THE BRIDGE NOW and THE BRIDGE in 1993
As you can see by the photos the sign on the bridge has been changed but is still blue. There is a large customs/immigration building just at the beginning of the bridge that was not there in '93. Back in '93 foreigners were not allowed to cross the bridge to Myanmar, but we noticed that the Thais were allowed across. After a while we saw that the Thais were coming back and forth, so my wife, being a Filipina and looking much the same as the locals just fell in line and crossed to Myanmar and returned an hour later, no problem back then, but nowadays it is more controlled with immigration desks on each side of the bridge.
CROSS THE BRIDGE to MYANMAR
Last year we crossed the bridge and spent a day in Tachileik, the Burmese town across the river. There is another huge market on the other side, selling the same items as in Mae Sai, but if you take time and wander away from this eyesore you will find many interesting things to do such as temples, markets, chatting to the locals. See my Tachileik page for ideas. At the time you could pay 500 baht to gain entry to the other side, possibly you might like to check on the latest arrangements due to the rapid way Myanmar is changing.
Tachileik, on the Myanmar side of the border, is a typical border town that exists purely on the trade, some say, dodgy trade, between Thailand and Myanmar. There's a large market here which I went around and was fairly similar to what you find in Thailand except that it sells a large quantity of items that would get you into a good deal of trouble with your customs authority back home such as flip-knives, guns etc. The majority of people crossing over to Myanmar are Thais shopping for bootlegged Chinese goods. You can find all the latest DVD's at prices ranging from 40 Baht. Knocked off prescription drugs (in particular Viagra) and X rated films are carried around by very annoying, but licensed hawkers. Do not buy the cigarettes as they are usually Burmese knock offs put into western branded packages and will likely get you into trouble when you try and return into Thailand.
Wat Tham Pla/Monkey Cave Temple
Wat Tham Pla means fish tail and this temple is found about 13km (8 miles) south of Mae Sai. The temple is also known as the Monkey Cave Temple after the macaques that live here. They are not usually aggressive though and only stay in one area near the fish pond and shrine to Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy who is very popular with the Chinese. The temple itself is fairly good with a very old looking laterite chedi but beware of the unpredictable monkeys.
- Religious Travel
Golden Triangle Tour
Unlike Chiang Mai where there's dozens of tour agents offering tours, it became apparent to me when I walked around Chiang Rai that tour agents were a bit thin on the ground. I only found a few and the cheapest I found to do a Golden Triangle Tour was a place opposite the Chiang Rai First Church called Four Lens Tours. The tour cost me 1200 baht which I thought was still too much but then I had been quoted 1600 baht at another place and silly prices elsewhere as I was on my own. Luckily for me, 2 other people were booked on the same tour which helped with the price.
The tour started with the tour company picking me up from my hotel in a nice Ford 4x4. We then headed off to pick up the other 2 people on my tour and headed north to Doi Tung where we visited the lovely Mae Fah Luang Garden which is part of a royal villa that was the final home of the Princess Mother (mother of King Rama IX). We then visited the Wat Tham Pla which is also known as the Monkey Cave Temple. As its name suggests, it's home to several cheeky unpredictable monkeys that came up to us for food. The temple itself was fairly good with a very old looking laterite chedi.
Next it was up to Mae Sai on the Thai/Burma border which we crossed over into the Burmese town of Tachileik on a 24hr permit which cost us an additional US$10. The permit was just a stamp in the passport and we visited a market selling all kinds of things. It was all very chaotic with lots of people trying to sell us cigarettes, Viagra, flip-knifes etc. I didn't buy anything and thought it was a waste of time and money but then it was Burma and it is a hard country to get in to. We then crossed back over the border back into the relative calm of Thailand and had a lunch buffet which was included in the price, which was fairly good.
After lunch, we got back into the car and made our way to the Golden Triangle town of Sop Ruak where we had our photos taken standing in front of where the two rivers join. We then visited a museum about the opium trade that took place in the area. The museum was very good and we spent quite a while looking around. Next up it was a short drive to Chiang Saen which is further down on the Mekong River. Here we visited an old temple called Wat Chedi Luang before we headed back to Chiang Rai. The tour was OK but nothing special and a bit expensive but if you have more time, then it's probably best to try and visit places by your own means or by public transport.
The Fish and monkey caves
Close to Mae Sai (about 10km outside) is the Fish and Monkey Cave.
You have to turn off the main road. (Coming from Mae Sai to the right).
This is not such a touristy place.
They have a Wat close to a small mountain. Monkeys (Makaken) climb over the temple and the surrounding trees and chase each other.
The Fish cave is a lake that ends directly at the mountain - or better in it, since the cave goes on under water.
In the lake a lot of Koi (special fish - ask any collector how pricey they are) swim.
You can feed the fish and enjoy the surrounding a little.
I really liked the monks around here. Wonderful contrast between their orange robes and the green surrounding.
There are more caves and temples here. Some stairs go up to the Monkey and Lion caves.
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
The most northern village of Thailand
Mae Sai's "celebrity" comes from being the most northern City in Thailand. It is located atthe border to Burma and a big gate in the form of a house gards the border, or better you have to walk through it.
A lot of people walk through that gate and the bridge behind it everyday. To go shopping in Burma or bring their goods into Thailand. Burma is interesting because it gets many things from China that are else not available in Thailand. And it is interesting for the people form Thailand, because the goods and food is cheaper there. So a lot go shopping just over the border.
