1st of all, why I did this little adventure –
Basically I needed to get a new visa – extend my current tourist visa by another 30 days, so I have more time in Thailand where its cheap to work on my project.
- My visa situation:
- Border open or not?
- Using a visa service
- Cost of the visa
- The actual border crossing
- Conditions of Entry into Myanmar
- How long should you stay there? (+ price for accommodation)
- Opening & closing times of the border
- Crossing back over the border into Thailand
- The adventure – doing it by scooter / motorbike
- The problem with google maps
- Hot Springs
- How long does the loop take?
- Cost of the ‘adventure’ compared with Agency way
- Tips/ advice
My visa situation:
For anyone that’s going through a similar situation
-60 day official tourist visa issued in Australia 60 AUD (43 USD, 1,300 baht)
-Extension visa for 30 days issued in Chiang Mai nearby the air port, cost = 1,900 baht (60 USD, 85 AUD)
And now – 30 day new issue tourist visa coming into Thailand from Myanmar 10 USD (14 AUD, 320 baht)
So by the end of my stay I would have been here 4 months.
I understand you can use the Myanmar crossing twice in 1 year, which means… that I could possibly stay here for 5 months in total.
We’ll see if I actually do that or not.
Border open or not?
As of March 7th 2019 its still open.
There’s a lot of speculation online, with different information sources stating different things.
The best thing to do is call up, or email a company that is doing visa services up there, and see if thye’re still doing it.
If they are, you have your answer – its still open.
Using a visa service can actually be a decent way of doing the whole thing by the way.
Using a visa service
Before deciding to make this visa run into a little adventure of sorts, I was going to go with this company which seemed pretty professional.
Its 900 baht per person, but I can also see that they just changed it to 990 baht. So check with them.
Essentially though, the actual visa thing, you will have to do yourself, but what the service is, is a stress free bus ride up and back down, that you can do all in 1 day.
Honestly, it’s a pretty good deal as I’ll describe below.
You still have to pay your own visa fee at the border, but overall, it’s a reaonsably cheap way of doing it.
Cost of the visa
Its 500 baht, payable to the Burmese immigration side.
They also take $10 USD if you have it, which works out being slightly cheaper.
Essentially as I understand it, you pay the money to ‘enter’ Burma, for which you get a 14 day pass. (which I forgot to take a picture of) for which you have to exchange your passport.
Yes, its normal that they keep your passport.
You get it back when you cross the border again.
IF you’ve lost your ‘departure card’ (as I did) then they will charge you 100 baht fine.
Note. You don’t get charged a fine if you do the new visa next to the airport, they just don’t really care.
I think this might have gone straight into the lady’s pocket.. but oh well.
The actual border crossing
It reminds me something of the James Bond movie Die Another Day, that North Korea bridge border crossing.
Literally a river divides the North of Thailand with Burma at this point.
The border check point is on the Thai side & Burmese sides of the bridge respectively.
If you are riding a scooter (which I’m sure not many people are) , but you can drive to the left hand side of the bridge, then go under it and on the left hand side you can pay a little garage to look after your scooter/ bike & helmet.
This should cost you 20-30 baht.
If you smile and are nice to the guy its 20.
Convenient for me, because my helmet is fairly expensive, and didn’t want to just leave it in the open, or have to carry it around my little jaunt walking around that area of Myanmar.
Conditions of Entry into Myanmar
Like I said above, the Burmese immigration office will take your 500 baht / 10 USD, and your passport and in return give you a stamped piece of paper that you then exchange for your passport when you come back across.
If you don’t wish to go into the country, or have already done this visa run before you can ask the guy to just go back straight away, and then he just stamps the passport there and then.
It goes without saying.. hold onto the piece of paper and keep it safe.
You are allowed to spend a max of 14 days on the other side, but really only in the Tachileik small region.
