Tag Archives: visa

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.

The Low Season in Chiang Mai

Thailand essentially has two seasons, [temperate & dry] and [hot, humid, & rainy]. November through February is the “high season” when many tourists come to escape the cold weather of northern latitudes. March through October is the “low season” when tourists mostly stay away to avoid the heat/humidity. Some businesses don’t adjust to the reduced “low season” pricing until April, but most of the people I’ve talked to here consider March the start of the “low season”. In Chiang Mai the temperature nears or exceeds 38 degrees Celsius (100 Degrees Fahrenheit) on a daily basis now. It does cool down at night however and is typically near 20 degrees Celsius (68 Degrees Fahrenheit) just before the sun rises. The humidity isn’t too bad yet since it still hasn’t rained since I arrived in January.

Like many others I choose to stay inside in an air conditioned place during the worst of the daily heat; malls, movie theaters, and department stores are good choices. Most pubs and restaurants are “open air” like big covered patios so  air conditioning is not an option. Instead they run a multitude of fans, sometimes with a mist system, that really helps to bring the temperature down – about 10 degrees. 

On the golf course, umbrellas are as common as caddies; nearly everybody has one (caddies are required for non-members). It’s portable shade and helps to keep you a bit cooler than just a hat. Drinking plenty of water is also a must.

A caddie totes my golf clubs and umbrella in near 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

A caddie totes my golf clubs and umbrella in near 100 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. The umbrella is for shade, not rain.

Another annual event that begins with the low season, and lasts about a month and a half, is farmers burning the rice fields and forest undergrowth. It’s an inexpensive way to clear the rice fields to prepare for the next crop and in the forest, the burning improves the mushroom harvest. Unfortunately it creates a layer of smoke that, on the worst days, will burn the eyes and may be particularly hard on those with respiratory problems. Every cloud has a silver lining as they say, and I suppose that the pleasing sunset created by the smoke in the air is the silver lining of the rice straw burning here and in neighboring countries. I’ve seen smoke like this before with the Southern California wild fires in October of 2007. I think the smoke in California was worse though as I remember seeing an orange sun in the middle of the day, not just in the evening.

A visually pleasing  sunset over Chiang Mai, due to the smoke from burning rice fields etc.

A visually pleasing sunset over Chiang Mai, due to the smoke from burning rice fields etc.

The Doi Suthep mountains are nine miles west of Chiang Mai. On clear days, you can see the Wat Phra That Temple on the mountain. On bad days, you can’t see the mountains at all. The photo below was taken on what I’d call an average day. If it weren’t for the distant mountains to reference, you might not know it was smokey at all.

Mountains are just visible through the smoke.

The Doi Suthep mountains are just visible through the smoke.

Twice during my time here in Chiang Mai I sought out medical treatment. The first was for upset stomach, likely from something I ate that I shouldn’t have. I felt the trouble coming on at about 10:00 pm and started a course of Ciprofloxacin that I bought when I first arrived in Thailand. Antibiotics are over-the-counter here and don’t require a prescription. 500 mg twice a day for 5 to 7 days (continue taking for two days after all symptoms have disappeared). The next morning I was feeling some better but wanted to get something for the nausea. After stopping at a couple pharmacies without much success I opted to go to the hospital nearby, partly for some medicine and partly to check out the medical system in Thailand which I’ve read was quite good. I was impressed with the efficiency of the medical treatment. Right outside the elevator door where I exited was a desk to check into the clinic. The check-in process took about three minutes and I went to the waiting room. I barely sat down when I was called to see the doctor who spoke good English. He checked me over, agreed with the cipro antibiotic course, and prescribed bismol tablets 524 mg (Pepto-Bismol) for the nausea. I inquired about a G.I. cocktail, also known as the green goddess, but was told it’s not as common in Thailand as it is in the USA. I was in and out in about 40 minutes with the bismol tablets from the hospital pharmacy for a total cost of 525 baht ($17.50). I felt fine in less than three days and finished off a five day course of cipro as recommended.

