Sigh. Living in Thailand or even just being a tourist in Thailand can be hard work some times. Thailand has a number of different visas available, all of which have their own rules you must abide by. For example, a Tourist Visa. As of April 2012, a tourist who flies in to Thailand gets a thirty day tourist visa. A person who enters Thailand overland - bus, train, boat, foot - will only get a fourteen day tourist visa. You can't do anything in fourteen days!
Then you have business visas or education visas or volunteer visas... the list goes on. Each visa has a different limit on the amount of time you can spend in Thailand. Thus, at some point of a long term traveller's life, a visa run will have to be done. A visa run is simply crossing an international border then coming back in to the original country to get a new stamp in your passport. Our visa run in Thailand happened recently. Chiang Mai, Thailand to Tachilek, Myanmar (Burma).
To get from Chiang Mai in Thailand to Tachilek in Myanmar is an experience, with over three hundred kilometres between the two towns. There are a few options for how to do the visa run. By motorbike, car, even the use of a plane. We did it the same way most people do. We caught a bus from Chiang Mat to Mae Sai, songteaw to the Myanmar border, and then a walk through into Tachilek, Myanmar, and then back again. All in one day.
We found that doing a visa run on a week day is far better than on the weekend. Many people who work full time in Thailand end up doing their visa runs on weekends which makes it too busy to be enjoyable.
This is how we do did it. Hopefully it will be useful if you are considering this visa run in the future.
- 1 Buy your bus ticket from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai
- 2 We bought tickets for the Chiangmai - Maesai - VX-Class
- 3 There are two different types of seats on the VX-Class Green Bus:
- 4 On the Green Bus for four and a half hours (each way)
- 5 Reaching Mae Sai, Thailand to head to the border for Tachilek, Myanmar
- 6 Leaving Thailand for Myanmar
- 7 Arriving in Myanmar
- 8 Hello Tachilek in Myanmar
- 9 Leaving Myanmar for Thailand
- 10 Entering Thailand again
- 11 Hanging out in Mae Sai, Thailand
- 12 And that is a visa run from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Tachilek, Myanmar
Buy your bus ticket from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai
Chiang Mai has two bus stations. One just north of the north gate of the northern moat of the old city. The other bus station is about five kilometres from Tae Pae Gate just off Kaeo Nawarat Road. Check out the map at the end of this post to see where the Green Bus Bus Station is in Chiang Mai.
It is best to visit the bus station at least two to three days before your visa run to make sure you get a seat on a bus in the morning, and then a bus in the afternoon for the way back.
The Greenbus from Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai - Mae Sai is very popular. You could go to the bus station on the day that you want to go to Mae Sai but there is every chance that you will get a seat on one of the last buses for the day which means you will have to spend a night in Mae Sai. We have known people to get tickets on the day but only to Chiang Rai. They then have to catch a local bus to Mae Sai and back before spending a night in Chiang Rai. Not the end of the world but, if you want it all done in one day, get your tickets in advance.
We just like to be organised and know exactly when we are going and coming back. Especially for a visa run.
When you get to the Green Bus Ticket Office, you will probably find many people standing around looking at the Green Bus Counter. Mayhem. It is organised chaos though. When we visited the ticket counter in February 2012, to the right hand side of the counter, you will find a touch machine where you select a button for what you want to do today.
Option 1: Buy the ticket for travel today
Option 2: Buy the ticket in advance
(There are other options but these are the important ones)
Select the option you require, and take the number printed out from the machine. Then wait with the rest of the people until your number is called.
Once your number is called, enjoy talking through a window with tiny little holes that you need to scream through and then listen carefully for their answer. Each time we have spoken with the staff at Green Bus they have spoken English well but managing a simple conversation is hard through the window.
There are different times that the bus goes from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai via Chiang Rai. Each different bus has a different price. To check out the different bus times that Green Bus has on offer, click through here to go to the GreenBus website.
We bought tickets for the Chiangmai - Maesai - VX-Class
Depart: Chiang Mai at 8:00am
Arrive: Mae Sai at 12:30pm (approximate)
Depart: Mae Sai at 3:30pm
Arrive: Chiang Mai at 8:00pm (approximate)
There are two different types of seats on the VX-Class Green Bus:
The first is the Super-VIP seats.
These seats are big, comfortable, pleather with a reclining foot section.
There are three seats in a row in the Super-VIP section. One seat on one side, two seats on the other side.
The cost for a Super-VIP seat one way is 330 Baht.
The second is the VIP seats.
This is more our speed. They are not as fancy or as plush but they are certainly just as comfortable. There are four seats in a row in the VIP section. Two on either side.
Our favourite seats are the first VIP seats after the last two Super-VIP seats. (Seats 3A and 3B).
You get cheaper seats and heaps of leg room.
The cost for a VIP seat one way is 212 Baht.
You pick your seats when buying your tickets so get in early to get these seats.
