Serving as the westernmost border frontier of Thailand, Mae Sot is an ethnic and cultural crossroads town which encapsulates much of Asia.
Traders from India, Burma, Malaysia and China can be seen mingling and dealing with a wide selection of minority Thai groups. The Karen make up a large proportion of the minorities present, but you'll also see Hmong, Lisu and Musoe -- a Lahu sub-group. The colourful clothes worn by these folk give Mae Sot a truly vibrant feel -- couple the Asian fusion with the mish-mash of tourists and NGO workers and you've got what is arguably one of the most diverse communities in Thailand.
During the day, Mae Sot's central market street is a prime place to catch a glimpse of real society -- Burmese ladies with powdered faces, Indian boys cheekily begging, and hill tribes patiently selling their crops -- all come together to form a picturesque multicultural scene.
There is a heavy NGO presence in Mae Sot, primarily involved with the Burmese refugee groups and orphanages. Partly as a result of this constant foreign presence there's a decent blend of cuisine on offer -- everything from Burmese curry to lasagna, and a happening music scene is evolving.
All in all, Mae Sot isn't a bad place to pass a few days. If you rent a bicycle or motorbike you can venture to the border market, a hill tribe village or perhaps just choose a country lane and go exploring. Assuming you're eligible, at the border you can make a day trip into Burma and on return you will receive a new 15 day visa for Thailand.
Mae Sot is a bit of a sprawling affair, but the majority of what you'll probably be needing is based around two parallel streets, Pasatwitee and Intharakiri. The vast majority of Mae Sot's guest houses, hotels, restaurants and cafes are all based along here, as are many small market stalls and a few pharmacies.
Banking-wise you'll find a few ATM machines dotted around town, with most to be found on Pasatwitee in the vicinity of the Siam Hotel and the Gems market.
The police station is on Intharakiri Rd, with the post office directly opposite.
There are two hospitals in town, the Mae Sot and the Pawor, both about 1km south from the main drag.
The bus station is around 300m from central Mae Sot, so it's possible to walk into town on a cool day.
By Stuart McDonald .