Category Archives: Chiang Rai

Border Run – Mae Sai, Thailand to Myanmar

As stated in the previous post, I went to Chaing Rai to see the place, and be closer to the Myanmar border. I rented a motorbike once again, this time a Honda Sh-150; yet another upgrade. I was looking for another PCX but the company I was at only had SH-150s. I was not disappointed. The SH-150 had larger wheels, was heavier, and had a bit higher seating position. This all made for a more stable ride on the road. In Chiang Rai the price was the same for an SH-150 as for a PCX, 400 baht ($13.00) per day so the upgrade made sense.

The Honda Sh-150 feels more stable on the road than the PCX. It also includes a handy storage trunk as well as under seat storage.

The Honda Sh-150 feels more stable on the road than the PCX. It also includes a handy storage trunk as well as under seat storage.

The road trip to Mae Sai was pretty easy, only about an hour. The highway was in good shape and there were no mountain passes or tight cornering. I didn’t stop at any of the small towns along the way but did see several markets and a multitude of road side stands selling produce and some local wine. I must have passed through strawberry farming country because there were dozens and dozens of stands selling strawberries.

One of the many roadside stands selling strawberry products on the way to Mae Sai.

One of the many roadside stands selling strawberry products on the way to Mae Sai.

Farm land prepared for the next crop. There were many miles of farm land on the route to Mai Sai.

Farm land prepared for the next crop. There were many miles of farm land on the route to Mai Sai.

Like many countries that are allies, Thailand allows some tourists into the country without prearranging a visa. Upon arrival the tourist is granted a 15 day or 30 day visa stamp in their passport depending on their country of origin. For longer stays, a 60 day tourist visa (or other type) must be acquired prior to arrival in Thailand. This is done by applying for the visa at a Royal Thai Consulate near where ever you happen to be. You can apply for either a single entry visa (which is what I did due to ignorance) or a multiple entry visa. The multiple entry visa allows you to visit other countries by departing from, and returning to Thailand without closing out the 60 day visa on departure. With a single entry visa once you leave Thailand the visa is closed so, for example, if you leave Thailand to visit Laos after only a week in Thailand your 60 day tourist visa is gone and when you reenter Thailand you’ll get a 30 day (or 15 day) visa stamp. If I had gotten a multiple entry visa I may have visited other countries, but the way it worked out I spent all my time in Thailand; which I don’t really regret.

Many people take a bus directly from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai to get a new 30 day visa for Thailand. They cross the border there into Myanmar (Burma) then, either immediately or after a bit of shopping and sightseeing, return to Thailand and get a new visa stamp. This is known as a “border run”. It’s also possible to get a new 60 day tourist (or other type) visa by doing a “visa run”, though not available at the Mae Sai/Myanmar border crossing. For a “visa run” you have to leave Thailand before your current visa expires, go to a country that has a Royal Thai Consulate and apply for a new 60 day tourist visa. Processing the application usually takes two to four days which you can spend sightseeing in the new country.

The road from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai runs straight into the border crossing so it’s not like you have to go find it. Parking is a bit of a problem if you’re not taking your vehicle across the border. There was a line of traffic about a half mile long waiting to cross to Myanmar when I arrived. The road going north to Myanmar is three lanes. The center lane is the queue for vehicles crossing the border, the left and right serve the traffic flowing on the Thai side of the border. There is also a multitude of street vendors on the left.

The Thai immigration office in Mae Sai arches over the bridge to Myanmar.

The Thai immigration office in Mae Sai arches over the bridge to Myanmar.

I’ve talked with some folks that park at hotels near the border, but since I wasn’t staying at a local hotel I opted to park at a shopping center about 4-5 blocks from the border up a side street on the west side of the main road.

The process of checking out of Thailand was pretty easy. Just fill out the departure card that you received when you arrived; it should still be stapled to the page where your Thai visa is. Wait in line for your turn with the immigration official on the left side of the large blue building. They’ll scan your passport, take your picture, and stamp your passport with the exit date. Next, walk across the bridge changing sides half way across since Myanmar drives on the right and be sure to look both ways since traffic could be coming from any direction.

Crossing the bridge from Mae Sai, Thailand to Tachileik, Myanmar (Burma)

Crossing the bridge from Mae Sai, Thailand to Tachileik, Myanmar (Burma)

Once across the bridge, I checked in with the Myanmar immigration on the right, just as you get to the end of the bridge. I was charged 500 baht ($16) by the official and got a stamp in my passport. I was officially in Myanmar. I was thinking of having a quick look around the local market before heading back to Thailand, but as soon as I got through immigration I was approached by several people trying to sell me Viagra and counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes. I quickly decided I didn’t want to deal with the high pressure sales and returned to Thailand after about 60 seconds in Myanmar. My passport was stamped with a departure date at Myanmar immigration on the opposite side of the road from where I entered. Back across the bridge, changing sides again since Thailand drives on the left, and fill out an entry and departure card at the table provided. After a short wait in line (the line to the right; the line to the left is for Thai citizens), the Thai immigration official scanned my passport, took my picture and stamped my passport with a new 30 day visa stamp. I would now be able to stay in Thailand for the Songkran festival (the Thai New Year celebration).