On the Green Bus for four and a half hours (each way)
We aren't going to lie here. It is a long time to spend on a bus in one day. But, it is only one day every few months after all. And, you are sitting on a very comfortable bus, on very comfortable seats, with a very nice view out the window.
The bus is very clean and very cold. The air-conditioner is on full the entire way. We recommend socks for your feet, a jumper for your body, pants for your legs, and if you have one, a beanie for your head. It is that cold. Everyone gets cold. It is cold. Cold. Cold!
Coldness aside, a lovely stewardess who speaks some English will hand out a bottle of water and a couple packets of biscuits for the journey. And cleansing towels. This was in the VIP section. The Super-VIP section will score a bottle of juice and a packet of chips / crisps as well. Ooh, fancy.
Each time we have taken this visa run, a music video of some sort will be on the tv screen at the front of the bus, this will then be replaced by a Thai sitcom. Even not understanding the language it is still funny. After that, a movie will start. Dubbed in Thai. Oh well. At least there is entertainment provided for paying customers.
We do suggest you bring some entertainment yourself. We listen to podcasts of various flavours along the way. Read novels and sometimes write our memoirs. Other people on the bus bring school work that they have to mark, Thai language workbooks, that type of thing.
We have taken this visa run route three times now. Each time the bus was half full of local Thai people, and the other half full of foreigners like ourselves. It is nice to know that local people take this bus too. It feels nice to not be on a bus of foreigners.
At the back of the bus is a toilet. With a window. The toilet cubicle may be small, but it is very clean (at least initially), with toilet paper, soap provided and paper towels to dry your hands. For you men out there, it is wise to sit down to pee. Peeing standing up in a bus on a windy road could result in a nasty accident.
On the way to Mae Sai, we stopped at one check point. Local police / army officers got on the bus and checked the documents of all Thai and Burmese people. Unfortunately on one of our trips, a young lady was asked to get off the bus. Hopefully it was just that her papers weren't in order.
Reaching Mae Sai, Thailand to head to the border for Tachilek, Myanmar
After two quick pit stops in Chiang Rai to drop people off or pick people up, you will reach Mae Sai in about four and a half hours.
Get off the bus and go straight to the songteaw (red or yellow taxi) on offer. Just follow all the other people and jump on. With all your bags. Sit on the ground if you have to or stand up holding on to the back with dear life. Up to you.
This songteaw will take you via the Thai Immigration Office on the main road all the way into Mae Sai where the border crossing to Myanmar is. The songteaw driver will stop out front of the immigration office and announce your arrival. Jump off here if you need to. Otherwise, stay on board.
The cost for the ride on the songteaw to the border of Myanmar is 15 Baht per adult and 10 Baht per child. Pay the driver when you get to your destination. (S)he will give you change if required. Welcome to Mae Sai!
Leaving Thailand for Myanmar
Even though we had already done this visa run two times before, we were nervous on our third time. Leaving Thailand for Myanmar. It still makes me nervous thinking about it. Not sure why. It just does. But, it is fine. We are fine. It is a fine experience.
Once you get dropped off by the songteaw, the border to leave Thailand is straight in front of you. Look to the left side of the building, this is where you enter.
On the left hand side there is a walk way. Queue up at the window as everyone else does. Hand in your passport. They may take your photo, they may not. A stamp will be placed on your passport for when you have left Thailand. Say Thank you, and then walk on through.
You have just left Thailand. Welcome to "no-mans land". A bridge between Thailand and Myanmar. The bridge between the two countries is interesting in itself. There seems to be a lot of children hanging out. Asking for or demanding money. It isn't a pretty sight.
Arriving in Myanmar
Cross over from one side of the bridge to the other. Both from the Thai side to the Myanmar side but also from the left to the right hand side. Be careful of vehicles. Thailand drives on the left hand side and Myanmar drives on the right side of the road. Yes, it is a little confusing!
Once you have crossed over the road, no doubt with help from a child. Walk straight ahead and line up out the front of the Myanmar Passport Control Office on the right hand side. You may be ushered inside, behind the curtained door.
Behind this curtained door is a desk on the right hand side and two desks with computers, printers and cameras straight ahead.
Talk to the Immigration staff on the right hand side first. They will ask you if you would like to go shopping in Tachilek, Myanmar, or if you are just wanting to get your passport stamped and leave Myanmar straight away.
Take the shopping in Tachilek, Myanmar option. Just once. It is an experience.
No matter if you want to shop or if you just want the stamp, it will cost you either $10 USD or 500 Thai Baht for the privilege. People often complain that the staff do not take the US Dollars if the notes are ripped or dirty or have a crease. Even though 500 Baht is more than the 10 USD, we just pay the Thai Baht Option. It is just easier in our opinion as it saves us the bother of acquiring US dollars.
If you want to get your passport stamped and leave, they will take your money, and your passport, and tell you to wait over the other side of the bridge, to get your passport stamped in and out.
