In January I arrived in Thailand with the plan to stay in Chiang Mai for two months, before moving to Shanghai to see my girlfriend. But as everything else in the world, this plan got shaken up by the ongoing coronavirus situation.
To be able to avoid being stuck in quarantine in China and to have a backup plan ready during these crazy times, I decided that it would be a good idea to get a new stamp into my passport to extend my Thai visa, which was about to reach the end of my first entry period. I came here on a multiple entry tourist visa this time, which allows me to stay for 60 days with each entry and I can go in and out of the country as often as I want for a period of six months.
Checking the available options, I quickly decided to make a border run at the border between Myanmar and Thailand in a town called Mae Sai. It is located at the northernmost point of the country, not far from Chiang Rai. While there are minivan services available to book to make this border run in one day, I decided to go on a little adventure.
The plan to go to Mae Sai riding my own scooter was born.
My loyal comrade on this trip, hired from Mango Bikes Rent in Chiang Mai
Stage 1 — Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai
After checking all details and finding out that others before me have also taken this little adventure on a scooter, I was ready to go on the 250 km trip through the north of Thailand.
I went on a Friday and had planned to leave in the early morning at 6 o’clock to get out of the city before the traffic wakes up. But as I was excited to go, I woke up on my own at 5 already and were set to leave just 30 minutes later.
It was still dark and the roads where completely empty at this time, so quickly I made my to the highway 118, which would take me all the way to Chiang Rai. I did this trip in the middle of March, when it’s already pretty hot during the day with temperatures of 35 °C and more in Thailand, but in the early morning it was still quite fresh. I would definitely recommend to bring a jacket — which of course I didn’t — but at least I had my sweater on.
The other essential parts of my equipment were my face mask to protect me from the pollution on the way, as it is also burning season at this time of the year in northern Thailand. It can be really, really nasty with the air quality during this time.1 Also, a good helmet with a functioning visor is an absolute must on such a long trip!
I’ll be honest. About one hour into my trip I thought to myself that this was maybe a really bad idea. While it was still completely dark outside, suddenly the nice highway road transformed into a very long construction path — unpaved roads without any streetlights. I was the only scooter among very few pickups driving by and also felt exactly like that mentally.
Luckily, after a while I was back on a real road and the sun was slowly rising, bringing some light into my sight and mind. Through the smog of forest fires around, the sun really looked like what it actually is — a big red fireball.
Apocalyptic vibes over a field in northern Thailand during burning season
As I kept driving through the curvy mountain roads, I started to feel the cold creeping up on me from the wind as I was also not going too slow. So slowly but surely I also started to think about a hot drink and maybe a small bite to eat.
The problem was, I was still too early for everything. While driving through a small town on the way I couldn’t spot any store that was open yet at 7.30 in the morning. Eventually, I saw a big group of people entering a small market, so I decided to check if I could find something there. The vendors were only selling vegetables. But then I spotted a small store at the corner of a house next to the market, where a true Nescafé barista was mixing it up for a few early morning folks. I decided to join them for a cup of coffee and tea and a small plate of sweet toast.
In that moment, that was an amazing meal.
After warming up for a short while, I got back on my scooter to make it to Chiang Rai.
The second half of this first stage was very different than the first. Curvy mountain roads got replaced by straight highway roads, which allowed me get ahead quite quickly. I arrived at Chiang Rai around 10.30, so about 5 hours after I left Chiang Mai with a short break and a pit stop to get fuel on the way.
Before entering the city coming from the South, I passed by the famous white temple Wat Rong Khun which sits a bit outside the city. It’s a stunning structure, but I didn’t want to stop to check it out. Border run first.
Photo by Adissapong Praphantanathorn on Pixabay
Only having had this small breakfast before, I arrived in Chiang Rai super hungry for a big early lunch. I checked Google Maps for a place to go and quickly found my location of choice, which ended up serving me a fantastic breakfast and coffee.
Great breakfast at Coffeenergy Chiang Rai
Then it was time to get on my way to the Mae Sai border checkpoint.
Stage 2 — Chiang Rai to Mae Sai and Doing the Border Run
From Chiang Rai it’s only 60 km left to get to the border in Mae Sai. Straight highway all the way, so I made this small stage in about 45 minutes.
The smog had gotten even worse the further north I got and upon my arrival in Mae Sai the buildings on the horizon were covered in a thick haze. As I was closing in onto a queue of cars and trucks waiting in line, I knew that I had reached the border checkpoint.
