Crossing the border with China: Muse / Ruili

Please also read recent comments below this post from other travellers regarding this crossing.

There is only one current border crossing between Myanmar and China and there is a certain amount of uncertainty and mystery about how cyclists can cross.

There is comparatively very little online about cyclists crossing this border and lots of differing information about what you need to organise to be permitted to cross. Posts by cyclists on the Lonely Planet ‘Thorn Tree’ forum led us to an agent and described what others had done.

The area between Lashio and Muse remains a restricted zone in which foreigners need a government permit to cross.

We had read some reports that we also needed a guide, the travel agent we were liaising with regarding the permit (Exotic Myanmar Travel and Tours) was insistent we did, although 2 weeks previously they sent other cyclists up the road without a guide and only a permit. Apparently the rues had recently changed and now you need a guide, and not a cheap guide!

Initially we were also told that we needed to go with the guide all the way from Mandalay but we knew that we could definitely cycle as far as Lashio.

We are uncertain why exactly the area is currently closed, the official line is that there is still regional fighting between Shan separatists and the government; the area has seen its fair share of fighting in the past. We suspect the real reason however is more opium related.

Either way we were told we could cycle to Lashio but that we would need to meet the guide there and then rent a car from Lashio to Muse. The guide would bring our permits with him and organise the necessary paperwork at the border.

The whole thing is an expensive option, but we hooked up with a Dutch couple, Geart and Sytske, cycling the same way and split the guide cost with them. We temporarily had a 5th member of the team, but Victor had to withdraw after a pretty bad illness forced him to cut his trip short.

Dealing with the agent was very tricky due to language differences and the shifting sands of information which trickled from her. After 50+ emails we finally settled on the plan, costs timing etc…

As the day of crossing approached Geart and Sytske decided they wanted to put the system to the test and head for the border without the guide or permit. Would they get through?! Unfortunately well never know as they fell ill and did well just to get to Lashio in time.

This meant the 4 of us met the government guide in Lashio in the evening. He turned out to be very friendly and helpful arranging a good value taxi for the morning…although the information he would give about the area, permits, his role, his expenses, was incredibly vague and changeable – but we enjoyed his company.

We set off in the morning for Muse with Tandem sitting upright on the roof of an estate car sandwiched between the 2 other bikes.

We only passed one checkpoint on the road from Lashio and that was just outside Muse. Our guide needed to show our permits and passports and his official guide identity card. Our guide told us that this check point is open 8am-6pm so it might be possible to cross after hours with a bike and avoid this… 

Upon arriving at Muse at 4pm and finding out the cheapest hotel in town was $30 (!!) we persuaded our guide to take us over the border that day.

There were a few phone calls back to head office to check this was OK before he headed into the border post with a big box of biscuits for his friend to speed up the process. Finally, around 5pm,  we crossed into China.

We still have no idea if we needed the guide or whether we got ripped of by the agent, the guide or the government policy for travel in the region… but this is part of the game! We got to China and are now very comfortable with our overall schedule.

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