If you want to go into Tachilek for shopping, they will take your passport and make a "Union of Myanmar Entry Permit" for you to take in with you.
When it is your turn, sit in the chair, have your glamorous photo taken. Details will be taken from your passport to be added to this entry permit. Date of Birth, Passport Number and Full name on the passport.
Wait for it to be printed out, and then take that permit, with your passport to the men on the right with your USD or Baht. Hand in your passport. And pay the man. Note: Or it could have been the other way around. We cannot remember if we paid the man before we sat down for the entry permit or after... sorry!
Union of Myanmar Entry Permit received, thank the staff at Myanmar's Immigration, and walk on in to Tachilek. Your passport will be waiting for you when you want to leave Myanmar.
Hello Tachilek in Myanmar
Do you want cigarettes? Viagra? Porn? All of these you can buy as soon as you step one foot outside of the immigration office. Be polite, say no, and walk down the steps into the actual shopping area.
The local people will be waiting for you. Waiting for you to buy anything and everything that they have on offer. There is every chance that you will be followed and harassed by a number of people all selling the same thing for the entirety of your walk through Tachilek shopping district. Just be polite and say no thank you.
Walk further in, and enjoy everything that Tachilek has on offer. Ladies, there are so many bag shops. Quality fake bags at awesome prices. None of this fake bags at real prices here. We even saw designer clothing. It seems incredibly unlikely that they were genuine but the fabric was just as delicious and pretty.
For the men, there are a few motorbike shops on offer. Again, probably not genuine but we saw a lightweight motorcycle jacket with all the padding in all the right places for 1300 Baht. There is every chance the jacket would fall to bits during a high speed fall however, for pottering around Chiang Mai, it would be a vast improvement over what most people wear ie a t-shirt.
There is no need to change any money here. You can buy everything you want in Thai Baht. We do recommend you bring quite a bit through as the shopping really is good.
To be honest, there doesn't seem much else to do in Tachilek than shop. We did see some tour touts hanging out with their photo board of Tachilek photos of temples and such. So, you could do a tour of Tachilek if you wanted to. We are unsure how much this would have cost though.
We saw a few side of the road food stalls around. Once we walked a little further out of the shopping area but got freaked out and came back when we realised we were all alone on a deserted street. We didn't really find anywhere else to eat or anything else to see or do.
Leaving Myanmar for Thailand
Don't forget that they drive on the right side in Myanmar. I say this because I walked out into the road and forgot to look right first. Didn't get hit, but close!
To head back into Thailand, walk on the right hand side of the road, trying to nicely ignore the children that are demanding money from you.
Follow the other foreigners to the window to get your passport back. Hand in your Myanmar entry permit to get your passport back. A stamp will be placed in your passport and out you go...
Head to the Thailand border. Yes, those children will still be there. Cross over to the left hand side of the bridge again. Enjoy your last view of both Myanmar and Thailand from the bridge. With the rubbish and all.
Entering Thailand again
Go up to the counter in front of you. The Thai immigration officer will hand you the arrival and departure card for Thailand that you need to complete to hand in with your passport. Take them over to the table area which is actually behind you if you're standing at the counter where they give you the cards. There should be pens for you to use. How nice.
Take the completed form with your passport to the Immigration window. Hand it in with your passport, have your photo taken and wait patiently.
Check the number of days you have been given before leaving the window if you have a B visa or similar. Some people have said that, wery occasionally, the officers miss it and accidentally stamp your passport with the tourist 15 day visa option when you have been previously approved with a 90 day visa. This has never happened to us in any of our dealings with Thai Visa Immigrations. We do recommend you to check your passport before you leave the visa area just in case.
Welcome back to Thailand.
Hanging out in Mae Sai, Thailand
Just in case you didn't realise, while you are in Mae Sai, you can head to the Most Northern Point of Thailand. It is just to the right of the border. Walk down a little alley way of shops till you hit the fancy monument. Apart from that, Mae Sai doesn't really have much to offer a tourist. There are shops you can hang out in. Fairly nice restaurants to eat at - even tasty Japanese if you can find it.
We've never stayed overnight in Mae Sai but apparently its quite an experience. The river that marks the border is small, making for a porous border. Based on some totally unsubstantiated stories we would recommend against taking a late night stroll if you do stay in Mae Sai, particularly if you stay right near the border.
Once you've checked out Mae Sai and got yourself something to eat we recommend you walk from the border back down to the bus station. It is a nice walk, and you need the exercise since you will be jumping back on the bus for another 4.5 hours soon.
And back on the bus, back to Chiang Mai. The bus is exactly the same as the one that you caught on the way from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai. There will be a couple of stops by Immigration to check that people have the right papers etc on the way home as well as two quick stops in Chiang Rai.
Enjoy the ride, relax, and dream of your bed.
And that is a visa run from Chiang Mai, Thailand to Tachilek, Myanmar
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