Myanmar continues to open the country
Myanmar government officials continue to take steps to open the country to the outside world, this time literally by allowing foreigners holding a visa to freely choose to travel to the country via any of its six most important entry channels.
The channels cover the three land border crossings with Thailand in Chiang rai’s Mae Sai district, Tak’s Mae Sot district and ranong’s Muang district and three air entry ports through Myanmar’s airports in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw.
A ceremony was held to launch the new arrangement at a border crossing between Mae Sai district and Myanmar’s Tachileik on August 28. The event was presided over by Shan State Security and Border Affairs Minister Col Aung Thu and attended by several Thai officials, including Mae Sai district chief Boontham Tipprasong and Col Yongyuth Laoketkarn, deputy commander of Pha Muang Force’s 3rd special unit. Col Aung Thu said the change is aimed at boosting relations between Thailand and Myanmar, and boosting tourism.
In 2012, Myanmar saw 1 million tourists, many of whom came to see the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Golden rock at Kyaikhtiyo in Mon State, Old royal Capital of Bagan, Mahamuni Buddha in Mandalay and Inlay Lake in Shan State.
The border crossing at Mae Sot-Myawaddy saw the attendance of Union Minister Htay Aung, Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, who traveled from Naypyitaw in order to preside over the official opening of this land border checkpoint. Also attending was the Minister of Immigration Khin Yi. Political analysts speculate that a plan is underway to repatriate some of the 140,000 Myanmar refugees living in Thailand.
In the context of the recent religious strife in Mandalay on July 21 and in Sagaing region at the end of August, Myanmar seems keen to clean up its political image. Tourism Minister Htay Aung explained the opening up of the country was a matter of “connectivity” between the neighboring countries ahead of the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) set for the end of 2015, if all goes to plan.
The opening up of the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border point to international visitors will help facilitate the promotion of the East-West Economic Highway that crosses from Da Nang in Vietnam via Laos and Thailand to Mawlamyain in Mon State. Also, Myawaddy is connected to Yangon and via the Mandalay region to Tamu on the Indian border.
How the security for tourists will be arranged when traveling in Myanmar?
Myanmar police have tightened security measures to protect tourists. recent communal riots have encouraged rumors of possible terrorist attacks, though the details of the supposed threats are unclear.
The Tourist Police Department is now working together with local police forces in implementing these measures. As the force is still young, there is a need to improve the services offered, according to Police Colonel Myo Min Oo from the Tourist Police Department. Local police departments across the country are also involved in holding public talks to ensure tourist security.
As a senior police officer from Nyaung Shwe Township Police Department in Shan State told Mizzima Business Weekly, his area sees many foreign tourists. “So our police force patrols the area every day. We have also taken necessary preventive measures in the area. A day before, we had persuaded a foreign couple to proceed to a nearby hotel as they said they would stay by the roadside for the night. We give help as much as we can.”
In another development, Thailand’s Nok Air flew from the Thai border town of Mae Sot in Tak Province to Mawlamyain in Myanmar’s Mon State for the first time on September 1. Tak Province Governor Suriya Prasartbundit was aboard the inaugural flight, which he said would boost border trade between the two countries. Suriya, who was joined by some 25 Thai and Myanmar businessmen, also urged Thai people to invest more in Mawlamyain’s tourism industry. Nok Air, a budget carrier, is the first foreign airline to fly to Mawlamyain, which is the fourth largest town in Myanmar.
Mawlamyain (formerly Moulmein) is a charming town at the mouth of the Thalwin river (Salween river). It is easily accessible by road and rail from Yangon. Sites to see in Mawlamyain are the impressive Kyaikthanlan Pagoda and Uzina Pagoda perched on the hillside. About 34 kilometers from Mawlamyain south is Thanbyuzayat, an Allied War
Memorial Cemetery for the prisoners of war who lost their lives during the building of the infamous Death railway during World War II. Scenic Setse Beach resort is nearby as well as the Kyaikkami Yele Pagoda and pilgrimage site at the seaside.
Mawlamyain will also become the gateway to the southern towns of Dawai, Myeik and Kawthaung in Myanmar. The pristine Myeik Archipelago with its 800 largely untouched islands is high on the agenda of the local tourism industry to be opened up and developed for international tourists.
Boni Yin, a tour operator from BIS Travel in Chiang Mai and native of Mawlamyain, says air tickets from Mae Sot to Mawlamyain cost 1,700 baht one way. The flight is daily and lasts only 20 minutes, he said.
This article first appeared in the September 19 edition of M-ZINE+.