If your tourist visa is about to expire and you’re in Northern Thailand, the quickest and easiest solution to staying longer is to cross into Burma for a couple of hours and receive a 15-day or 30-day visa-free stay (depending on nationality) upon your return back into Thailand.
The closest, most accessible border crossing from Chiang Mai is at Mae Sai/Tachilek, around three hours north of Chiang Rai. While there are countless tour companies ready to pack farangs into minivans that will make the trip there and back in a day — some offering to stop at the white temple in Chiang Rai – we’d recommend taking the Green Bus to Mae Sai.
A one-way trip to Mae Sai takes about five hours, and the minibuses tend to crowd passengers inside like they’re sardines in a can. Add to this the infamous, reckless minibus drivers, and you’re pretty much set for 12 hours in hell, if you ask us. Meanwhile, a VIP ticket on one of the local buses leaves you comfortably stretching out on a seat with a couple snacks and some sweet soymilk brought to you periodically by the bus attendant. What’s more, if you time your trip correctly — say, leaving at 7:00 or 8:00, and returning on the 15:30 bus — you’ll have a couple of hours to peruse the market on the Burmese side, as well as eat some delicious Indian food in Tachilek.
Green Bus is the easiest of the bus companies to find and the only one with English signs. Purchase your Green Bus tickets at the Arcade Bus Station on Kaew Narawat Road. The Green Bus counter is inside Terminal 2, and we’d suggest buying your tickets a couple of days in advance as buses do fill up. For timetables, check the Green Bus website (link below).
A cluster of songthaews will be waiting at the Mae Sai bus station to drive you to the border for 15 baht, where you can fill out your exit form, get stamped out of Thailand, and cross the bridge into Burma, where you’ll have the option of simply receiving a Burma stamp and returning to Thailand, or staying for a couple hours on the Burmese side. In either case, hand the Burmese officers 500 baht and wait for the officers to review your information, scan your passport, and take your picture. If you’re intending to stay in Burma, you’ll be handed a cardboard voucher in lieu of your passport. Be sure to keep this safe.
Touts abound as soon as you enter Burma, offering anything from cigarettes to tours of nearby Tachilek. You’ll also have the option of perusing the large market immediately to the right once you cross into Burma, though aside from cheap pirated DVDs, there’s little of real interest here.
We advise that you save your baht, which you can easily use in Burma, for some roasted chestnuts, a local specialty, and bypass the market for one of the Indian restaurants located about four blocks east of the market once you hit the main road. Alcohol is much cheaper on the Burmese side, though plenty of it is also fake, so do try to purchase any at some of the more formal stores directly across from the border on the main road.
When you’re ready to return to Thailand, simply pick up your passport, walk back along the bridge, fill out another entry form, and wait for that glorious stamp on your passport that buys you another 15 or 30 days in the kingdom.
T: (053) 266 480
By Claudia Sosa
Last updated on 26th January, 2014.