realized my tactical error.
I was a bit worried about handing them over the evidence they needed to deport me, so I did what any rational person would do to get their visa…. I waited 2 weeks til I grew a small beard and then came back in a hat without my glasses on. I still got grilled with questions about my job situation though. In the end under occupation I wrote “Unemployed (formerly a teacher, but that job is over).” It was pretty much over at that point, so it wasn't even a lie.
I was worried for a moment but when I showed back up 3 days later to pick up my passport everything went fine. I felt a bit better as I waited in line listening to another white person get the same smoke screen of questions as I did.
So here it is - my ticket in. Not the best picture of me, but whatever. My bigger issue is that I'm already on page 22 of my passport. I don't know if I have enough space left for the last few visas I'll be getting...
WHAM BAM THANK YOU MA'AM!
I should add that if you can't get to an embassy you can apply online and print off a form to bring to Burmese customs with you. People that did it told me that they also didn't need to provide the government with a flight out. But it will cost 50 USD (instead of the 20 that I paid). It's a trade off I suppose.
Anyway, now that that's out of the way, we can get to the good stuff!