If you stand before the border you find on the left side at the street a small market with special food and spices and such imported from Burma and China. On the other side are the more touristy shops.
Thais can get a one day visa (the copy machine for the two copies you need is standing right on the street), Visitors can?t pass that easily, they need a real visa.
And if you have been shopping in Burma and have overdone it a little, don?t worry, right in front ofthe gate you can find some (female) carriers to hire.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Tea plantation at Doi Mae Salong
The area of Doi Mae Salong is inhabited by many ex-chinese refugees. So maybe it is not so astounding that you can find here a real big Tea plantation.
A tea plant needs to be about 40 years old, until you can use its leaves for tea.
They make here green tea (different sortes) and black tea - which is actually only fermented green tea.
What I thought was nice is the little presentation of their teas they made.
How to brew your green tea right ....
Of course we had to buy one of them. I still like it, sipping it right here while writing this tip. It is one that is called something like "beauty queen" and that sort is only picked once a year - while the normal green tea are picked once a month.
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
The Northernmost Point of Thailand
Mae Sai is a frontier town bordering Myanmar. A short drive from the Golden Triangle, my tour guide made a stop at this town. A prominent sign marks the northernmost point in Thailand. A bridge over a small canal leads into Myanmar, demarcated by a blue overhead signboard and the Myanmese flag.
Roadside street vendors sell an assortment of items including clothes, leather goods, binoculars, pen knives, fruits and vegetables.
- Road Trip
Cross the Border to Burma - Immigration point
For Thai,you don't need visa and passport for crossing the Border,but you need to have a permission paper from the Mae Sai District office. And you can stay in Burma for 15 days. For foriegner,you need a visa to pass it.
- Road Trip
Crossing the border from Mae Sai into Myanmar
Completely on a whim, we decided to cross the border into Tachileik, Myanmar. We obtained the required $5 day pass at the customs checkpoint, and traversed the Nam Ruak River. Once on the Myanmar side, it’s almost like another world. There’s a bustling marketplace mostly full of counterfeit goods, and plenty of little stalls featuring Burmese food. Also, atop a hill near the border is the temple Wat Phra That Doi Wao, which I did not visit, but I heard it provides some nice views.
I was most surprised by how strikingly different the people look being just a few hundred meters from Thailand…. for instance, most of the women (and some men) wear a glistening yellow powder on their faces in various shapes and patterns. Apparently this cosmetic is made from a mixture of tree bark and water, which serves to beautify and protect the skin from the sun.
Bottom-line: Going to Tachileik is interesting for the passport stamp and observing its diverse inhabitants, however there’s not much to do for more than a couple hours.
Relax in Laos for the afternoon
The motorbike ride out to Sop Ruak from Mae Sai was a lot of fun, but tiring, so by the time we crossed the Mekong for our visit to Don Sao, Laos I was ready for a cold Beer Lao. It reminded me of my time in Luang Prabang, Laos a few years earlier since its not often I come across Beer Lao (one of my favorite Asian beers).
Visit Don Sao Lao Island in Laos
If your using Mae Sai as a base to explore the Golden Triangle region you should take a trip out to the Mekong River. We drove about an hour through beautiful countryside to get from Mae Sai to the small town of Sop Ruak, home of the Opium Museum, where we spent the afternoon around the Mekong. Down at the docks we hired a fast boat that took us across the river to a small isalnd, in Laos's Bokkeo Province, called Don Sao Lao. This is more of a tourist village that sells Lao handicrafts but it still makes for an interesting visit and at the very least you are on Lao territory. If you don't have a visa for Laos you won't need one to visit this island. The Lao immigration post charges a small 40 baht fee and stamps a piece of paper which allows you entry onto the island. The boat drivers wait at the dock while you explore the shops or treat your self to some Beer Lao. I was lucky enough to have some Lao locals invite me to the back of their residence for a round of rice whiskey shots. It's a fun place to bring the family. If you want a truly authentic Lao experience get a visa and cross further south at the official border crossing to Huy Xai.
Head out to the Mekong River
The mighty Mekong River is only a short drive away from Mae Sai. We rented motorbikes from the Honda dealer in Mae Sai and headed down to the river. We hired a fast boat for about 350 baht which takes you on a tour of the Mekong, passing Myanmar, and crossing over to an island on the Laotian side of the Mekong. It's a lot of fun & a great oppurtunity for photos. You can rent the boats in the town of Sop Ruak. Follow the road signs from Mae Sai to Chiang Saen and Sop Ruak.
Explore the Golden Triangle by Motorbike
In Mae Sai you can rent a Honda 125 cc motorbike at the Honda dealership in Mae Sai. From here you can set out for what proved to be one of our favorite excursions in north Thailand...a trip to Sop Ruak, and a brief visit to Bokkeo Province, Laos. It's possible to step in 3 countries in two hours. If you start your morning off exploring the town of Tachilek in Myanmar, cross back into Mae Sai and follow your Mae Sai regional map to the town of Sop Ruak, Thailand you can then hire a fast boat to take you across the Mekong river to Don Sao Island which is located in Bokkeo Province, Laos. In a matter of 2 hours you'll have been in 3 countries...Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos.
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