The main reason we were in Thailand was to get a Myanmar visa in Bangkok. Getting visas is never fun, but this was the least fun we’d had for a long time.
Where to go
Applications have to be submitted in the morning (before 12:00) to the embassy in Pan Road, Bang Rak. We were staying only a 10 minute walk away but it’s very close to the Surasak BTS station and the Central Pier of the Chao Phraya ferry. The embassy opens at 09:00 but when we arrived at 08:30 there were already about 30 people in the queue.
What you’ll need
We already had our 2 photos (normal passport size with a white background) and photocopies of our passport main page but not the application forms, so we got some for 5 baht each from a woman in a van who also does photos and photocopies. She also lent us her glue stick to attach one of the photos to the form. It seemed worth paying for the forms as we could fill them in while waiting – for this we needed the address of our hotels in Mandalay and Bangkok.
The form asks for details of your current and one previous job. It’s probably best to avoid anything that might suggest that you’ll cause trouble or embarrassment, such as ‘journalist’ or even ‘travel writer’ or ‘charity worker’. There’s no check, so put whatever bland alternative you like. There’s a space for ‘complexion’ – I assumed they wanted ‘white’ rather than ‘a bit dry at the moment’!
Of course, we also had our passports and the fee in cash – they only take cash. By the time the embassy doors opened there were probably 30 more people behind us.
We queued up at window 4 for our number, then when it was called about 45 minutes later we paid 810 baht each for the normal service, which is 3 working days (including the day of application). Because it was Tuesday 30th December and the embassy was closed the 2 days following, our pick-up day was Monday 5th January. We were out of the embassy with our vital yellow receipt slips by 10:30 – not bad at all. The problems were with the collection.
Collection of passports is between 15:30 and 16:30, so we arrived at 15:30 to join a queue of about 50 people and waited for the doors to open. Waited…and waited. Apparently they were still processing people from the morning session, there had been so many, and they weren’t going to let us in until they’d finished. The doors eventually opened at 17:45, and we all surged inside to besiege window 2, from where passports of non-Thais would be dispensed. There then followed over 2 hours of increasingly unrestrained pushing and shoving as we inched towards the desk.
The problem was the lack of a system – for every customer the staff had to flip through piles of passports trying to match the face in front of them with the photo on the attached application form. They were spectacularly bad at this – sometimes they didn’t even get the gender right. It could take 5 minutes to locate a single passport, and when they finally succeeded an ironic cheer went up from the people nearest the window (the only ones who could actually see what was happening). Eventually people figured that writing their name and nationality on their yellow slip, and telling the clerk what colour their passport was speeded things up a bit, and the word was passed around the crowd. It was all so unneccessary because the yellow slips were numbered, and the same number was attached to the application – all they needed to do was arrange the passports in number order!
It was 20:00 before I finally got to the window, firmly planting my hand on the desk and bending my elbow to prevent the Chinese girl pushing at my left shoulder from barging in front, while Mr V blocked my right flank. Happily the clerk went straight to our passports – perhaps the distinction of having grey hair worked in our favour. Passports in hand, I quickly checked them before fighting my way out of the queue against the combined weight of the 40+ people still trying to reach the desk.
Our experience of getting a Myanmar visa in Bangkok was probably exceptional because of the two public holidays during the previous week, and perhaps a lot of people had planned their travel to Myanmar so that they could spend New Year in Bangkok first. However I strongly suggest that you don’t assume that you’ll be able to collect your passport by 4.30pm and be on your way to the airport for a flight the same evening (some people were there with their luggage).
The Myanmar embassy in Bangkok closes for all public holidays, both Thai and Burmese, plus Muslim Eid al Adha and Hindu Diwali, so that’s a lot of days when it’s closed, and they don’t necessarily advertise the closure. They publish a list on their website but you should make your plans to allow an extra day or two just in case.
When getting your Myanmar visa in Bangkok you can opt to pay extra for a next-day or same-day service, or as an alternative you can apply online for an e-visa if it’s available for your nationality and planned route. When we travelled they had withdrawn the facility for arrivals in Mandalay, so be sure to check the latest information before relying on this method.