I’m not a big fan of flying. Not because I’m afraid of flying but because I always find crossing a border overland more interesting and exciting. I also usually at multiple points on the journey think to myself, ‘Damn, I should of just caught a bloody plane’. Of course, I know that a plane would be quicker and easier, but sometimes the best stories come from those times when the journey seemed to take forever and was more difficult than anticipated. Crossing from Myanmar to India was not necessarily difficult, but it was certainly long and tiring (tip: bring plenty of snacks).
The border was only opened to foreign tourists from August 2018, as before that time foreigner’s had to obtain a special permit to cross. Although the border is now permit free, a proper Indian visa is required, and an e-visa is still NOT permitted. I actually saw a French man at the border, and at first I was excited to see another foreigner, however, he was being turned away from entering India due to only having an e-visa and being left in no-mans-land is not the ideal situation.
How to cross from Myanmar to India
The easiest way to head to the border from Myanmar is via Mandalay. Mandalay has direct buses to Kalay (or Kalaymo) and even, Tamu (the border town). However, by ‘direct’ bus to Tamu, it really means a direct bus to Kalay and then switch to a minivan for Tamu. I paid 21,000kyats or AUD$20 for a ticket all the way through to Tamu.
Tamu is a rather small, dusty town and if wanting to break the journey up, a night in Kalay would be a good option, as from there Tamu is only another 3-4 hours away. On the other hand, crossing the border and spending a night in Moreh, on the Indian side, is another option where there are plenty of hotels available.
The minivan driver took me straight to the ‘Friendship Bridge’ at the border point in Tamu, where there was a small Myanmar immigration office. After getting an exit stamp, I walked across the bridge and turned left towards the newly constructed Indian immigration complex. It’s much larger than Myanmar’s, however, it was completely empty when I was there having only recently been completed.
There was one man at a small desk in the centre of a large room and he took his time flicking through my passport looking at the numerous visas and stamps I’d collected. He finally stamped my Indian visa and I had to go to the back of the room where there was another man behind another small desk labelled ‘Customs’. He gave me a form to fill out and despite, ticking ‘yes’ to carrying nuts, seeds, fruits or vegetables he just waved me through without checking my bags.
Out of the building there was a large gate and it had ‘Moreh 2km’ written on it. I decided to walk the easy 2km to Moreh town, and in fact, there wasn’t really any other option in the form of taxis anyway.
Moreh is a much busier town than Tamu with plenty of restaurants, hotels and ATMs and of course, many minivans lined up along the road ready to go down to Imphal. A shared minivan to Imphal cost 500ruppees or AUD$10 and took around 4 hours. Again, the driver actually offered to drop me at whichever hotel in Imphal I wanted, which kindly saved me a taxi fare.
From leaving Mandalay, Myanmar to arriving at my hotel in Imphal, India, the total travel time was 28 hours. Like I said, it wasn’t difficult just tiring!
Heading the other way?
If you’re planning on entering Myanmar from India, I believe it is a pretty similar journey, just in reverse. There are a couple of transport options from Tamu heading to Mandalay. You can use minibus to Kalay and then on to Mandalay by bus or take a direct bus straight through. I believe the direct buses all leave Tamu before midday though, meaning you’ll have to leave Imphal early if you’re planning on crossing over the same day.
Basically, just be prepared for a long, overnight journey and possibly a lengthy wait, depending on the bus schedule at the time.
Travelling in the Northeast? Read about seven highlights of India’s least explored region I wrote about for Lonely Planet here.
Budget hotels don’t necessarily exist in Northeast India and the same goes for Imphal, Manipur. The best option and probably best value is Hotel Nirmala. Single rooms start from 800 rupees or AUD$16. The room was large, hot shower, Wi-Fi and a restaurant on site. It is recommended in Lonely Planet and most rickshaw and minivan drivers seem to know it.
Another option in the city centre is Hotel Shirui Lily, 300m away from Hotel Nirmala. Single room starting from 1000 rupees. It was definitely not as good value and the room was not as nice, however, it still had Wi-Fi and a decent restaurant.
A third option, although a few kilometres away from Thangal Bazaar, is Fair Haven Homestay, right opposite the Interstate Bus Terminus. The manager, Danny, is probably one of the most charismatic and helpful guesthouse managers I’ve come across. The rooms are ridiculously large, there’s hot water and breakfast is concluded. Rooms starting from 1000 rupees (after a little bargaining). Danny’s number is +91 8787597523 if you want to call ahead.