Mae Sai

One of major attractions in Mae Sai is the Wat Phra That Wai Dao Temple. Just before the border crossing there is a street to the left (west) that hosts a local market. If you pass through the market you’ll see a very long staircase leading up to the temple. 

A very long staircase from Mae Sai to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple up on the mountain.

A very long staircase leads up from Mae Sai, to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple on the mountain.

There’s also a steep road just to the right of the steps that leads up to the temple. On the way up you’ll have views to the right of both Mae Sai and Myanmar.

From the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple you can see the border crossing . The blue Thai immigration office is on the right and the bridge to Myanmar can be seen to the left of the central tree.

From the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple you can see the border crossing . The blue Thai immigration office is on the right and the bridge to Myanmar can be seen to the left of the central tree.

 

Myanmar as seen from the road to Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple.

Tachileik, Myanmar as seen from the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple.

 

Many of these statues line the road to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple

Many of these statues of Ganesha line the road to the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple

Once you arrive at the top of the hill you’ll see the sizable Wat Phra That Wai Doa temple complex with plenty of gold and bright colors. All the temples I’ve seen always have serpents running along the stairway. The serpents called Naga, guard the stairs that lead to the temples.

A three headed serpent along a staircase looks north toward Myanmar

A three headed serpent, known as Naga, guarding a staircase as it looks north toward Myanmar

 

The "Wat Phra That Wai Dao" Temple in Mae Sai is definitely worth a visit.

The “Wat Phra That Wai Dao” Temple in Mae Sai is definitely worth a visit. This is one of the many shrines at the temple complex.

Probably the most famous statue at the temple complex is the giant scorpion. It faces north toward Tachileik, Myanmar (Burma).

The famous giant scorpion at the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple

The famous giant scorpion at the Wat Phra That Wai Dao temple complex

I didn’t stay in Mae Sai after the border run other that to get a quick bite to eat. An uneventful ride back to Chiang Rai finished up the trip which took about four hours in all.

UPDATE 05/10/2014:

Thailand is cracking down on back-to-back border runs in an effort to stop foreigners from staying in Thailand long term without a proper visa. The stiffer immigration rules for border runs start today, May 10, 2014 and more restrictions will be added, on or about, August 12, 2014. I’ve read that multiple entry visas are not effected but you would be wise to do further research before attempting a border-run in Thailand. I suspect there will be a sharp increase in education visas.

More information at Thai Visa.

From Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai

Time waits for no man, nor does it wait for visas. My recent visa extension was going to expire in about three week and I had to start thinking about getting a new one so I wouldn’t be in Thailand illegally. One of the common solutions is to do a border run to a neighboring country. Exiting Thailand closes out the current visa and when I reenter, I get a fresh 30 day visa stamp. From Chiang Mai, the most common border run is to Mae Sai, the most northern district in Thailand, about four hours north of Chiang Mai. Along the route is Chiang Rai which is 3/4 of the way to Mae Sai, and just happens to have a couple very nice northern Thailand golf courses. I decided to combine a visit to Chiang Rai with my necessary border run. The trip would be by bus and take about 3 hours. There is a company called Green Bus that has buses leaving from Chiang Mai every half hour or so. There is a VIP class, an A class, and an X class. I opted for the VIP class bus as there was some thought from other travelers that it may be less likely to have trouble, either safety wise, or mechanical. The bus ticket was 288 baht ($9.30) and the bus was very comfortable with air conditioning and airline style seats with recliner type foot rest. There was a stewardess that served water and a snack, and the bus also had a small restroom at the back. The Green Bus departs from the new bus terminal, Bus Terminal 3, which is a couple miles east of Chiang Mai’s old city, very near the super highway.

Chiang Mai's new bus terminal, "Bus Terminal 3", near the superhighway east of the old city

Chiang Mai’s new bus terminal, “Bus Terminal 3”, near the superhighway east of the old city

I bought my ticket two days in advance and according to the seat map when asked what seat I wanted, no one else had purchased tickets for that day & time yet. How quickly the buses fill up depends a lot on what’s happening in Thailand with festivals and holidays. For example, I bought my return ticket three days ahead and there were only three seats left due to the Songkran festival, the Thai New Year celebration.

I arrived forty minutes early to be sure I had plenty of time. As I watched buses come and go, I noticed that some left ten or more minutes ahead of schedule. It must have been that all passengers were aboard and accounted for so there was no point in waiting for the scheduled departure time. There were several snack bars inside the terminal, a couple pay restrooms (3 baht),  a massage shop, a pharmacy, and an outdoor restaurant that had a good selection of larger meals.

