Touring southeast Asia means embracing the visa run, and visiting Thailand for any length of time means you’ll need to do one. Thankfully, this one is a relative breeze. Compared to, say, entering Laos via Vientiane or to Huay Xai, Laos from Chiang Khong, Thailand, it’s bound to be a bit cheaper as well.
I should note that due to limited bus schedules, this should be thought of a three-day (technically a 2 1/2 day) endeavor. If you’re really in a rush, a visa run to Laos would probably be a better option, but you’ll pay more for the privilege.
Get to Mae Sot.
From Chiang Mai’s bus terminal, Mae Sot is a 5 1/2 – 6 hour bus ride that will make several stops. Green buses leave at 11:45am (A-class / second class) and 1:10pm (X-class / first-class). You can book these tickets online, or head to the bus terminal beforehand.
Walk to a guesthouse, get a room and relax.
From the Mae Sot bus terminal, head right onto Intarakiri road (note this is NOT the highway – you’ll see that fading into the distance). It’s about a kilometer walk before you’ll start seeing the guesthouses – you’ll know you’re getting close when you see the Arisa Hotel on your right.
Our choice was Ban Pruk Sa Guesthouse (GPS: 16.713824,98.559733) – 400 baht a night for a very good room with hot shower, cable TV, and queen-size bed. This made a much better choice than Ban Thai next door, which had a larger room but only had a twin-sized bed for twice the price. A few other options are around the same area, including one down the same alley. Most of the places you’ll need or want are along this road, including convenience stores, restaurants, the night market, and so on.
For dinner, the Krua Canadian restaurant is an institution (GPS: 16.715813,98.569544). It’s been around for over 15 years, and the menu has a little bit of everything – Mexican, Canadian, Thai, and plenty more. You’ll see a sign for it as you walk down Intarakiri road – it’s about 900 meters from Ban Pruk Sa guesthouse, and just down a side street on your right.
If you’ve made it this far, the night market is unmissable, and features the usual variety of edible insects, street food, Western-style clothes, cheap sandals, and plenty more. Walk around a bit – it’s about the only bit of life this town has after sundown.
Wake up the next morning and get to the border.
Myanmar awaits! Find a tuk-tuk or songthaew and head to Rim Moei (the driver might understand ‘the border’ or ‘Myanmar’, but Rim Moei is where you’re going). After some asking around, we were pointed around to GPS: 16.712237,98.56528, just down the street from the day market. The border is about five kilometers away, and it’s basically a straight shot heading west down the highway. You could rent a bike and ride to the border, but you’d probably need to park it somewhere on the Thai side. Lock it up good!
Immigration and crossing the border
Get stamped out of Thailand first – head to window 4. Once you’re through, cross the border by foot (no shuttle buses of any kind were running) and get to the Myanmar side. Look right for the arriving section (and note that traffic now drives on the right), slide open the door, and tell you’re there to shop. Or sightsee. Or whatever.
Welcome to Myanmar!
The fee for the same-day visa is $10 USD or 500 Thai baht (a borderline offensive markup, since 500 baht is roughly $15 USD). Immigration will hold your passport and give you a card like this:
You’ll need to get back before Myanmar immigration closes at 5pm. That won’t be a problem since there’s really just a couple of hours worth of sights to see. Add a half hour for some grub or shopping, if you like. You also can’t get too far into the country without a visa (though there are a few sites worth seeing – see my recent post on Myawaddy for those)
Protip: the local currency, the kyat, looks quite a bit like the Lao kip. You also don’t need any kyat, since stores will quote you a (typically) fair price in Thai baht. If you want some to add to your foreign money collection, you can always change a small amount of Thai baht. 100 Thai baht (a little over $3 USD) translated to about 3,000 kyat.
Before leaving the country, consider this your best chance to pick up a longyi, the traditional Burmese skirt, for any number of reasons. Men’s and women’s version are available, though men have to put up with plaid patterns while women get the more colorful varieties. Expect to pay about 100 Thai baht or 3,000 kyat.
Protip: Myawaddy / Myanmar time runs 30 minutes earlier than Mae Sot / Thailand. Call it a wonderful quirk of crossing borders, but set your watch back the half hour or remember this every time you look at your phone. That time change means you’ll need out of Myanmar by 4:30pm Thai time. Nothing personal, but I’d rather not have my passport held by a Burmese official or in anyone else’s hands any longer than necessary.
Get back to Myanmar’s immigration – the same door you slid open earlier, now on your left side – and exchange the card(s) for your passport(s). Cross the bridge again and head back to Thailand.
Back to Mae Sot
As of this post’s publishing date, the 30-day visa-on-arrival for tourists is available whether you’re traveling by land or air. Head to window 4 again, fill out the arrival card and present your passport. Once in Thailand, walk past the markets setup in the street and look left for a songthaew back to Mae Sot (15-20 baht). If you’re in a hurry, a motorcycle taxi or two may be around (60 baht). Head back to your guesthouse to clean up, or meander around town some more.
While you’re in town, get some dinner at Famous Ray’s on Ban Tung road – quite seriously, this was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Try their monster burger challenge if you like, or simply get some warm fuzzies from indirectly donating to charity. You’ll see a sign along Intarakiri road – in case it goes missing, the GPS is 16.711867,98.56117. From Ban Pruk Sa guesthouse, head west (back towards the bus terminal) and take a left after about 150 meters. Take the second left and walk about 250 meters – it’ll be on your right.
Wherever you go for dinner, get back to your guesthouse or hotel and crash – tomorrow’s an early day!
Return back to Chiang Mai
There are two Green buses from Mae Sot to Chiang Mai: 6:00am and 8:00am. Yes, they’re both early, and the night owls like me won’t like that, but them’s the breaks. Unlike other bus companies around Thailand, Green buses tend to leave on-time, or closer to on-time than anyone else I’ve ridden with. Other bus companies are around, and of course if you’re headed elsewhere in Thailand just keep your eyes out at the ticket boxes.
Otherwise, get some shut-eye, some reading, or some writing done – you’re headed back to Chiang Mai with a fresh visa stamp and a new country under your belt.
Have you done this visa run yet? What’s your go-to place?
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Also published on Medium.