You’re allowed to bring back 1 carton of cigarettes & i think 2 bottles of alcohol. This is important to know because they are apparently tax free in Myanmar, and so might make for good gifts for those of your friends that are into that kind of thing.
How long should you stay there? (+ price for accommodation)
Because you don’t get to go into Myanmar proper, just limited to Tachileik region, once you’ve seen a few temples, eaten lunch and walked around a bit to feel the vibe of the place, I would say you’d be pretty happy to get out of there.
I entered at 11.30 and I left at 1.30. And I walked around quite a bit, saw some temples, had a decent lunch. Indian food, but it was yummy, and then just took time to walk everywhere.
Don’t get into a tuk tuk. Because there’s pretty much no point. The temples are walking distance, and unless you have a disability, walking 2km shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.
If you go with someone, not just by yourself, there are some nice cafes, pool halls, I even found a golf driving range.
The temples… hey, if you’re coming from Thailand, you’re probably all templed out. They’re nice, but I think many won’t care by this point.
I would say 1 day would be enough to see this place, but if you think you need more, or cross the border later in the afternoon, then you can stay the night.
On the Thai side, I was told that staying the night would cost around 1000 baht, yet I found this little place that had rooms for 250, 400 & 600 baht per night.
So it’s doable, you just have to walk around.
Opening & closing times of the border
It may change some time in the future, but for now it’s open from 9am to 9pm.
They tell you at the immigration office to make sure you’re back by 8pm though.
This means that those with ‘frequent traveller’ passes (the cars that you see crossing) keep going until 9pm, however you as a foreigner crossing on foot are limited to 8pm.
Crossing back over the border into Thailand
If you’re facing the bridge, you 1st go towards the right to pick up your passport.
Then change to the other side of the street and pick up an ‘arrival card’ from the security guard standing there.
You obviously don’t need a flight number… because you’re just walking in.
Make sure they staple your departure card to your passport because otherwise you might get another 100 baht fine later.
You’re essentially being issued another 30 day visa just like when you 1st arrived…. So , it doesn’t cost anything.
I got a 30 day visa, and everyone that I’ve talked to that has done it has also got the 30 day visa.
There’s some stuff floating around online that sometimes they only offer a 15 day visa, but I saw no evidence of that.
If you’re worried of that, contact a visa agency company and find out the latest details from them. Even if they’re just dropping people off to the border, they’ll know what’s the deal.
And that’s it. You’re back to Thailand.
The adventure – doing it by scooter / motorbike
In total I took 3 days to do this trip, but made a little adventure out of it, which I’m quite happy with.
This is the route I took. Chiang Mai direct to Mae Sai.
I left around ~ 2pm because I’m not a morning person, and had to change some money (USD) & get some bottles of water.
Make sure you have plenty bottles of water.
And, if possible listen to audio books as you go, because you’ll be able to go for longer.
I stopped only once for lunch, but that was around 5pm.
I had about 1.5 hours of driving in the dark, but it was on a major highway… the highway that leads all the way into Mae Sai and up to the border… so it wasn’t a problem.
For those that don’t drive motorbikes / scooters much… if you’re worried about light, find a car or a truck or something, stick behind them.. and they’ll light the way for you. You may be limited in speed, but you’ll be safer because you can see the road properly.
I stopped once because my bum was hurting, and I saw a nice looking temple that gave me an opportunity to stretch my legs a bit.
Who knew that scooters weren’t made for comfortable long distance driving?
But seriously, the distance is manageable… you’ve just got to pace yourself, and just keep going.
When I got to Mae Sai it was around 8pm. I didn’t organise accommodation, because I wasn’t sure if I could still do the border crossing or not.
Basically if I got there a few hours before, it would have been possible.
If you can wake up nice and early in the morning, its possible to do this whole trip in a day, you’ll be driving for around 9 hours, but its possible.
I decided to spend the night at this place.
