Renewing your visa or ‘visa runs’ are a part of life in Thailand for many long-term visitors and expats. Last month I made a day trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai and then into Burma to renew my visa. This is the first time I’ve used this particular border crossing and the journey turned out to be both easy and economical.
Green Bus VIP Service
I bought my bus ticket at Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station a week before the day I wanted to travel to ensure I had a seat. I used the Green Bus company who I’ve always found to be very good. I opted for a VIP seat (330 Baht each way) between Chiang Mai and Mae Sai. The bus departed Chiang Mai at 08.00 and arrived at Mae Sai at 12.10. This included a ten minute rest stop at Chiang Rai bus station. The bus stops at the new station on the outskirts of Chiang Rai before stopping again at the old bus station in the centre of Chiang Rai. After that, the bus goes directly to Mae Sai. There are approximately a dozen VIP seats at the front of the bus with cheaper seats available behind them at the back of the bus. The VIP seats are large, reclining leather seats complete with headrest and the cost of the VIP ticket also includes snacks and light refreshments. In my opinion, the extra cost of the VIP ticket makes the journey much more ‘sabai sabai’ (comfortable), but that’s just a personal opinion.
Arriving in Mae Sai
Arriving at Mae Sai bus station just after mid-day, a songthaew was waiting to pick up passengers going to the border. I spoke to a couple of expats on the bus who said they always take a motorbike taxi to the border crossing point because it beats the queue at immigration. However, I decided to take the songthaew which cost 15 Baht for the ten minute journey to the border. There was a queue when I got there (approximately a fifteen minute wait on the Saturday I went), but the two expats who went ahead by motorbike were only just in front of me and there was no real advantage to be gained by taking a motorbike taxi ahead of the songthaew. Of course, you don’t have to go straight to the border and you can stop and explore Mae Sai town first or have some food and go the border when it suits you. But if you are restrained by time limits it makes sense to get your visa renewal first and then return to Mae Sai.
Border Crossing Mae Sai to Tackhilek
The border crossing at Mae Sai into Burma is a popular route for Thai day-trippers who go to the neighbouring town of Tackhilek to shop at the large street market. There is a separate queue on the Thai side of the border for Thai nationals and another queue for non-Thai people making the border crossing. On the Thai side you should make sure your departure card is filled out before you arrive at the window of the immigration office. The Thai immigration officer will retain your departure card and stamp your passport to confirm you have exited Thailand. It is then a short walk across the bridge that links Thailand and Burma (Myanmar). At the Burmese immigration office you will be ushered inside and you need to hand over your passport and pay a 500 Baht entry fee. Alternatively, you can pay 10 USD if you have a clean 10 dollar bill. You will then have your photo taken and a few moments later you will be presented with your entry permit, a brown card which allows you to enter Burma. When you exit Burma you hand in your entry permit and are given back your passport.
Making the short walk from the Burmese immigration office to the town of Tackhilek, it isn’t very long before Burmese men start to approach you with the well-worn phrases, ‘tour guide’, ‘cigarettes’, ‘lady’. I had a quick look around the market which has plenty of cheap goods including pirated DVDs, clothes and alcohol. The market wasn’t my cup of tea so I walked a bit further into the town where there were a few presentable restaurants, but I opted to wait until I got back to the Thai side of the border. In total, I spent less than 30 minutes in Burma before heading back to the border crossing.
Before re-entering Thailand you will need to complete an arrival card. These are obtained from the immigration window or there may be a Thai official handing them out to the queue. It’s important to note that if you don’t have an existing visa, you will only be granted a 15-day stay in Thailand as you are entering Thailand via a land border. However, if you have an existing visa then that rule doesn’t apply. For example, if you have a valid multi-entry tourist visa, then entering into Thailand at Mae Sai you will be given a stamp that permits you to stay for 60 days. This can be renewed for a further 30 days at immigration offices within Thailand (current renewal fee is 1,900 Baht).
Arriving back in Mae Sai I had a few hours spare before my bus departed at 15.30 for the return trip back to Chiang Mai. A bite to eat and a coffee at a non-descript restaurant killed some time before I took a songthaew (15 Baht) for the ten minute ride back to Mae Sai bus station. Mae Sai has the distinction of being Thailand’s most northerly town, but doesn’t have too much of interest. Nevertheless, if you are in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and need to renew your Thai visa, then the border run to Mae Sai and into Tackhilek is easy to arrange as an independent trip and is cheap too.
photos © thaizer.com