Well, since the area is full of foreigners getting stamps back into the Land of Noodle Soup & Nose-jobs, Aranya Prathet and it’s neighboring cross-border town of Cambodia’s Poipet happily secured most of the first of this two part blog. Now, if Cambodia’s sombrero carrying urchin beggars (or actually cheap holey brolleys), Macau style casinos and one of the sleaziest border towns to the east of Tijuana, isn’t your cup-of-tea, then head somewhere else instead; take your choice: Burma, Laos or Malaysia. Contemplating where you are actually are at the time of deciding on your border destination however, will hopefully comes up in yer decision making too! Let’s do Burma this time around.
Ranong / Victoria Point (Kawthaung)
Coming from Phuket (especially) or even Krabi or even Surat Thani or even Bangkok, this border-crossing can be ideal for spending an extra stint actually hanging around the place before getting back. Getting stamped outta Thailand at the border (short songthaew ride from Ranong Town) you’ll have to take a long-tail boat to Victoria Point on the Burmese side. Be warned, if the sun is out, then by the time you get back your face could resemble an extremely fresh home-grown beetroot. Ask your boatsman for a parasol or splash on the sunblock. The journey there and back isn’t that much of an epic journey, but it’s long enough.
Don’t get suckered (unless ya wanna flash that is) on chartering your own boat. Sod that and adamantly explain to the touts or actual boatsmen at the pier that you had been robbed by some dodgy ladyboy the night before on Patong Beach and you are left with only a couple of hundred baht to share a boat with other passengers. In fact, two hundred baht return is still paying a bit more than the locals.
Arriving at the Burmese crossing, you will have to fork over 500 baht for the privilege of helping to finance the leading Junta’s golfing vacation fund before getting a stamp in. Actually, the real charge is $10 but if the US note has even the slightest fold or wrinkle, your smiling official will explain that shoddy looking banknotes are not accepted by the glorious National Bank of Burma. Walking out of the office just five foot away, there is a decent enough chance that you may be accosted by a bunch of delinquent looking lads wanting to sell you the likes of Viagra, ganja, dirty movies, bootleg cigarettes and perhaps even a rubber sex doll.
Most visa-runners (including everyone who comes with visa-run tours from Phuket) sadly miss out on Victoria Point as it is a lovely place to hang around for a short while. Instead, they just get their stamps and do a complete u-turn. Do what’s best (since you come all that way anyway) and spend a short time in Victoria Point. The small town isn’t that great but it does have that Burmese feel too it. Then, for those who fancy some cheap booze and cigs it’s all there in the market (buy yourself and not from some shabby hawk).
Some beautiful views of the surrounding Andaman Sea can be had from at least a couple of restaurants (left to the pier). So, what better can be had than having a drink, sitting back and enjoying the hills of Thailand over the Andaman in the background? Well worth a short visit for the afternoon. And don’t forget Ranong province itself which is renowned for some lush unspoiled off-the-beaten-track islands (not forgetting, Ranong town is worth spending a night in too)
Ranong Town is a 5 hours bus trip from Phuket or if you are coming from Bangkok, 9 hour over-night buses can be found in the evening leaving from the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai)
(Get over that bridge into Burma)
Mae Sot / Myawadi (Burma)
If you are in the lower northern region of the country and in search of a new visa stamp, Mae Sot in Tak province could certainly be your best option. This may also be your favored destination if you are hoping to enjoy a wee bit of mother nature. Not too far from Mae Sot is undoubtedly Thailand’s most beautiful and famed waterfall, Tilosoo.
To get to the border, instead of taking the pricey advice of a tuk-tuk or motorbike-taxi geezer in town, simply pop on a songthaew in Mae Sot’s market area. So full of Burmese folk, you could imagine that you’d already arrived in Burma. After getting a stamp out of Thailand, you’ll have to walk over the seemingly never-ending border bridge before getting to the Burmese town of Myawadi. Take my word for it, it is a bit of a hike; up and over. Like at the Ranong/Burmese border point, the very much hassle free officers will much appreciate an old 500baht note to a crisp-fresh 10 US dollar one.
Myawadi isn’t too exciting but it’s worth having a nosey around. Under the actual bridge are a couple of nice restaurants where, again like in Victoria Point, you can enjoy a dish of Burmese curry or/and a glass of Myannmar Special Brew. In fact, you’ll probably be crying out for one of the latter after you think of the long stint back. Ok..ok… I suppose it isn’t that long; just that living in Thailand so long your legs get as lazy as a locals.
Mae Sot, like its Burmese counterpart, maybe not be a riveting place but its certainly worth staying the night. You may not get much of the opportunity to experience the eye-boggling sight of too many scadly-dressed Coyote singers in a local disco, but you may instead be enjoying the company of local acoustic music. There is some great Burmese munchies in town too, so don’t miss out on the opportunity. The DK (Duangkamol) Hotel probably offers, without a doubt, the best budget lodgings in town. If you were recognizing the name Duangkamol or DK, then yes, it’s the same family which runs DK Books, Thailand’s original English language book publishers. There is a nice lobby and a branch of DK Books downstairs.
Oh yes, just across from the entrance of DK Hotel is the lovely Café Corner run by Dan a journalist specializing on Burma and the plight of the Karen people there. Not just coffee of course, Dan and his wife dish out pizzas, lasagna, pate and even relishes and chutney. The last time I was there I had the homemade Burmese curry which went down real well with the statutory beer. Dan’s just the person to catch up with if you need any info on travelling around the area, and even into Burma.
Buses to Mae Sot leave from Bangkok in the evening from the Northern Bus Station (Morchid) and arrive in Mae Sot in the early hours. From Nakhorn Sawan, the Gateway to the North, there are buses going via Tak provincial town (Chiang Mai bus); the first one leaves extremely in the morning. Ask at the station in advance. From Tak bus station there are rusty old passenger vans which do the trip to Mae Sot in about an hour.
Mai Sai / Tachilek
Poor old Mae Sai, when I was first there 18 years ago the place was packed out with backpackers. It was in those days that just to get over the border into Burma on your one day visa there, was like ‘Wow… I’m in Burma!’ Nowadays, however, since the country has more than open to foreigners, very few folk actually bother staying in Mae Sai anymore – sad sight seeing decrepit guesthouses which have been left to rot. In fact, there are hardly any places left for backpackers to stay anymore, but you will find a couple of cost-effective places – just to the left under the bridge and along that road. As for nightlife, Mae Sot is virtually dead.
This border run though, is absolutely the quickest. Stamped out of Thailand, it’s then a two minute walk over the bridge to the Burmese check-point. Again, they too will be preferring a 500baht note to a ten buck one. Tachilek is one huge market knocking out a plethora of counterfeit Chinese goods. If that takes yer fancy, then go for it, otherwise after a quick look around you’ll be wanting to get back into Thailand.
This border-crossing is ideal however, for those in the north-north of Thailand. From Chiang Mai it’s about 5 hours by bus; there are also agents specializing in a passenger van visa run service; there and back in half a day. From Bangkok, buses leave in the early evening from the Northern Bus Terminal and take around 13-14 hours; yes, Mae Sai is quite a distance from the capital.
Happy visa run!