April 10, 2010

The Truth About Myanmar Part 2

corching sun as a

I have permission to go, I have money to go, at this point its just a question of getting everything ready to actually get there.

Planning a trip to Myanmar really shows you how those 'sanctions' we've heard so much about actually work. Because of sanctions, you can't :
  1. Find and ATM
  2. Find flights through American/Canadian/European travel websites like Expedia. You have to go straight to the airline and pay the higher price
  3. Book most hotels online
  4. Use credit cards to pay for anything there
  5. Find a 7 Eleven for those feminine emergencies (i.e. chocolate cravings)
  6. Find up-to-date, accurate information on transportation or. . . well, anything else
Pretty much, the only effect is to make travel for the foreign tourist a PAIN IN THE.. . . But that's a whole other issue.

When I finally found a ticket from Bangkok to Yangon, fitting everything I wanted to do into the four days I had free was something of a clown car. I do it, I have schedule (I'll get into that next time), and then the next thing I have to figure out rears it's ugly head: visas.

To find an appropriate bus to take from Mercy to the Embassy was interesting, but made so much easier with Google Maps. I cancel my two morning classes to get there in the morning (Since they don't have a website, I have no idea what their hours are like). I go, fill out my forms, reach for the envelope containing my photos and. . . its empty. Great; in my last minute run through yesterday I forgot to put them back.

Grumble Grumble, I leave the Embassy. . . walk along the desolate road in the blazing sun, dying of thirst, until I see. . . I photo studio! Yay! I don't have to come all the way out here and cancel classes again! I run in, pay a ridiculous fee for four very embarrassing photos, and head back to the Embassy. I go to the window, get a number, and wait patiently.

Up to the window, the scary Burmese official who has probably just been honorably discharged from the Army for bootlegging some Marlboro Reds looks at my forms and says
"Your job is a volunteer?"
"Yes, here in Bangkok. . . "
"Hmmm *flips though my duly completed forms* We need a letter from your employer. "

Are you serious?

"I'm leaving on Thursday, is that enough time?"
"Oh yeah, can you come back tomorrow?"
No, I couldn't because I had to schmooze come Canadian Parliamentarians.
Again, I leave the Embassy, wander along the deserted road in the scorching sun, accompanied by a swarthy man playing a tiny, tinny violin.


For all you future travellers to the Golden Land! To obtain a visa, you need:
  • Your Passport (like, duh)
  • A photocopy of your passport
  • Two recent, color photos like those in your passport
  • 'Duly completed' Visa form, Arrival form, and Work history form
  • And, if your current and/or former job is anything like teacher, volunteer, journalist, editor, UN worker, or street cleaner, you also need a letter signer by your employer saying you're going as a tourist, not in your capacity as a fore-mentioned professional, that you personally organized and paid for your TOURIST trip, and that anything you do there is as a TOURIST.
The whole thing will cost 810 baht and take two business days, and will get you a tourist, single entry visa valid for four weeks in Myanmar. Embassy hours are from 9:00 to 12:00 and 1:00 to 3:00 for visa processing, and from 3:00 to 4:30 for passport pickup.

I share. God, Ms. Crawford would be proud of me!

When I finally get my passport back, two days before I leave, I'm getting excited. Sure, having to wake up at 3 in the morning to catch the flight was a downer (at least I had caffeine, otherwise the security guy would have been missing a few items), but it was worth it to see this sign, which was also an ad for tea mix, next to one saying

"Drug Trafficking is Bad! Punishable by fine or death."

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