Just found on google maps. [what was the name of the place]
Note – make sure you read the reviews, because there’s a couple of places that say they’re hostels, but actually they’re hotels and everything seems to cost around 500 minimum.
I saw 1 place advertise for 350 which was nearby the border crossing, but that’s it, everything was around 500 or much over.
I think people know that you’re going to Mae Sai just for the border crossing so things have been set up to facilitate that and it’s a bit pricey.
If you’re going to pay 500 baht, and you have a scooter, make sure you find a nicer place, it doesn’t have to be super close to the border, just a comfortable bed.
On the way back, I drove on this route.
So Mae Sai, to Chiang Dao, to Chiang Mai.
Because there’s some pretty nice Hot Springs in Chiang Dao, which I wanted to see before with a friend, but we ran out of time… so why not make it part of the adventure?
Although google maps said it should be 5 hrs 10 mins for the whole journey. It wasn’t.
I broke the coming back into 2 parts.
1. Mae Sai to Chiang Dao
2. Chiang Dao to Chiang Mai.
This is so I could spend time in Myanmar on the 2nd day of my trip, have lunch there, and then drive to Chiang Dao where the hot springs are.
And then spend the 2nd night in Chiang Dao, wake up refreshed, and on the 3rd day do the hot springs and drive back to Chiang Mai.
Again, I have to point out, if you’re a morning person.. and you still want to see everything, you could easily do this in 2 days.
The problem with google maps
So this is the route from Mae Sai to Chiang Dao (hot springs area). Google supposedly says it will take 3 hrs 40 mins.
I… don’t think this is true. I was on the road for around 6 hours. 1.5 hours driving in the dark on mountain roads.
Again, I got to where my accommodation was around 8.30. (I left Mae Sai around 2pm)
I stopped for some food in some random town, and had to get petrol in an even more remote place.
There’s no question that the drive from Mae Sai to Chiang Dao is much, much prettier and more fun than the Chiang Mai to Mae Sai road.
There’s more mountains, there’s more farms, there’s less trucks, there’s more windy roads and so it’s a lot more fun to drive.
It’s not Mai Hong Son / Pai roads kind of fun…. But it’s pretty good.
Here’s a couple of things that I saw along the way.
They’re pretty good to be honest.
Yes, they still have the weird concrete used to hold the water, but because of the temperature of the water and the fact that there’s flow, its not disgusting or anything.
Big plus points is that there’s not many people there.
I arrived at 11am and there were only 3 other people there. When I left at 12.30 there were maybe 10.
+ there’s a shallow stream right next to the hot spring, so you can cool off in that, which is really refreshing.
Its sometimes good to give a shock to your body’s system.
There are 2 Hot Springs in Chiang Dao. The major one I think is more accessible and therefore draws more people.
I think this particular one is the ‘local’ one. It’s quite a bit off the main road, and so its quieter because of it.
The 1st night, I stayed at this place [place name]
It was 500 baht per night.
I think it’s not cheap for what I was expecting from a small town, however if you’re going to pay this money, this particular place was quite nice.
The guy that runs it is full of information too, but you have to ask for it. He told me about the bike parking for the border crossing, what to do in Myanmar, and what’s in Mae Sai.
He also kept going on about how cheap the girls are in Myanmar, and how that is an advantage. Apparently, according to him, there’s many more girls than boys there… something to do with the Buddhist culture I guess. I can only assume he partakes in that kind of thing.
Also there was a friendly kitty there.
This is the place I stayed at in Chiang Dao [Rai Siwavej & Farm Stay]
This place came recommended to me from a good friend of mine.
If you’re there on a weekday, then you don’t have to book.
I stayed there Thursday evening, got in late, and it turns out I was the only person there.
If you’re there on the weekend, the place is completely booked out. So… if you are going to go there, and planning for the weekend, make sure you book in advance.
If you’re a solo traveller then the dorm accommodation is good -250 per night.
If you’re a couple then the they have private chalets for 500 per night.
