After a couple of days in Chiang Rai, I reluctantly left the comfort of the Chian Guesthouse and made my way to the Chiang Rai bus station (the one by the night bazaar). I caught a local bus for THB 39 to the border town of Mae Sai, which took 2 hours. There are faster buses, but I find the local transport more interesting. I also like it that they don’t have frosty air-conditioning and blaring Thai music. The bus drops you at the Mae Sai bus station, which is 3km from the border crossing. Songthaws to the border are waiting to take you there for THB15. I got dropped off a hundred meters or so before the border point as I wanted to wander the markets and change some money.
The markets in Mae Sai are really great. There are many different types of people, from hill-tribe groups to tourists, and lots of interesting things on sale. I’ve read on other blogs that Mae Sai has got an ‘edgy’ feel to it. All I can say is that I think some people have let their imagination run away with itself. Either that, or their travels have been to the ‘standard’ tourist spots in Thailand, and they’ve never visited some of the smaller and less touristy towns. There is really nothing ‘wild west’ about Mae Sai and there are plenty of accommodation and other services for tourists.
I needed to buy some Myanmar currency (kyat) and it took me while to find out where to get it. None of the banks money exchanges stock kyat, so you have to go to a licenced money exchange near the markets. I mistakenly started looking inside the markets, which is interesting but not where they are located. My walk then took me under the bridge, where I was met by a funny little man with very few teeth and a stained red mouth from chewing betel nut. He was keen to take me to a brothel it seemed. This wasn’t what I was looking for, so it was back to the markets and the search continued. I finally found a money exchange. I’d been looking for market stalls, but they are established in proper shops. See this post if you need to change money in Mae Sai.
Although certain guidebooks recommend to stay overnight in Mae Sai rather than in Tachileik, I decided I was keen to cross to Myanmar. I already had my Myanmar tourist visa (see this post for getting a visa in Bangkok) so made my way to the bridge.
After being stamped out of Thailand, you have to cross to the other side of the bridge (and the other side of the road) to enter Myanmar. There was a small queue at a customs sign, and I wasn’t sure if I should join it or not. I decided to walk straight past and no-one said anything, so I guess it’s ok to do that. Well, either that or they didn’t see me. A few metres after the customs office – still on the bridge – you enter Myanmar. They called me in to a small office where five immigration officials were sat doing paperwork. One of them took my passport and started barking questions at me in poor English. I really couldn’t be bothered with this, so just cracked a big smile and announced to the room that I was a tourist and very much looking forward to visiting Myanmar. The barking official thrust a form into my hand and walked out of the door. The others appeared to be a little embarrassed and from then on it was all smiles and very pleasant. After handing in the completed form I continued my way over the bridge and into the busy little town of Tachileik.
Walking into Tachileik, you are first set upon by a wave of tuk-tuk drivers waving pictures of the local temple. I was keen to find some accommodation, which I thought would be close by, so I kept on walking. I was also stopped by a young man very keen to sell me Viagra. He showed me lots of packets and pills, and was very insistent that I should buy some. I was feeling a little tired and hungry, and pretty sure Viagra was not what I needed, so carried on my walk.
I found a cheap hotel a short walk from the bridge and market. The Erawan Hotel is at No. 1/29 Mahabandola Street, Wankong Quarter, Tachileik (N: 20.44905, E: 099.88140). Phone is 084-51156. I was charged THB250 for a double room, with shared toilets (squat toilets) and bathroom (cold water). Even though in Tachaliek is in Myanmar, most transactions are in Thai Bhat. Thai is also widely spoken, so if you have a few words of Thai you can still use them here.