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Visa-free trips to Myanmar begin January 4

MYANMAR'S GEMS. They surely await in Bagan.

Photo from Myanmar's tourism website

MANILA, Philippines – Travelers, mark the date. Filipinos can visit Myanmar without a visa starting Jan 4, 2014, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced 3 weeks after the former military junta granted Filipinos the visa-free privilege.

Ordinary passport holders from the Philippines can stay in Myanmar without a visa for 14 days, the DFA said in a statement Friday, December 27.

The DFA said January 4 "is the date of effectivity" of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar on the Visa Exemption for Holders of Ordinary Passports.

The two countries signed this deal during the visit of Myanmar President U Thein Sein last December 5. A pariah that broke free from military rule after 50 years, Myanmar has begun opening up to the rest of the world. (READ: Visa-free: Myanmar opens up to PH tourists.)

"The visa-free entry agreement is expected to boost tourism, trade and investment between the Philippines and Myanmar," the DFA said.

Tourist attractions in Myanmar include temples that date back to the 12th century, ancient carvings, and a former capital called the Garden City of the East. 

NO LONGER HIDDEN. Tourists will revel in places like this in Yangon.

Photo from Myanmar's tourism website

The Philippines already grants Myanmar nationals a 30-day visa-free privilege under Executive Order 408, which was signed in 1960.

Beautiful country, few tourists

The visa exemption deal is seen to boost tourism in Myanmar, a country full of tourist attractions but struggling to lure more visitors. (READ: The many hitches of Myanmar.)

Myanmar has the second lowest number of tourists in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to the latest regional statistics.

The ASEAN Tourism Statistics database said that in 2011, only around 816,400 tourists visited Myanmar.

On the other hand, 3.92 million tourists went to the Philippines that year. The Philippines had the 6th most number of tourists then – and that was before it revitalized its tourism campaign, “It's More Fun in the Philippines.”

Philippine statistics show that the Philippines got 4.27 million tourists in 2012.

Going beyond tourism, the deal will also help trade between the the Philippines and Myanmar.

In 2012, Myanmar ranked 3rd to the lowest among the Philippines' trading partners in ASEAN. It only fared better than Cambodia and Laos.

The Philippines and Myanmar traded only $47.07 million in 2012. This is a measly amount compared to the $9.27 billion total trade between the Philippines and its biggest ASEAN trading partner, Singapore. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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