If you arrive on a weekday, chances are you’ll have the entire dorm room to yourself, as I did.
A big plus to this place, is that its pretty close to the Hot Spring (maybe a 7 min drive)
The last part of the road going in is fairly bumpy though.
How long does the loop take?
Like I said above, if you’re a morning person, you can do this trip a lot quicker than I did. But I like my late nights, and I like my sleep.
So it took me 3 days.
1st day – leave at 2pm, arrive at 8pm (roughly 5 hours of driving, stopped for an hour for food)
2nd day –
- Myanmar border crossing at 11.30
- Walk around Myanmar local area, eat lunch, see some temples, had enough return at 1.30
- Leave Mae Sai around 2pm, take 6 hours driving for supposedly a 3hr 40min trip…thanks google maps.
- Arrive in at accommodation in Chiang Dao around 8.30pm
3rd day –
- Wake up around 10am, eat breakfast
- Go to Hot Springs for 11am , stay until 12.30pm
- Drive back to Chiang Mai all in one go. (1.5 hrs of driving. Easy road)
But… you could easily do this in 2 days. You just have to get up early enough.
If you got on the road at 7am, got to the border at 1pm,
did the border crossing and walked around for 2 hours,
spent 4-5 hours (depending on if google lies to you or not) driving to Chiang Dao,
You could be there but around 8pm / 9pm.
If you didn’t care about Chiang Dao Hot Springs, you could also technically do the whole trip in 1 day. But it’d be just over 9 hours of driving.
It wouldn’t be a lot of fun, but you could do it.
Cost of the ‘adventure’ compared with Agency way
Adventure on a scooter/ motorbike – 3 days
500 Mae Sai Accommodation.
250 Chiang Dao Accommodation.
300 in Fuel.
350 in Food.
1,400. (3 days of time) Finished 3 audio books along the way & started a 4th. (had already started all 3 books though)
Downsides = More expensive, takes more time, tired as hell.
Advantages= Got to see a bit of Myanmar,
got to choose how I went & what time.
& to stop off at Chiang Dao for the hot springs.
Agency bus journey 1 day
It was going to be 900 for the bus journey. (now according to the website its 990 baht)
Downsides= couldn’t make a mini holiday/ adventure out of it. Couldn’t have seen the hot springs in Chiang Cao,
couldn’t have spent time in Burma,
couldn’t have really taken time to eat decent meals.
Advantages= cheaper, would be less tired, quicker
The cost at the Myanmar checkpoint is 500 baht / 10 USD for both ways.
So that’s it 1,400 for the 3 day self-drive scooter adventure, or 900 -990 for the agency drive yourself.
But, this has been one hell of a trip. And I would probably do it again, just wake up a bit early and do it in 2 days instead of 1.
Before you leave a major destination, make sure you fill up with petrol.
Use their free toilet facilities too.
You won’t see any petrol stations in remote towns, if you do need petrol, know that the little self-serve ones actually take cash. (you have to use exact cash though)
So don’t worry if you don’t have a Thai bank card.
Set yourself up with some good audio books for the journey… you’re going to be travelling for a long time.
Make sure you’ve got 1 big bottle of water in your backpack + 1 small bottle.
Keep the small bottle in a side pocket, ready for easy drinking. And fill up from the big bottle when you need to.
This will allow you to not stop as frequently.
When you see some beautiful scenery, make sure you actually stop , go back if you need to and take a picture of it.
Chances are, you’re not coming back this way anytime soon.
If you’re unsure about night driving – find a car or truck already on the road and stick behind them, they’ll light up the road and make sure you don’t hit anything. Or at least they’ll hit it before you.
You will go slower, but you will be safer.
Make sure you use your indicators & turn your head to check to your side for cars before changing lanes.
You’ll be driving in the country side where people drive in a more relaxed manner, but also the whole ‘I’m in front, I do what I want’ doesn’t apply there like it does in major cities.