Thailand

Thailand/Myanmar: Border Crossing from Mae Sai to Tachileik

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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.

bus mae sai

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.

border crossing

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.

Thailand: Where to buy US$ and Kyat in Chaing Rai and Mae Sai

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There are a few threads on travel forums asking where to buy US dollars with no definitive answer. I thought I would make a post to tell you:

  • Where to get US currency (US$) in Chiang Rai
  • Where to get US$ in Mae Sai
  • Where to buy Myanmar currency (kyat) in Chiang Rai
  • Where to buy kyat in Mae Sai

CHIANG RAI

Firstly, you will not find US dollars at the Chiang Rai Central Plaza shopping mall. I learned this the hard way.

You can find US$ in Chiang Rai town centre at banks/money exchanges near the bus station. Some may just have a single bill to sell, some will have none at all. It seems there isn’t much demand for them to keep much. However, at Krungtahi Bank Currency Exchange on Thanon Phayonyothin (N: 19.90513, E: 099.83311) they told me they regularly have US$ available, and when i visited they had several hundred dollars in stock. The cashier me that often on Mondays and Fridays they do not have any, so it seems you are better visiting on other days if you can.

krungthai bank chaing rai

You will not be able to buy Myanmar kyat currency in Chiang Rai.

MAE SAI

Getting US$ at Mai Sai is a little easier. I asked at the Siam Commercial Bank money exchange (close to the police station just before you get to the border) and was told that buying US currency was no problem at all. I said a friend was coming in to by a few hundred bucks in the next few days and the cashier said they would definitely have stock. It seems that Mae Sai has a higher demand for US dollars and therefore you have a greater chance of finding notes there.

mae sai siam bank

Buying Myanmar kyat is also easy in Mai Sai. You cannot buy it at the banks/bank money exchanges. You need to walk back from the border crossing approximately 150m, until just past the police station. There you will find authorised money changers with all the Myanmar currency you need (N: 20.440240, E: 99.882002). Oh, and there are ATMs everywhere in Mae Sai, so you can withdraw Thai baht no problem.

Note also that at the border they require you to have at least TBH10,000 worth of currency before they let you across (THB20,000 for a family). However, I was not asked about this and i read elsewhere only very rarely will they check you have these funds.

mai sai money exchange

Please also see my post on the border crossing from Mai Sai to Tachiliek here.

Thailand: Chian Guesthouse [Chiang Rai]

I bumped into a great guy in Tha Ton who told me about the Chian Guesthouse in Chiang Rai. It doesn’t appear in the guidebooks, but no doubt will be included soon. I sometimes post about accommodation if it is above average, and the Chian Guesthouse ticks a lot of boxes.

  • It’s cheap (I paid THB250 for a poolside room).
  • It has a swimming pool!
  • Great communal area.
  • Wifi
  • I’m told the food is great (i rarely eat in guesthouses).

The rooms are nothing special, but considering the above i think it’s an awesome place. Some photos below, sorry i couldn’t be bothered to clear the mess of the bed.

Thailand: (Tha Ton) Interesting People: Jo van der Linde

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I’m sometimes quite antisocial when travelling. I get so caught up with exploring, photographing, researching and writing that I neglect talking with others. This changed in Tha Ton, when i stayed at the Garden Riverside Resort.

Visiting Tha Ton in low season, I had the whole resort to myself until the second day, when I got a neighbour. Joachim (Jo) looked like an interesting character, and didn’t disappoint. Below is a photograph i took of Jo as we ate breakfast together at a small street stall.

joachim van der linde

Jo has spent a lot of time on the road in some incredible destinations. He has even published a book on travelling the world by train, and there surely aren’t too many of those around. Some more info and some great photos on his website:

http://www.einsteigen-weltreise.de

Jo also supports a fantastic project in northern Thailand. Baan Doi is a home and healing centre for children. Jo told me how it had been established by Barbara Meisl, whose holiday in Thailand became a lot more meaningful than the standard ‘hill tribe treks’ in the north, and partying on islands in the south. I encourage you to check out the Baan Doi website (http://www.baandoi.org) and read of the fantastic work they are doing. Small NGOs like Baan Doi can often make a big difference with very limited funding.

It was great to meet you Jo. Feel free to come and visit if you come past my way.