Mae Sai Border Gate & Tachileik Day Trip
Mae Sai was once a popular destination for visa run services, where tourists would cross the Thai boarded by land for a couple of hours, then return with a 14 day extension. The Thai government cracked down on visa runs around 2016 and have since made these more difficult.
These days, most people travel to Mae Sai to visit the huge border market and to make a quick trip across the Mae Sai border gate to Tachiliek, Myanmar. For those with limited time in their travels, Tachileik is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to visit Myanmar from Thailand.
Traveling to Mae Sai
Most people travel to the Mae Sai border gate by bus from either Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. It is a five hour trip one way from Chiang Mai, and a two hour trip one way from Chiang Rai. Check Green Bus for the latest prices and schedules.
Buses will not drive all the way up to the Mae Sai border gate. Instead, they will stop at the Mae Sai bus terminal (location) about 5km south of the gate. From here, you will need to take a songtaew for 10-15THB per person to the border.
The songtaews are easy to catch and depart the bus terminal regularly. Just follow the crowd and the instructions as you get off the bus.
When checking the bus schedules, note the last departure time from Mae Sai, and aim to be a the bus terminal at least 30 minutes early. Traffic can cause delays even in the short stretch from the Mae Sai border gate to the bus terminal.
It is also possible to ride a motorbike from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai, though not a very pleasant road. The main highway is frequented by many trucks, and alternate routes can be difficult to navigate. A motorbike ride from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai takes about 2 to 2.5 hours one way.
Mae Sai, Thailand
On the Thai side, the market runs along the left-hand side of Phahonyothin up to the border which is divided by the Ruak River. You will find all sorts of goods from home appliances and power tools to tea, clothing and tacky souvenirs.
Walk through the narrow undercover alleyways in the market to stumble upon small cafes and restaurants. One particularly interesting store is the Cowboy Café (location) which has a nice little courtyard out the back, a great place to relax for an hour with an iced coffee.
After exploring the market, continue out the back and up the hill to the Wat Pha That Doi Wao temple, also referred to as the temple of the mountain of scorpions. This Buddhist temple is located up on the hill overlooking the Burmese border.
Climb the steep staircase where you will find a huge scorpion statue situated up on the hill staring right at Myanmar. This monument is dedicated to Thailand’s Lanna King Naresuan, who famously beat back the Burmese invasions. The scorpion is a clear message to the Burmese not to invade again.
Crossing Mae Sai Border Gate
Before crossing the Mae Sai border gate, you will have to get your passport stamped for exit from Thailand. Then, proceed to the Myanmar immigration office.
At the Myanmar immigration office, you will pay the 500 THB entry fee. Another cheaper option is to pay USD 10, a saving of about USD 5. The immigration staff will keep your passport and issue a visiting pass valid for 1 to 14 days.
The pass for Myanmar is only valid for the Tachileik district. To visit the Kengtung district you will need to apply for another permit. In addition, if you want to visit other areas in Myanmar you need to apply for a visa beforehand.
As you cross the border, notice how Thailand drives on the left-hand side of the road, but Myanmar on the right-hand side. This changeover happens on the bridge creating a completely crazy traffic jam.
The Burmese side of the border is a town called Tachileik. Here there is a larger outdoor market with a huge range of goods available from cheap sunglasses to Burmese whiskey and counterfeit cigarettes. There are small stalls in amongst the market selling food, drinks and a few small pool halls.
The market may be big, but you will probably find 1-2 hours is sufficient, many of the goods end out being quite the same.
Note: watch out for pickpockets on this side of the border. Be cautious of the children and adults who follow you closely hassling you to buy counterfeit cigarettes.
If crossing the border to Tachilek you should also explore beyond the market. Walk further north of the main market through the village, and climb up to the huge golden Shwedagon Pagoda. This pagoda overlooks the township of Tachileik with an impressive view.
Along the way to the Shwedagon Pagoda, you will pass smaller backstreet markets. Here locals sell fresh produce to villagers rather than tourists, hence a more authentic vibe.
There are a few small temples surrounding the Shwedagon Pagoda. There is a Buddhist temple to the south-west and a Hindu temple to the south-east. Both are well worth a quick visit if time permits.
Like the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Buddhist temple has a great view over Tachileik looking back towards the Thai border. From here, you will also be able to see the scorpion mountain on the Thai side. It is a little more unsettling from this angle.
What time does the Mae Sai border gate open?
The Mae Sai border gate opens at 6.30am and now has extended closing hours of 9pm daily. If taking a bus to the Mae Sai border gate, is it unlikely that you will actually arrive this early or depart this late.
Don’t just plan your trip on the border gate opening hours, but be sure to check the bus schedule to and from your destination.
Staying overnight in Tachileik
With the 14 day Myanmar visa obtained on entry, it is possible to stay overnight in Tachileik. I actually stayed here for two nights, though I’d recommend that one night is probably long enough.
Check out the full range of accommodation options in Tachileik here on Agoda.
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