Thailand’s Northern-most district is Mae Sai in Chiang Rai Province. It is about 60 kilometers north of the provincial capital and has easy access along the main highway. The most notable landmark is this tall building which houses the Thai immigration. It is easy to find as there is basically only one road in Mae Sai. On the other side of the building is a bridge that crosses the river that acts as a natural border between Thailand and Myanmar. These people are in a kind of no-mans-land. They have already passed through Burmese Immigration and are on their way into Thailand.
I have been to Mae Sai a couple of times and each time it has been as a day trip from Chiang Rai which is only 90 minutes away on the main highway. If you don’t have your own transport you can easily come here by one of the frequent buses. There isn’t a lot to do in Mae Sai other than shopping. There are a number of market stalls both down the main road and also on the side streets. I think the prices on the smaller roads are probably better. However, they all seem to be selling the same things such as tea, dried fruit, handicraft, jewellery and electronic goods.
It is possible for you to cross the bridge into the Burmese border town of Tachileik. However, the border is sometimes temporarily closed if there is trouble along the volatile border. If you want to cross and already have a Thai visa, then make sure that you get a re-entry permit. This costs 1,000 baht which is why I didn’t cross on my recent trip. On the Burmese side you have to pay 500 Baht or $10. They will keep your passport while you explore the town. If you don’t have a Thai visa when you come back they will stamp 15 days in your passport for free.
It is possible to use Mae Sai as a base while you explore this region. There are number of reasonably priced hotels here. From Mae Sai there is easy access to the mountains of Doi Tung and the Mae Fah Luang Gardens, the Golden Triangle along the Maeklong River and also the historical ruins of Chiang Saen. From your hotel you can arrange one day tours if you don’t have your own transport. It is also possible to go on boat tours along the Maeklong. Despite border troubles at times, Mae Sai town itself is safe for tourists. A few days after I was here, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck less than 100 kms north of the town damaging some old buildings and killing one woman. Fortunately this doesn’t happen often.
Map showing location of Mae Sai in Chiang Rai Province:
[cetsEmbedGmap src=http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?hl=en&ie=UTF8&msa=0&ll=20.444184,99.881215&spn=0.014295,0.027874&z=16&msid=210550963008557722983.00049f49ec074b845048b width=450 height=425 marginwidth=0 marginheight=0 frameborder=0 scrolling=no]