Chiang Mai to Mae Sai, Burma border run

When you are living in or staying in Chaing Mai for an extended period of time, most foreigners will need to do a border run to renew their visa.  If you are on a simple tourist, visa on entry you will get 15 days for an overland cross or 30 more days if you go out and fly back in.  Because of the cost of a flight we opted to just drive over the border and get 15 days.  The easiest and quickest way to accomplish this is to head up to Mae Sai on the Thailand Burma border.

There are many options for getting from Chiang Mai to the border but because of our large family we chose to go in a hired van complete with a driver.  We had wanted to rent our own car and make the drive ourselves but every single car was either booked for the day or exorbitantly priced.  We paid 4000 baht, or roughly $120.  That was split with another family and so the cost was $60.  This was far less then even taking the public bus at $20 a person.  That remains the best option for those travelling alone or even for a couple.  Renting your own car or scooter is also an option and would be less expensive then the van with driver but reserve well in advance especially if travelling during the high season.

Hot springs fountain
We left around 830 in the morning and made our way out of the city quickly.  We made a stop for the bathroom along the way at hot springs Chiang Rai.  I highly recommend this as a stop.  There are nice bathrooms, snacks and drinks, a free, that's right FREE place to soak your feet in some beautiful hot springs. (not for a full body dunk but just for feet, although I suppose anything is possible really)  There are some great photo ops of the hot water fountains and the option of buying and boiling eggs right in the hot pools of water.  The kids and I thought that was really cool.

During the beautiful 4 hour ride to the border we encountered perfect roads, beautiful mountain vistas and hairpin curves.  I would recommend Dramamine or at least some type of bag if you are prone to motion sickness at all.  After living in Costa Rica, not much can scare us on the road, but the curves may be a bit frightening to some!  The car itself was comfortable with ample leg room.  There were 8 of us and we had the whole thing to ourselves.  It was more than enough room.

We slowly approached an area lined with vans, buses and every conceivable product being peddled.  We knew we had made it and that the real work would now begin.  Out of the van we all shuffled, happy to be out of the car for a while.  The driver dropped us right in front of the huge blue gates around the border, gave us his cell and told us to give him a call when we were ready to head back.

We walked over to the left side and followed the only English signs there...passport control!   The exit forms were already in our passport, had we known this it could have been all filled out already.  We didn't realize so we stepped aside to quickly fill out the forms.  Back in line and in about 5 mins we were through and onto the other side.  At this point you cross over the bridge to the Burma side.  An easy 2 minute walk.  You can see the obvious differences between Thailand and Burma immediately.

As soon as you get on the bridge hang on to your belongings.  Children and vendors come out and start grabbing on your arms, begging for money or for you to follow them to a tour of some sort.  We went over to the right side of the bridge and were directed into the Burma office of immigration.  We were told to bring $10 for each passport but the officials there, who were smoking in the office and spoke good English, would have none of the US money.  500 Thai baht per person and then when you tell them it is just for an hour or so they take your photo and hand you a copy of that then take and keep your passport.  You get it back but man what an unsettling feeling to leave them with these guys.  I spend my travel time constantly counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...OK they are all here.  So having him walk away with these was distressing but I knew about it ahead of time so I accepted it and walked on.

Markets on the Burma/Myanmar side
We made our way outside only to watch him brazenly walk outside with our passports to god only knows where.  Breathe, it will be OK!  Once past all the immigration the real hagglers come out.  More begging, more harassing, and the saddest of souls.  It was all quite overwhelming and someplace that seemed a waste to hang around in for very long.  We walked around a bit but without having any real direction and since we were all starving we decided to walk back over and pick up those passports.

We knew we were there to do a job but for me it felt awful to see so little of a new country.  I know we will be back and the hagglers were really haggling us but still.

Very odd placement on this one
The passports had been dropped off in the building across the street and were ready for us when we got there.   I felt better immediately!  Back over the bridge, now to the left side, to the Thai immigration office.  I am not sure why but I am always nervous at these places.  Will they ask me for proof I am leaving, will they question me as to why I am there?  But not a single question was had.  They looked in the passports, took our photos one at a time, and stamped 15 more days.  Done!

Overall this was a super easy border run.  We coupled it with an overnight in Chiang Dao to visit the caves but we could have returned after spending a leisurely time at the border and have been home before dark.  Now if only we could get 30 days so as not to do this every 2 weeks...


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