The second time I needed medical care was for a back strain. I pulled the muscles in my middle back while securing a box onto my motorbike. It was the worst back pain I had ever experienced. This time I went to the emergency room. Again, a quick check-in and in to see the doctor. He checked out my back and ordered x-rays. The x-ray film was quickly scanned into the computer and was up on the doctor’s monitor in his office by the time I got back to the ER from radiology. The x-rays looked fine and a mild pain killer and muscle relaxers were prescribed. Total time… less than an hour. Total cost for ER, Doctor, Two X-rays, and Prescriptions… 2,800 baht ($90.00). The worst of the pain subsided in 24 hours and I was back to normal in a week.

I have no medical insurance over here so all medical costs are paid directly by me. Other people that I’ve met that live here full time buy catastrophic coverage medical insurance for about $1,000 to $2,000 per year depending on the policy, and pay for minor medical treatment (like above) out-of-pocket if not covered by their insurance plan.

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, one of several hospitals in Chiang Mai.

Ambulance at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

Ambulance at Chiang Mai Ram Hospital

The Honda click that I had been renting for more than a month without any problems finely gave me a minor one, a flat tire. The rear tire on the bike was getting pretty bald in the middle, though as it turns out, the hole in the tube was in the side wall not the tread area. Strange, but it is what it is. I took the bike to a bike shop and called the rental company figuring they would take care of the flat tire problem. I was wrong. I was required to pay for the flat tire repair which meant putting a patch on the tube, not replacing the worn tire. The cost was only 40 baht ($1.35) and the job was done in under 15 minutes. I was assured that the tire had plenty of life left in it.

Replacing the tire would cost about 750 baht ($25.00), nearly 1/3 of the rent for the month for this bike, and the bike may not be rented again until the next “high season”. So, I understand why they try to get as many kilometers (miles) out of the tires as they can. In reality, the purpose of the tread on a tire is to provide an exit path for water from under the tire to prevent hydroplaning. Since there has been no rain here, the lack of tread is of little concern. During the rainy season however, it could be very dangerous.

The rear tire on the Honda Click was showing some wear.

The rear tire on the Honda Click was showing some wear.

After the incident with the flat tire, I asked around at various motorbike rental shops – “who pays for a flat tire repair, the renter or the shop?”. As it turns out there is no standard and the results were split about 50/50. Some shops said the renter pays for the tire repair, others said they would pay for the repair.

At the end of the monthly rental agreement I decided to change motorbikes, partly because of the tire problem (with the rainy season imminent) and partly because I wanted a bit larger bike for longer, more comfortable rides. What I settled on was a Honda PCX 150 from a different rental company. The PCX’s engine is 25cc (20%) larger than the Click’s, but the bike is heavier so performance is similar at the low end, though faster at the high end. I’ve heard the PCX is governed to a top speed of 115 KPH (71 MPH), though I’ve never gone that fast on it. The larger tires and upgraded suspension make for a more comfortable ride, and I’d recommend the PCX to anyone renting a motorbike here. This upgrade, of course, comes at a higher price; 4,500 baht ($145) per month and a 2000 baht ($65) security deposit. Shop around; I found one place renting the same model for 9,000 baht per month.

Other advantages of the PCX are larger on-board storage under the seat, and a larger fuel tank. With the Click I had to get fuel nearly every day; with the PCX I refuel only once or twice a week. It was only an inconvenience but, with the Click, I found myself driving around looking for gas stations fairly often; sometimes driving miles out of my way to refuel.

Honda PCX 150cc Motorbike. Up to 100 MPG if you take it easy.

Honda PCX 150cc Motorbike on the west bank of the Ping River. Up to 100 MPG if you take it easy.

In an effort to reduce costs, I moved into a one bedroom apartment which was cheaper than the hotels. I was able to get this apartment for just over 15,000 baht ($485) for one month which comes out to $16 per day. That is 10 to 30 dollars cheaper than a hotel and in some ways nicer. It was also available for 13,000 baht on a 6 month lease, but I wouldn’t be staying that long. The apartment complex also had studio apartments available for 6,000 baht ($195) per month on a 6 month lease.

The furniture was provided, but I had to buy bedding, cleaning supplies, kitchen necessities, etc. It was a corner unit and was nice enough, but in the end turned out to be too noisy since it was right along the road. I left at the end of the one month lease term in favor of a quieter place.