Sneaking my way through on the side of the road, I drove almost all the way to the big immigration building on the Thai side of the border and then parked my scooter just at the side of the road.
The Thai immigration building at the Mae Sai border checkpoint
I didn’t want to lose anytime, so I went straight ahead into the left side of the building, where the border run process begins. You will be greeted there by a sign splitting the way for citiziens of Myanmar and Thai and foreign passport holders. As a foreigner, you go left.
Then it is time to get out your passport and your filled out departure card, which you received when entering Thailand. It is required to have it with you, so make sure you don’t lose or forget it before coming here.
Once you got that, you are ready to walk up to the immigration counter, where the immigration officials will check your passport and put an exit stamp into your passport. I was told that they would not allow you to leave if for some reason you were not allowed to do a border run and come straight back in. Doing a border run in Mae Sai is very common and a usual thing to do. The border officials have no interest to let tourists get into a precarious situation, which in the end they would have to deal with. So no need to be worried.
Everything was fine with my passport and visa, so I got it back and walked out on the backside of the building into the no man’s land between Thailand and Myanmar.
The zone between the two borders is basically a long bridge crossing the Ruak river, which seperates the two countries.
It’s not a particularly nice place to hang out, so I just kept walking straight towards the entry gate into Myanmar, which you can see at the end of the bridge.
The border bridge between Thailand and Myanmar
Just behind the gate you will see a few small buildings on the right side of the street, which are the offices of the immigration officials of Myanmar.
The entry gate into the Republic of the Union of Myanmar
As I was walking on the left side, I was called over by one of the officials, who guided me to go into one of the buildings.
Then it was a simple process with only one question. I was asked if I want to return to Thailand right away, or if I want to go shopping on the Myanmar border side, for which they would then give me a border pass valid for a few hours. I declined with thanks, as I really wasn’t in the mood for any kind of shopping after my trip and just wanted to get it done. Then I had to pay 500 ฿ in cash to the immigration officer, who then put an entry and exit stamp into my passport. Shortest stay in a country for me ever.
The last step then was to walk back across the bridge to go back into Thailand. As with every entry, you will receive another arrival and departure card. I filled out my arrival card, walked up to the immigration counter and received my new visa stamp, allowing me to stay in Thailand for another 60 days. The whole process went smoother than I had expected.
After getting out of the building, I was desperately looking to find an air-conditioned place where I could have a cool drink and a break from the horrible air for a short while. It was really uncomfortable to be outside at this point.
Luckily, I found a spot.
A cool mango soda at Above Coffee
I was really happy to have finished my border run successfully and to be set with a place to stay for at least two months, for the case that the ongoing global situation wouldn’t allow me to travel to China as I had planned.
Beforehand, I had already decided to spend one night in Chiang Rai and to get on my way home to Chiang Mai on the following day. Six hours of riding my scooter were enough for one day.
Spending the Night in Chiang Rai
I spontaneously booked a small single room in a very nice and clean hostel called BED Friends Poshtel, which only cost me 260 ฿ for one night. I can recommend to come here to stay for a night or even longer.
Also, right next door I found a fantastic place to have dinner. The place is called Barrab Restaurant and they served me some delicious and fresh northern Thai food. The owner of the place is super friendly and helped me to choose from their diverse menu.
It was the perfect finish to this long day with a cold Chang beer, which I drank like a real Thai — with ice cubes.
Amazing northern Thai food at Barrab Restaurant
Would I do this trip again if I had to? Yes. It was actually a great trip and I enjoyed it for most of the time, I would just change a few things.
I would not leave at 5.30 in the morning again, as it was really no fun to drive in the dark through an unpaved construction site with no end in sight. I would also bring a jacket for the morning hours, no matter what time of the year it is.
I would not recommend you to do this trip if you are not very confident riding a scooter, as driving six hours or more requires a lot of your attention — especially here in Thailand. Personally, I would probably also not make the trip with two people on one scooter, as that can get quite uncomfy after a while.
In total, I spent 335 ฿ on fuel to make the round trip, which is really not a lot.
What to Bring on Your Mae Sai Border Run Trip
- Passport and your departure card
- 500 ฿ to pay for the immigration
- Jacket, sweater, and long pants for riding during the early morning hours
- Good helmet with a functioning visor
- Face mask for air and traffic pollution
- Smartphone for navigation
- Powerbank to charge your smartphone
If you decide to make this border run trip — good luck, ride safely, and share your experiences in the comments below this article!
- I made a video about the burning season in Chiang Mai last year, where you can see how bad it can get.