Thailand's North

MAE SAI

Global Mark : 12.02

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Parks Culture Minor. Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
3 3 2 2 3 5 3 3 4 12.44

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
17 82% (14) 41% (7) 94% (16) 7 to 16 11.59


Description : 
A border town along the Sai River with a busy market & traffic road

Comments : For a few people, the main reason to come here is to get a fresh Thailand visa. But the glimpse at Burma is interesting and it is a good base from which to explore the surrounding area on motorbike.

What to do ? Say hi to Burma / Get Thailand & Burma on the same photo, with the narrow River in between (good spot on the way to Maesai Guesthouse) / Compare the state of development of the two countries / Get your passport stamped and put your feet on Burmese territory / Get free & nice "Tourist Police" postcards at the small info box / Walk the bazaar & bizarre market (anything from fake PlayStation to Hello Kitty toys, food, stones or fishing products) / Rent a bike (from 150) to explore the area : caves in the vicinities or at Tham Luang, splendid Royal Villa (Swiss chalet), Mae Fah Luang Botanical Garden or Pamee Akha Village around Doi Tung , Golden Triangle at Sop Ruak, etc...

What you may not like ? The traffic on the main street / The far-away bus station (5km, red songthaew for B5) / The lack of sights / Having nothing to see on the Burmese side and not much to do as well / The dirty river banks / 

How long ? Most visitors are tourists who spend there an hour or so on their way to somewhere else. Indeed, couple of hours would be enough. But if you go to Burma or decide to explore the area, count on anything from one to four days.


Where to stay ? Road on the left of the bridge, parallel to the river

  • Tip Sukon House (642816), Sairom Joy Rd / Superb big concrete rooms w. HW shower 250 but unfortunately on the noisy side of the road.
  • King Kobra Maesai Guesthouse (733055), 135/5 Sailom Joy / Downstairs rooms 100(1) or 120(2), upstairs w. HW shower 150(1) or 200(2), also more expensive / HW / Go there for the big upstairs rooms, the relaxing lobby, the movies on request, the info about the area from the owner / What you may not like : the lack of view, the rooms downstairs, the road. 
  • Maesai Plaza Guesthouse (053 732230), 386/3 Sailom Joy Rd, just after the above / Bungalows 80, 100 (w. cold shower), 120, 150 (w. HW shower), 200 or 300 / Go there for the original setting on the slope of the hill, the good view, the cheap price for room w. shower / What you may not lack : the size of the place, the lack of cleanliness, the basic rooms, the dim lighting
  • Northern Guesthouse (731537), 402 Thumphajom Rd, after the above, on the right / Bungalows 60(1) or 80(2), 150 w. HW shower, 200 next to the river / Go there for the good setting inside a nice garden and the cheapest correct bungalow in town / What you may not like : the lack of outside HW, the not so clean common showers & rooms.
  • River Side Guesthouse (732554), 690 Moo 1 Wiangpangkam Rd, continuing your walk a bit, 5mn from bridge / Nice room with big bed, HW shower and a balcony overlooking the river 200. Unfortunately, it is also next to a small road...
  • Maesai Guesthouse (732021), 688 Wiangpangkam Rd, 10mn from bridge / Room 100(1) or 150(2), bungalow w. HW shower 200(1) or 300(2), by the river 400 / HW / Go there for the best setting in town in a nice garden by the river, directly facing Burma and the correct rooms (shared bungalow) at a reasonable price 


Backpacker's Tips : Amtrak Amtrakker, Australia (April 03)  
 Mae Sai a typical border town, stayed at Mae Sai Plaza GH with some very rickety, wooden looking buildings, but clean enough and fantastic views over into Myanmar - 100THB single with en-suite and fan. Main street seems to act as night market, although lot of stalls close by sun-down. Still $5 to enter Myanmar for the day.
First songthaew to Sop Ruak (Golden Triangle) leaves at 9a.m. 30THB. The opium museum at Sop Ruak -20THB is excellent and informative, plus there are good views of the junction of the Mae Ruak and Mekong Rivers from the neighbouring wat.

Where to eat ? At night, just before the bridge : plenty of food stalls for meat, rice, desserts and everything in between.

Internet ? MBE "Postal Service" (Phaholyotin Rd, after the Shell Station and opposite the cinema, left side going toward bus station, 10mn walk) has got one computer for 1B per mn. Much better but further away (another 10mn walk, just before the turn to Golden Triangle, near the immigration office, after the road footbridge), Intercom Messai (open daily 8 to 24) offers plenty of computers for B25 per hour. Also spotted, a place next to where you take the red songthaew (Jewelry Group, 2/F) but it should be expensive...


A trip to Burma ? 

It is now possible to spend up to two weeks in Burma, but in theory up to Kyaingtong only (people with a valid Chinese visa have made it up to China but it is not yet a recommended route). This privilege cost US$18 and, in addition, you must change $100 into FEC (it was reported possible to change back all the unspent remaining FEC at the border).

Most people however spend less than a day on the other (relatively boring) side. This cost US$5 or B250 (better therefore to get dollars from a bank before processing). The border is open from 6:30 to 18:30. When you come back, you will receive a fresh 30 days Thai visa.

Before any of the above, foreigners have to get their passport stamped at the Head Quarter of the Thai Immigration Office (2km away, B5 on red songthaew), open daily from 7:30 to 17:30. Note that you can apply for same day visit only.

 << Discover the development of Myanmar



Leaving Mae Sai ?

To Chiang Saen or Chiang Rai, see the below tables. 
To Doi Tung, you will need to go first to Ban Huay Khrai (bus heading to Ban Basang or Chaing Rai, B10, 10mn) and then board an irregular songthaew up the mountain (B50 if other people, a good idea to show up early). Overall, it would be best to rent a motorbike. 
To Mae Salong, go first to Ban Basang and change for a regular songthaew (at least in the morning) : B50, 1 hour up. If waking late, trucks also do the trip at 12, 13 & 14 (not carved in stone): this direct trip cost B60 and you will seat outside. Those leave just after the market on the right side, next to the road leading to Tom's Guesthouse

Bus Schedules :

To Price Class Duration Time Nb Freq.
Chiang Rai 20 bus 2 6 to 18 a lot 20mn
Chiang Saen 30 songthaew 1 9,9:40,10:20,11:40,12:20 5 na
Chiang Mai 83/149 fan/ac 5 6:30,13:45/6,8,9:30,11,15:30 2/5 na

Notes : To Chiang Rai, via Ban Basang (B10, 30mn) and Mae Chan (B12, 40m) / To Chiang Saen from second 7 Eleven store

The trip to Chiang Saen : SS / L&R / B12 + B10 / 40mn + 40mn / fan bus
Once again, the guy I had talked to did not know his subject but answered the questions anyway : there is no direct bus from the Bus station (10mn away from the border bridge, red songthaew, B5) to Chiang Saen. You need to change bus at Mae Chan, 40mn and B12 away. Once there, I boarded a songthaew for a negotiated B10 (he asked 15). When only two person remained, and a bus was approaching, the driver decided not to do the trip after all : he stopped the bus and asked us to board it, without asking for any payment. Inside, we paid B7 for the remaining trip to Chiang Saen.
So globally, from Mai Sai bridge to Chiang Saen, it took us 3.5 hours and cost B22 (normal 25) for a nice but nothing special road. A better alternative would be therefore to board one of the songthaew leaving in the morning (9, 9:40, 10:20, 11:40 & 12:20) from just after the second 7 Eleven store (on the left, 5mn walk from the bridge) for B30. Taking a short cut, the advertised duration is 1 hour.

See also the trip from Mae Salong