Mae Sai or Maesai (แม่สาย) is Thailand's most northern town which is located by the border with Burma/Myanmar. For many it's was/is best known for being a quick visa run border for those wanting to get a new Thai visa.
For tourists there's not a lot more here other than a large run-of-the-mill market. There are some items from Burma here but nothing to get over excited over and certainly no bargains.
Did you know?
Thai visa regulation change annually (or more frequently). Do check out the latest Thai visa information before committing to just going up for a border run.
That said, read the getting there section on how to get here cheaply.
There are some nice hills around Mae Sai to explore though and a Wat to visit if one was to stay here a few days. Certainly this side of the border is a better option to spend a night than on the other side.
Aside from the border the large market is the main attraction in Mae Sai. The items here are a mixed bag of Burmese items and cheap Chinese imports. Don't expect any great Burmese handicrafts here.
Most buyers come here to buy in bulk for selling elsewhere.
Shawls and some materials can be good value but most of it is destined for the wholesale market.
Perhaps the best bargains for those in the know are gemstones. Rubies, emeralds and jade in particular.
The small Wat Phra That Wai Dao and a small Burmese temple are located on a hill up some steps. To get there take a left at immigration and go through the market there. On a clear day expect nice views over Mae Sai and Tachileik (Burma) but other than that it's not so exciting or remarkable.
Nearby the river is a monument to King Naresuan. This former Lanna king is famous for defeating many Burmese invasions. Rather poignantly there's a large scorpion statue snapping its claws towards Tachileik on the Burmese side.
Please take note that in 2014 Thai immigration cracked down on visa runs to the border. It is no longer possible to go in and out within a day unless you have an incredible excuse. And even then it will just get you a 15 day visa.
To enter Burma you'll need a visa from one of the Burmese embassies if you want to go further than Tachileik.
Get stamped out of Thailand. This is relatively painless just be the bridge.
Cross to the Burmese immigration station on the bridge. Pay 500 baht. Have your photo taken by immigration. Receive a temporary pass and continue on to Tachilek.
Returning to Thailand:
Enter the Burmese immigration office. Hand over your temporary pass. Walk over to Thai immigration.
Collect and fill an entry forum from the gate. If you have a Thai visa already you are good to go with a stamp. If not then you may not be allowed in if you only left for a day or two.
Bus from Bangkok to Mae Sai (14 hours) go to Morchit station. There's one bus at 07.30 and three more from 17.30. 490 Baht regular, 1000 Baht VIP seats
Bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai (5 hours) go to the Arcade station. There are several buses running from 06.30 to 15.00. 180 Baht for regular or 350 Baht for VIP seats. You can book in advance.
Bus from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai (1.5 hours) go to either the old terminal or new terminal. Buses run from 05.30 to 20.00. Tickets are about 40 Baht. The buses are old.
Leaving Mae Sai:
Mae Sai’s government bus station is 1.5km from the border.To get there take a 15 baht red songthaew ride or jump on a motorbike for 40 baht (do bargain first).
Buses to Bangkok (14 hours): 490 Baht regular, 1000 Baht VIP seats. Most buses depart after 4pm and finish at 6pm.
Buses to Chiang Mai (5 hours): 180 Baht for regular or 350 Baht for VIP seats. Departure start at 06.30 and finish at 15.00
Chiang Rai (1.5 hours): 40 Baht. Buses depart from 05.30 until 20.00.
Other options to from Mae Sai include renting a motorbike for about 300 baht per day. Or taking mini-van from Chiang Mai to the border which costs around 900 baht for a round trip.
Finally for those looking for a cheap but comfortable ride to the border there's the option of booking a day trip tour of North Thailand. These often include the Mae Sai border and arrive around lunch time. These tours usually cost as little as 500-700 baht. And there's not issue about making a one way trip only.
There are some surprisingly good value places to stay in Mae Sai. Again if you have to spend the night in this area there's better accommodation in Mae Sai than on the Burmese side of the border.
Wanliya Resort - Offering dated cottages and rooms in a nice location. I can't quite see the value for money here myself. It's not too far from the border. ★★★☆☆
+ Indoor Pool
Chour Palace Hotel - Possibly the nicest hotel in Mae Sai. The big rooms are well decorated and clean. There's a good restaurant on site and the staff are very professional. ★★★★☆
+ Top Rated!
Piyaporn Pavilion Hotel - Borderline high-end to mid range Piyaporn has a range of large nice clean rooms. The hotel is family friendly and there's a good restaurant on site. ★★★★☆
Wangthong Hotel - Probably the closest hotel for under $30 to the border. It's clean albeit a little dated, has a basic breakfast in the price and plenty of rooms. ★★★☆☆
Top North Hotel - If you are looking for a cheap budget hotel in Mae Said then this is one of the cheapest and nearest to the border. It's a little dingy but will do for a night. ★★☆☆☆
After Glow Hostel - Mae Sai's only boutique hostel. There's a main hotel and several cottages behind the building. It's a clean and friendly place if a little noisy from both the market and the street. ★★★★☆
Before you go: »Thailand visa information » Best time to visit Thailand » Bangkok weather »Vaccinations & immunizations for Thailand
Arriving: » Malaysia to Thailand overland
Traveling around: » Getting around Thailand »Thai language for Travel »Money, ATM's & credit cards in Thailand
Food, culture & shopping in Thailand: » Thai food » Culture & etiquette
Shopping in Thailand »The best places in South East Asia to buy electronics (includes Bangkok) » How to bargain & barter for souvenirs
Living in Thailand » Jobs in Bangkok
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