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.

Thailand: Tha Ton (Thaton) and Mae Salong (Santikhiri)

The journey from Chiang Mai to Tha Ton (sometimes Thaton) is an easy one. A local bus from the Chiang Mai’s Bus Terminal 1 will take approximately four hours and cost THB90. The bus travels through other towns and villages, including Chiang Dao, Fang, and Mae Ai. The best thing about local buses, compared with ‘VIP’ buses, is that you are not subjected to ridiculously cold air-conditioning or Thai pop videos on the TV. It was a really pleasant ride.

I stayed 3 nights in Tha Ton. My first night was at the Apple Resort, where i negotiated a garden chalet for THB300. Tha Ton is almost completely absent of tourists in the low season, and I was the only guest. After being totally ignored by the staff in the restaurant, i decided to explore the town. The locals are not as friendly in Tha Ton as i’ve experienced in other parts of Thailand, but they are not unfriendly and you can pull a smile from them. I seemed to be one of very few tourists in town; during my three night stay I saw less than ten.

Tha Ton is established around the Kok River (Mae Nam Kok), and the bridge is a central feature in the town. The photo below shows the boat jetty taken from the bridge, from which you can take a longtail boat to Chiang Rai for THB400. Sadly, the river levels were very low during my visit and the boats were not running, so i would have to get to Chiang Rai by road when i left.

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Looking down on the Tha Tan is Wat Phra Aram Luang, a temple that spans 9 levels over 3km. I took a walk to enjoy the temple and the views. The photo below is from one of the first levels. The air is quite hazy at this time of year, so photos i took from the higher levels don’t show the town very well.

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After moving to the Garden Riverside Resort (also called Garden Home Nature Resort), which was lovely and peaceful, i rented a scooter to explore the area. My first stop was at Mae Salong – also called Santikhiri – a small town on Doi Mae Salong mountain. Mae Salong has a very Chinese feel to it, which is due to its really interesting history. At the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, remnants of the anti-communist Kuomintang (KMT) forces refused to surrender. Led by General Li Kuo-hui, troops fought their way out of south-western China, and lived in Burma’s jungles. Some of the army returned to Taiwan but the remaining troops, led by General Tuan Shi-wen, sought asylum in Mae Salong. The opium poppies which were grown in the area have now been replaced by crops such as tea.

On my rental scooter, i stopped at Mae Salong’s Martyr’s Memorial, a museum to honour the KMT soldiers who died in their fight against communism (two photos below).

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Below is a street scene from Mae Salong, and a couple of photos showing views from the town.

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Leaving Mae Salong I took backroads and tracks back to Tha Ton. I passed through various villages inhabited by ethic groups including Akha and Lahu. Although you still see traditional dress in these villages, their close proximity to towns and the main road means that they have become influenced by modern Thailand. I didn’t take any photos as i travelled through these villages (replying on my trusty Garmin GPS unit to find the way), but the two images below show a view with Mae Salong in the background, and one of the tracks i took as i returned to Tha Ton.

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I would recommend staying in both Tha Ton and Mae Salon, and exploring the surrounds. Apparently, many travellers just visit Tha Ton to catch the boat to Chiang Rai and miss exploring this wonderful part of Thailand close to the Myanmar border.

Thailand: Chiang Mai Temples

Having visited Wat Phra Singh (see this post) I now made my way around a few other of Chiang Mai’s more popular temples. These photos were taken over two mornings.

Wat Chedi Luang (first photo) is built around a crumbling Lanna-style chedi from 1441. It was once one of the tallest structures in Chiang Mai. It was damaged in the 16th century, either by earthquake or cannon fire, depending on which story you believe.

Chiang Mai Wat Chedi Luang

I think this second photo was taken at Wat Chiang Man. I was happy when a monk walked into the frame at the right time.

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Wat Inthakhin Saduemuang is a beautiful gilded teak temple, and luckily for me right next door to a little row of restaurants serving delicious meals.

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The following morning before leaving Chiang Mai i had a quick look at a few more temples. The morning light really worked well with Wat Saen Muang Ma Luang (Wat Hua Khuang). I also visited a few others, including Wat Lam Chang. As it was early morning, i had these places pretty much to myself.

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Feeling like i’ve seen enough temples for now, it was back to the guesthouse to check out. Next stop is Tha Ton, a small town north of Chiang Mai and close to the Burmese border.

Thailand: Motorbikes and Scooters (Chiang Mai)

I was really enjoying taking these and got a bit carried away, so ended up with around 150 photos. I know that eight shots of motorbikes is a few too many for one post but it’s too hard to decide. My favourite of these photographs is the first one.

See previous post for camera settings.

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Thailand: The Quest for the Tuk Tuk Photo (Chiang Mai)

The quest for the tuk tuk photo continues. I played around with fill flash, but did not like the results. However, I was happy with the effect i got from shooting wide open in the evening, with shop lights providing illumination to define the subjects.  As per previous daytime shots, i was panning with the tuk tuk. The settings were 1/40 (sometimes 1/50) and f1.4. The camera selected the ISO, which i think was pretty constant at 400.

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Thailand: (Chiang Mai) Wat Phra Singh

Leaving Lampang behind in the afternoon, i arrived in Chiang Mai a couple of hours later. I grabbed a songthaew with a load of backpackers to the old city, with the intention of finding a guesthouse off Moon Muang that i stayed at 19 years ago. I couldn’t find it, so checked into one of the many in this area. The area has changed a lot since i was last here; every other building now caters to the throngs of backpackers and other tourists that visit the city.

Up at the break of dawn the next dat, i went out to check out some temples before the gazillions of other tourists did the same thing. Although you can’t get in all of the buildings at this time, it’s nice to have the sites to yourself. My first stop was the famous Wat Phra Singh

(Full name: Wat Phra Singh Woramahaviharn; Thai: วัดพระสิงห์วรมหาวิหาร)

Wat Phra Singh monk

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Thailand: (Lampang) Wat Akkho Chai Khiri

On the way back to Lampang from Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat Phrachomklao Rachanusorn I saw steps up to another temple and decided to check it out. The timing was good as a monk was climbing the stairs, which made the photo a touch more interesting. He’s just finished sweeping the steps, so i guess he’d be ready for a good cup of tea 😉

The temple has a camera obscura, which casts an image of its chedi. I was impressed with the giant standing Buddha image (approximately 11m high) in the ordination hall. Two monks look after the temple, and one of them was trying to clear out pigeons as i entered.

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