An outdoor restaurant at Bus Terminal 3 in Chaing Mai

An outdoor restaurant at Bus Terminal 3 in Chaing Mai

I had expected to put one bag (I ended up buying another piece of luggage to supplement my backpack) in the lower cargo area of the bus and my backpack in the overhead area above my seat. Once on-board I discovered that the overhead storage area is MUCH smaller than on aircraft. Perhaps only 10 inches (25 cm) at the opening. The backpack went below with the other bag.

VIP Green Bus pulling into the bus station in Chiang Mai

VIP Green Bus pulling into the bus station in Chiang Mai

The trip was comfortable enough but I was a little surprised at how many turns there were in the road and how tight the turns were. This twisting and turning seemed to happen in two mountain passes separated by a mostly straight section between the two.

There were many twists and turns as rout 1 snakes through the mountain passes North of Chiang Mai

There were many twists and turns as Route 1 snakes through the mountain passes North of Chiang Mai

As the bus traveled through the Thai countryside, we passed miles of agricultural land, many small towns, and a few resorts. The air looked to have quite a bit of smoke, but I’ve come to the realization that much of the haze is moisture. It has rained here a few days in a row and cleared the air of all the smoke, but the haze remains as you look toward the distant mountains. It’s fog and mist, and it comes with the humidity from the rain.

A snapshot of the Thai farmland and mountains.

A snapshot of the Thai farmland and mountains.

 

Many, many rice fields are seen on the bus trip north to Chiang Rai

Many, many rice fields are seen on the bus trip north to Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is a much smaller town than Chiang Mai. I found that it is a bit more expensive, though not much. My hotel room and motorbike rental were perhaps 10% to 20% more than in Chiang Mai. Food was similar to Chiang Mai with the tourist area being pricier but the Thai restaurants on the fringes have very good food at lower prices.

A quick little story about a Thai restaurant I stopped at while out for a walk. I’ve read that Thai’s are a bit superstitious and one of the things they believe is that making a sale to the first customer of the day brings good luck for the rest of the day. It was mid morning when I happened into this place, there was no one there except the owner, his wife, and eight empty tables. There were no English menus and nearly no English was spoken. The owner, who was a bit inhospitable did know the English word “chicken”, that’s what he served so that’s what I had. Not more that two minutes after my chicken and rice were served, which by the way was excellent, three vans pulled up in front of the restaurant and out came about 20 Thai military guys. They were there for an early lunch. A minute or two later the owner looked my way, and with a big grin, gave me a thumbs-up. Apparently I had brought him good luck, and all those customers!

A look down Thanalai street in Chiang Rai

A look down Thanalai street in Chiang Rai

 

Most of the Song Taos in Chiang Rai are a smaller type than what I've seem in Bangkok and Chiang Mai

Most of the Song Taos in Chiang Rai are a smaller type than what I’ve seen in Bangkok and Chiang Mai

One of the major attractions in Chiang Rai is the clock tower in the center of town. It sits at an intersection and is the centerpiece of a traffic-circle (roundabout). In the evening, starting at 8:00 PM (I think), on the hour the clock tower puts on quite a light show choreographed to music. This happens three or four times each night and is a must see while visiting Chiang Rai.

The clock tower is quite a sight to see, I recommend being around in the evening when it puts on a light show with music!

The clock tower is quite a sight to see, I recommend being around in the evening when it puts on a light show with music!

The popularity of scooters here works out great for the pizza delivery business. It’s hard to beat a delivery vehicle that gets ~100 miles per gallon of gas!

Pizza delivery VIA motorbike

Pizza delivery VIA motorbike

Fresh produce is the norm everywhere in Thailand. Farmers bring freshly harvested goods to town each day picking only what they expect to sell. There are two sizable markets that I saw here in Chiang Rai, as well as street vendors selling their goods.

Street vendors selling a large variety of fresh produce

Street vendors selling a large variety of fresh produce

 

Fresh fruit at the central Chiang Rai market

Fresh fruit at the central Chiang Rai market

 

Fresh produce at the Chiang Rai market

Fresh produce at the Chiang Rai market

 

Curry pastes of at the Chiang Rai market

Curry pastes at the Chiang Rai market

As I write this there’s a thunderstorm with heavy rain… whew, and the lightening is close!

I spotted this scooter a couple days ago, a roof installed and ready for the rainy season. Not sure how it would be in 30 MPH winds blowing from the side though. Then again, not the kind of weather to be riding any bike in.

Motorbike fitted with a roof, complete with windshield wiper

Motorbike fitted with a roof, complete with windshield wiper

Well, posting shorter and more often didn’t really happen as I expected. More often, yes. Shorter, not so much. I’ll leave you with a photo of the local wildlife, the geckos are nearly everywhere. I find them entertaining, and they eat the pesky bugs!

A Tokay Gecko was hanging out on a utility pole

A Tokay Gecko was hanging out on a utility pole