TheLoneRider
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Border Crossing - Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachileik (Myanmar) Apr 23, 2016

Border Crossing - Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachileik (Myanmar)

Location: Maesai, Thailand

Twilight Zone
The Mae Sai (Thailand) - Tachileik (Myanmar) border is at the northern-most tip of Thailand, close to the Golden Triangle where the borders of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand meet. Crossing it is perhaps the weirdest border I ever crossed. It is an official border that does not register on the radar - because you can cross it w/o your passport being stamped (before). Standard border rules do not apply here. It's like the Twilight Zone of all border crossings.

Border Research
Having been aggravated by border crossings, I did my research this time. I was able to buy a bus ticket at the Green Bus ticket office within the Old City instead of riding the red taxi to the Arcade Bus Terminal 3 in Chiang Mai. Giving myself a little comfort, I chose to add B100 in order to get the wider VIP seats on the air-conditioned bus. I even prepared for the cold overhead a/c so I brought my hiking hat with me. At Mae Sai, I knew how to get to the red taxi to get to the border, paying the fixed B15. All that convenience made the half-day research worth its while. I thought this was the most painless border crossing yet. But my research didn't prepare me for what's to happen next.

Border Crossing - Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachileik (Myanmar)
Border Crossing - Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachileik (Myanmar)

Thai Exit Border
Upon surrendering my passport to the Thai Immigration, something hit a snag. A supervisor was called upon to review my case. What case? I was departing on the day my visa was expiring. I wasn't overstaying, and I never did.

Visa Run
The supervisor said I was doing a visa run and it was unacceptable. He said I maxed-out my stay and now I was leaving the border to come back and have another set of 14 days. I argued that I stayed 14 days because I was allowed 14 days! Where was the violation? I also said that it won't be a visa-run because I wouldn't be coming back to Thailand the same day or the following day - I was going to max-out the 14 days I will be given in Myanmar. I told him that I keep coming back to Thailand because they have a beautiful country (and I was telling him the truth) - what's wrong with that? He would only repeat himself that I was doing a visa run and that I should show proof of onward flight! I said I haven't decided where to go from Thailand after I return, let alone show proof of onward flight. He further stressed that I should have applied for a proper tourist visa, instead of a transit visa-on-arrival. We reached an impasse. What he was telling me was contrary to the research I've done (apparently, the rules have changed again).

Onward Flight
The only way he would allow me to exit was to show proof of an onward flight. Unplanned, I had to book a return flight to somewhere. I looked for a cafe with wifi to book a flight and later had to search for a printing shop to print the flight booking. I was pressed against time since the border would close at 5pm. I didn't want to have to spend a night in Mae Sai. Luckily, I had everything accomplished. The Immigration Supervisor thank me for my effort. He was a smart guy and realized how illogical the situation was. But his hands were also tied - policy is policy. He said the law has always been there but not enforced until last year after an explosion rocked Bangkok! I was finally allowed to exit and cross the bridge separating Thailand from Myanmar.

Myanmar Entry Border
It was another challenge dealing with Myanmar Immigration. It seemed everybody was uptight on this border crossing. Myanmar Immigration told me that upon entering the country, my travel is restricted to Tachileik and Kengtung only - I could not go beyond. Furthermore, my only exit point was the same border. They kept my passport and issued me an "Entry Permit" card. I would have to surrender this permit card upon my exit from Myanmar in order to get my passport back. In addition, they demanded payment of B500. I protested, citing Asean agreement, that citizens of member countries are exempt from paying visa fees. They just ignored me. It was "pay" or "stay in Thailand". I paid. With that, I was able to enter the country. 2 days later, I learned that there was an additional $3/day fee for staying in Tachileik!

Why the Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachileik (Myanmar) border crossing is unusual:

Thailand Myanmar

Ending Thoughts
Despite my research, my assumptions didn't hold up. According to some Thais and Burmese I talked to, the rules keep changing, even they get confused sometimes. To me, when crossing a border, always expect the unexpected. At least, I was able to leave Thailand on time and got to cross the border. Now, I'm also curious what Tachileik holds for me.

--- TheLoneRider
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Mae Sai (Thailand) To Tachileik (Myanmar) Border

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Reader Comments:

Honey GoodeHoney Goode
(Apr 26, 2016) We went there with my visa expiring on the same day and they suddenly changed the rules- Filps can no longer extend visa. wheew... I was lucky when the Immigration Officer gave me 7 days extension but the pay was high. No choice. Grab it and went home tongue emoticon great times

FriendFriend
(Apr 26, 2016) Interesting to read your border experience. Seems the bombing in 2015 central Bangkok at the Hindu temple by foreigners was cause of all these changes. You know you would be the IDEAL WRITER for Lonely Planet, Rough Guide or similar non traditional guidebooks...have you ever been approached?

Next stop: 2 Days in Tachileik, Myanmar

Tachileik Blogs by TheLoneRider


Mae Sai, Thailand

hotels in Mae Sai - hotel cafes in Mae Sai - cafe

Mae Sai FYI / Tips

How to Get to Mae Sai

Things to do, Places to go in Mae Sai

  1. Mae Sai Market - the expansive market is really the main draw of Mae Sai apart from being a visa-run destination
  2. Fish Cave aka Monkey Temple at Wat Tham Pla - you can feed the monkeys and carp. Food can be purchased at the temple for B20
  3. Cross into Myanmar - tourists can pay B500 to cross into Myanmar and take a peak at their daily life. There is also a big market across the border, selling mostly fake stuff imported from China
  4. Tum Luang-Khun Naam Naang Norn Forest Park - water fall, rock pools, swimming
  5. Wat Phra That Doi Wao aka Skorpion Temple - panoramic view of Myanmar from the Golden Triangle

Mae Sai Cost Index

backpacker places (US$1 = Thai Baht 35.15 = Php 46.74 = MYR Ryat 1168.80 as of Apr 25, 2016)
General Travel Tips
  1. arrive early - in case there is a snag (visa snag, documentation snag, transport ticket snag, etc.), you will have ample time to troubleshoot the problem if you arrive early (to the airport, to the bus terminal, etc.)
  2. put detailed itinerary on the Calendar apps of your smart-phone according to timelines - this is where you do all your thinking and planning. Once written down, you don't have to think anymore while you are on the journey...you just follow the steps. This frees your mind for something else that might happen while you are already en route
  3. avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
  4. power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!

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