Traveling is an adventure in itself. We need no rules to travel where our heart desires so this time I chose the small little town of Mae Sai in Northern Chiang Rai, Thailand. Thought by many as a sleepy hollow town, it is far from quiet and thriving as a border town bwtween Thailand and Myanmar, formerly Burma. The Thais know it as the “Northern Most of Thailand” but it is more of the gateway into Thailand from the north. With one main road which doubles as a highway, there are many small lanes known as “sois” in the area for you to explore. The little town of Mae Sai has been on my bucket list of travel destinations for quite sometime now.
There are a few motels in Mae Sai but I wanted to try the small little motel of Kong Kam House which is just behind the border gates of Thailand and Myanmar. This little motel is very comfortable, clean and just a 5 minute walk to the Myanmar border. The street is a little quiet at night but just around the corner from the motel is a shopping centre and a 10 minute walk will bring you to the main road which is bustling in the evening with street food vendors and people crossing over the border to Myanmar and vice versa. You can make a booking to KongKam House here. (Please note that I make a small commission from bookings made from my site at no extra cost to you which goes towards helping me to review more places of interest)
This is the small gateway that most pedestrians use to cross-over from Thailand to Myanmar. Across the road from this will be the immigration checkpoint for Thailand and Myanmar. Some people do visa runs here but beware of changing Thai immigration laws which tries to deter frequent visa runs to Myanmar and back to Thailand. The walkway leading to this gate has many small shops which sells souvenirs and trinkets including Burmese Jade pendents, amulets and bands. You have to know how to differentiate between genuine jade and coloured jade before attempting to buy them.
These are Burmese puppets made in the likeness of olden Kings and warriors of the Burmese regime. They are very intricate in design and not expensive for the amount of handwork. Burmese handicrafts are very unusual and make nice collections if you have the space to carry them back. They also have very nice handcrafted trinket boxes, fans and all manner of decor for the homes.
Along the roads from Chiang Rai city to Mae Sai, you will see plenty of pineapple sellers along the way. The province of Chiang Rai is known for growing a variety of pineapples which are miniature in size and naturally sweet. These miniature Thai pineapples are currently in season between April to August or September. Other seasonal fruits native to this region are lychees, longans, and in the colder months you get strawberries.
It is not difficult to find food in Mae Sai, shops sell the very popular “kuay teow moo” or pork kuay teow noodles, “yen ta foh” and a good choice of street food vendors selling barbecued meats, Thai desserts, Northern Thai sausages, the popular signature dish of Chiang Rai the “Khao Soi” noodles and even fresh crab fried rice. These street food vendors are on both sides of the main road and you will be spoilt for choice as to what you want to try. On weekends they have a Mae Sai night market where there are even more varieties of Thai Northern food and items on sale.
Northern Thai style barbeques and fresh crab fried rice are some of the recommended food in Mae Sai. The wonderful aroma of freshly barbequed meat with spices waft down the whole road making it easy for you to locate them!
Life in Mae Sai is simple yet colourful. There are as many Myanmar, Laotians as there are Thai people in this little township. Early mornings will see Myanmar school children making their way to school and they do dress differently from Thai students. These trio of school girls were more than happy and obliging to have their photos taken. Most people in Mae Sai are petty traders and life can sometimes be hard to eke out a living but you can always see a smile on their faces.
The people in Mae Sai are very innovative. Transportation to carry goods is a great necessity here and creating motor vehicles that can carry as much goods as possible is quite a challenge. Here is a souped up tuk tuk three-wheeled bike that can carry more than a ton of goods! Most items are ferried between borders in these contraptions or by hand carts which is a testament to the strength and resilience of the Northern folks.
Religion plays an important part in the daily life of ordinary people in Mae Sai, so it is no surprise that even the very young get inducted into monkhood at the monastries to learn the finer points of Buddhism. Most Thais, Myanmar and Laotions are predominantly Buddhist so it makes integration into each others society much easier. Here this little boy is no more than 7 or 8 years old and on his way to collect alms in the traditional Buddhist way.
This is the immigration checkpoint between Thailand and Myanmar at the end of the main road in Mae Sai. You can drive through here to Myanmar but not in a rented car. Most people park and walk across as you have to exit Thailand to enter to Myanmar and vice versa on the way back. A tourist visa from Thailand at the immigration checkpoint is USD10 per entry. Please note that in order to cross over you must have a multiple entry visa if you already have an existing visa from Thailand and you have not renewed your visa before at any immigration in Thailand prior to going to Myanmar. If you are on a tourist visa, chances are your re-entry to Thailand will be either 15 days or 30 days. Sso please do check your visa requirements before crossing.