A trip to Myanmar’s Eastern Shan State
Most of the foreign tourists who visit the border town of Mae Sai in Northern Thailand come for a visa run. Since decades, it is a normal procedure to reach the scenic bridge over the small Mae Sai River to cross over to Myanmar’s Tachileik, do some shopping on the busy border market and return to Thailand on the same day with a new visa entry stamp. After the newest visa regulations of the Thai Immigration Bureau in 2009, foreign tourists can do this every 15 days.
But there are other foreign travellers arriving in Mae Sai by bus, car or motorcycle who really come to see and experience some part of the Union of Myanmar, which is hidden, mysterious and not easy to reach from inside Myanmar with its new capital in Nay Pyi Taw. Thus, these foreigners or some Thai domestic travellers use the touring route from Mae Sai to Kyaing Tong or progress even farther to the Myanmar-China border town of Mong La. On April 29, I arrived in Mae Sai with a friend from Germany and his Cambodian wife in the evening in order to do just that.
We had left Chiang Mai in the morning at 11.00 not to forget to bring along some brand-new passport photos and all our personal belongings for the planned one-week trip. Also, I was riding in my old Land Rover, which I needed to take across the border to travel independently on my own.
The road to Mae Sai led us out of town on National Highway no.118, passing Doi Saket and up on the winding road to Doi Nang Kaeo, which is the important watershed between the Ping River in the west and the Mekong River system in the east. Reaching the high mountain pass, there is the old spirit house for Nang Kaeo, also marking the provincial border between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Further on, we passed the headquarters of Khun Chae National Park and stopped at the famous Hot Spring Spa of Mae Kachan for a first break. We continued to Wiang Pa Pao and Mae Suai, where we had an apple pie and local coffee at the Charin Garden Resort. After that, we soon hit the National Highway no.1 at Mae Lao to reach the town of Chiang Rai, which we bypassed to continue to Mae Chan and Mae Sai. We arrived at the border at 17.30, our final destination, after a 245km ride.
Mae Sai is the northernmost spot of the Kingdom of Thailand and the large 891km marker stone is counting from Bangkok in the south. There is an attractive border market around Wat Phra That Doi Wao. Chinese shops and temples abound. Accommodations in Mae Sai are reasonable-priced and start from the fancy Wang Thong Hotel (700Baht per room) to cheap guesthouses along the Mae Sai River for 250Baht. After having spent one night at Mae Sai, we passed the Thai Immigration border post at 8.00 in the morning. To cross with your own vehicle, you have to show your blue car registration book for the Thai Customs and leave them a copy of it. Important is that your own full name is mentioned in the registration book.
On the Myanmar side of the border, you have to pay your entry permit fee of 10USD per person. All the other needed formalities to continue from Tachileik to Kyaing Tong and Mong La will be handled by the friendly staff of Myanmar Travels & Tours, who are located just beside the Myanmar Immigration. There you hand over three passport photos, your passport and your car registration book. For the Land Rover, I had to pay a car entry fee of 50USD and 1,400Baht for a local insurance.
Another 100Baht come for the paper work. In return, you receive your “Entry Permit” from the Immigration Department along with the car entry permit, which is a paper that you have to fix at the front of your car window. Also, you need the original of a road permit from Tachileik to Kyaing Tong with some copies for the military checkpoints along the way.
Furthermore, make sure that you have the right pocket money for the trip from Tachileik to Kyaing Tong and Mong La. Actually, you need local money to pay at the road toll gates on the way (6.000Kyat=6USD for one way). In Tachileik and Kyaing Tong, you can pay your bills in Thai currency (1000Baht=30,000Kyat), while you need Chinese Yuan ($1=6 Chinese yuan) for Mong La. The best way to change high-valued dollar notes is at stalls of moneychangers at Kyaing Tong Market, because there are no banks to use in the whole region.
For the tank of your car, make sure it is filled before leaving Tachileik. It seems that gasoline is a little bit cheaper in Myanmar than in Thailand. We left Tachileik for Kyaing Tong (102 miles) at 11.00 and drove up to Talay by having passed the first military checkpoint at Mae Yang (Out), where we had a local lunch at a restaurant. From Talay, we continued to Mong Phayak, where is the next military checkpoint.
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