That’s it, you’ve been in Thaïland for nearly 30 days (or more, depending on your visa) but you wish to extend your time enjoying the hospitality of this beautiful country. It’s time for a visa run ! Let’s face it : visa runs are a very common practice in Thaïland and most of us actually opt for this solution. .
Overland border crossing used to mean an extension of 15 days for your time in Thaïland but if, like us, you are from one of the lucky countries (including USA, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy and Japan), you are now granted a 30 day visa on arrival at land borders, just like the airport, as of November 2013. So your one month trip to the Thaï kingdom might quickly change to two months. But where would you extend said visa ? While Cambodia and Laos are the usual choices for a quick visa renewal, there is also the option of Myanmar.
Yes Myanmar. As surprising as this may sound (since land crossing with that country has never been an easy job) you can cross from the North of Thailand to Tachilek and renew your paperwork. It’s quick, easy, painless and it’s hard to refuse a day in the Shan territory. So how and where ?
Getting to Mae Sai / Tachilek :
Getting to the border is very easy. From Chiang Mai, take a green bus. While they are pretty good they might not be too frequent (one every hour) and you might want to book your ticket in advance.
From Chiang Rai it’s fairly simple. Get to the bus station in town where the local buses depart for Mae Sai (simple, it’s written on it, if you’re not sure, ask, people will be happy to help). These buses are every 20 minutes and cost 30BTH. Once at Mae Sai station climb on the back of a red pick-up truck that will drop you at the border control for 15BTH.
Passing the border to Myanmar :
Once at the border it’s pretty straight forward. Don’t forget to fill your Departure Card and pass immigration. Once on the Myanmar side of the bridge (on the right side for the entry since driving rules are different from Thailand to Myanmar) an officer will ask you to come in his office. If you just want to get in for a day you’ll pay 500BTH ( around $16 ) to enter the town of Tachilek. Once done cross back, get an arrival card, get your new stamp and here you are, all done !
If you really want to stay longer in Myanmar and pass this border you need to refer to the Myanmar embassy in Thailand. A permit needs to be granted for a 15 days tour in the Shan state on their side of the border and paperwork needs to be done in advance.
Why is this border town open ?
The main attraction about Tachilek is the market. While it used to be known for selling the skins of wild animals like leopards, this traffic seems to have stopped now, and instead the market’s main trade these days is fake goods. You’ll see it everywhere : fake brands are on every sunglasses, bags, etc… But it’s not worth the risk to pass it back to Thailand !
This market is mainly targeted to Thai who get there to find a certain type of products they wouldn’t get easily back home. You will find a bit of street food but there isn’t much you will really want to buy out there. It’s fun though to spend the day in a Burmese market and that kind of makes the crossing worthwhile.
But really the success of this border mainly comes from the work force that Myanmar can provide. Many Burmese pass daily the border to get to their work in Thailand before coming back home.
What are the advantages ?
There is a couple of reason to cross this border :
- It’s easy, hassle free, quick. Kind of the exact opposite of the border town of Koh Kong in Cambodia.
- It’s cheap. Where the entry to Cambodia should cost $20 (and usually ends up being $25 minimum) and the one to Laos costs between $20 to $42, the one day entry to Myanmar will cost you $16. When you just need to cross back in Thailand, the cheapest option is the best !
- It’s a taste of Myanmar and a good day trip. You end up not just crossing in a boring border town but getting in a nice little market. Kind of makes you feel you’re not wasting your time !
All in all, if you are in the North of Thailand we highly recommend crossing in Tachilek. We haven’t heard of any problems there and crossing a border has never been so easy (ironic when you think it’s the border to Myanmar…)