Burmese Border Run

Mae Sai Travel Blog

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'Hot Springs'

As British citizens, we are permitted 30 days in Thailand at a time, up to a total of 90 days in any 6 months. So 30 days into our current Thai stint we had to go on the legendary 'visa run'.


As we have been meeting lots of expats who also have to do regular jaunts to the border, the Mae Sai Thailand/Burma border was recommended as being the easiest place to cross from Chiang Mai.

Old temple, I was sure the guide said it was made of sand and 'lick'
We booked on a one day Golden Triangle tour which meant that we got to see a bit of Thai countryside as well, rather than simply sitting on a minibus for hours. Ironically it was a rubbish tour, with a guide who spoke little English, so basically we did just sit on a minibus for hours.


Our first port of call were 'Hot Springs'. That sounds quite lovely, maybe nestled in the mountains amongst trees and wildlife. In actual fact it should have been described as 'service station with a fountain in it'. Yes the fountain was warm, and probably did come originally from some idyllic location, but when you can seen the mechanism pumping out the 'magical burst of water', it takes away part of the 'magic'. The most exciting part of the stop was that we got to go to the toilet, and buy a bottle of water.

Buddhist blessed trees


Our next stop was an ancient temple right in the North of Thailand (I don't actually know where, such was the level of information from our tour guide). It was nice to walk round, and pretty, but frequented by every minibus in N Thailand, which slightly detracted from the potentially tranquil setting. In order to stop the Thai government chopping down all the trees, Buddhists often bless them, and wrap orange material round their trunks. We have seen quite a bit of this in the last few weeks, and I like the idea of it, it also works! There is something quite nice about seeing a huge old tree with a dirty orange scarf round it, knowing that someone cared enough about it to bless it.


Shortly after, we stopped for lunch at a truly terrible Thai buffet place.

The Golden Triangle


Our final stop before reaching the border town was the Golden Triange. This is the point at which the Mekong River separates the Thai/Burmese/Laos borders. It was quite cool to stand in Thailand on the banks of the river looking across at Burma on our left, and Laos on our right, slightly surreal. It was really just a photo stop, before heading a short distance further North to Mae Sai, Thailand's northernmost town.


We had an incredibly short amount of time from leaving the minibus, to meeting up again. Several people were doing the tour for it's own sake (they must have been disspointed) and stayed on the Thai side, but a couple of people like us were doing it as part of a visa run. We walked through the Thai office, officially leaving Thailand, and found ourselves on a bridge in no man's land.

Cross the bridge to Burma
We walked over to the other side, and entered a small office whih looked a little like someone's house. We paid 500B, had our photos taken and passports removed, and were told that we could not go back through the other side for 20 mins. Ok, so we had about half an hour to explore the market on the other side. It was pretty odd, they accepted Thai Bhat for a start. The tuktuk drivers were relentless, and one followed us around for 10 mins before finally giving up. We didn't buy anything in the market, but were offered endless boxes of cheap fags, playing cards ranging in design from pornographic to Saddam Hussein, and a variety of hand guns. One guy we've heard since was offered packets of date rape drug Rohypnol, and I'm quite sure we could have found some class A drugs without searching very hard (actually that goes for the whole of SE Asia!)


So half an hour later we go back through the border, the 20min minumum time allowing the man from the office on the right hand side of the road to walk to the woman on the left hand side of the road to give her your passport and write your name on a spreadsheet.

Burmese market
We crossed over the bridge, being followed by emmaciated begging children and hopped back through to Thailand. Another 30 days thank you very much, and a couple of Burmese stamps in the passport!


On the way back the heat was intense, despite the a/c minibus, and the endless windy roads were really starting to take their toll. We stopped off briefly at a couple of tribal villages, but only actually got out of the bus for one of them, once we had said we didn't want to get out, everyone else said the same which was quite funny. There are many many hill tribes in Northern Thailand, and even more tours claiming to take you to see them. Yes, you see a hill tribe village, but it is set up for tour after tour to come through and stare. We have heard of a few reputable companies who have a guide that speaks the tribal language and the culture is not eroded.

Akha hill tribe village
However we were told on arrival that photos of people would cost you 10B, and please think about buying from the market stall set up. If that is not a village set up for tourism I don't know what is. The worst is the situation with the Karen long neck tribes who thankfully we didn't see. You see hundreds and hundreds of tours advertising visiting the authentic villages, and we drove past one once which had a huge flashy signpost showing where it was. What a load of rubbish. These people are forced to stay in Thailand by the government who actually remove their passports, in effect imprisoning them for tourist gain. It is a outragreous violation of human rights, and despite being interested in visiting tribal villages, there is no way we would ever do it on a tour like that. It is just a circus.


Our final stop before returning to Chiang Mai was a modern temple in the process of being built by a wealthy business man.

White temple
It was really an amazing sight, completely white with mirrored glass embedded in the wall, reflecting the sun and making the whole thing 'glow'. It was actually quite difficult to look at, it was so bright! It was an interesting end to a rubbish tour, but we got our visa extention which was the purpose, so it didn't much matter.


ps. when did I get so opinionated??

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Hot Springs
'Hot Springs'
Old temple, I was sure the guide s…
Old temple, I was sure the guide …
Buddhist blessed trees
Buddhist blessed trees
The Golden Triangle
The Golden Triangle
Cross the bridge to Burma
Cross the bridge to Burma
Burmese market
Burmese market
Akha hill tribe village
Akha hill tribe village
White temple
White temple
Mae Sai
photo by: hoofinnit