While I was there I met some other foreigners that were staying in the complex. They hired a cleaning lady to come in once a week and clean their apartments. I could do that minor cleaning myself, but it was a minor expense for me and a big help to the cleaning lady so I hired her too. She did a good job sweeping and mopping the whole place including the balcony, wiping down the counters, dusting, and cleaning the bathroom. She spent an hour there each Friday and charged me 200 baht ($6.25) for her services.

The apartment had a Thai style kitchen with no cook top/stove. Hotplates and counter-top small kitchen appliances are used instead. I just ate out or brought food home from a local market instead of purchasing a bunch of kitchen appliances. Also notable, there was no hot water at the kitchen sink, or the bathroom sink for that matter. The only hot water was for the shower/tub. There were two air conditioner units, one in the living room and one in the bed room.

Living room of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Living room of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Kitchen of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Kitchen of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

 

Bedroom of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

Bedroom of one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai.

No matter where you go, laundry is created on a daily basis. The apartment complex I was in had a laundry room with ~10 washing machines. There were no dryers since all laundry is hung out to dry. The balcony of my apartment had a clothes rack bolted to the wall for drying clothes as seen in the photo above. The washer takes 20 baht ($0.65) to do a load and runs for  42 minutes. The design of the washers was different from anything I had seen before and they use substantially less water than the top loading machines found in the US. The water level is set automatically, just put in the cloths, soap, and money and press start.

Clothes washer, 20 baht per load.

Clothes washer, 20 baht per load.

 

Clothes washer drum has no center screw like in the US. This design uses less water; more efficient.

Clothes washer drum has no center screw like in the US. This design uses less water; more efficient.

Since I have left the apartment I no longer have access to the washing machines and now opt for a laundry service. The friendly Thai lady speaks English well enough and charges a reasonable 4 baht ($0.13) per item (a pair of socks counts as one item). I just drop off the clothes and pick them up the next day washed, dried, and folded.

Laundry done at a local laundry service. Four baht per item - washed, dried, and folded.

Laundry done at a local laundry service. 52 baht ($1.65) for 13 items.

I arrived in Thailand with a “tourist visa” that was valid for 60 days. Before the visa expired I had to head to the Chiang Mai immigration office near the airport to request an extension. I had read that the process takes a couples hours and the 30 day extension costs 1,900 baht ($61). For me, it took all morning. The immigration office gets quite busy during the “high season” since there are many tourists applying for extensions. The motorbike parking lot had about 100 bikes parked there the day I went.

The process was pretty easy and there are several food vendors in the area that make the wait more comfortable with a snack or drink. I think Chiang Mai Immigration is doing a great job serving the multitude of tourists that come through there.

Motorbikes parked at Chiang Mai immigration near the airport.

Motorbikes parked at Chiang Mai immigration near the airport.

While driving along the mote in the old city one day, I noticed that a section of the mote had been drained. I was told that this is done from time to time to change and freshen the water and to prepare for the Songkran festival (the Thai New Year celebration). The Songkran festival lasts from April 13th to the 15th (often longer here in Chiang Mai) and is touted as the worlds biggest water fight.  Throughout the city people douse each other with water from squirt-guns, buckets, hoses, etc. These soakings are usually desirable because April is the hottest month and I’m already seeing temperatures forecast to be 41 degrees C (106 degrees F) in March.

Changing the water in the mote in Chiang Mai. I was told this was in preparation for the Songkran festival in April.

Changing the water in the mote in Chiang Mai. I was told this was in preparation for the Songkran festival in April.

 

The northeast corner of the wall around the old city with the water drained from the mote in that section.

The northeast corner of the wall around the old city with the water drained from the mote in that section.

 

Another picture of the northeast corner of the wall around Chiang Mai's old city with the mote drained in that section.

Another picture of the northeast corner of the wall around Chiang Mai’s old city with the mote drained in that section.

In closing, I’ll just mention an interesting observation regarding international phone calls between Thailand and the US. I got a prepaid SIM card for my smart phone when I arrived in Thailand. Calls to the US cost 1 baht ($0.03) per minute and the call quality is very good. When people call me from the US the cost ranges form $0.20 to $1.25 per minute and the call quality is fair at best, but is typically poor. Because of this whenever someone calls me, we end the call immediately and I call them right back for a cheaper, better-voice-quality conversation.

There is a lot to like about Thailand!