Myanmar turns border with Thailand into gateway for foreign tourists

Myanmar will on Wednesday turn four border checkpoints with Thailand into gateways for international visitors, immigration officials said Tuesday.

Starting 8 a.m. Wednesday, any foreign national holding a valid passport with a valid entry visa issued by Myanmar will be allowed to enter and exit the country through the border checkpoints at Tachileik-Mae Sai, Myawady-Mae Sot, Kawthoung-Ranong and Htee Khee-Punaron, they said.

Currently, for foreign nationals entering via those checkpoints, Myanmar issues either one-day border passes or entry visas that are valid for up to a week but restricted to nearby towns.

But with the new arrangement, tourists and business travelers who enter from those checkpoints will be allowed to travel anywhere inside Myanmar except the officially restricted areas, the same status as those who fly in via Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw international airports.

Visitors entering via one of those four checkpoints will also be able to use any other checkpoints to exit and reenter Myanmar, including the three international airports.

The new arrangement, made possible under the recent agreement between Myanmar and Thailand, will also allow Myanmar citizens with passports and visas to enter and exit Thailand.

Authorities in Myanmar are hoping the move would benefit the country's tourism industry, especially the insurgency stricken ethnic minority states of Shan, Kayin and Mon, all bordering Thailand, which largely lag behind the rest of the country in terms of development.

Myanmar received more than 1 million foreign tourists last year, according to official figures, compared with Thailand's figure of more than 22 million. The two countries share the long border of approximately 2,400 kilometers.

The same system could be applied to some checkpoints along Myanmar's borders with China and India in the future, officials said.