Mae Sai is the northernmost city of Thailand on the border to Burma and not far from Laos. What makes Mae Sai especially interesting for many travelers is the border crossing to Tachilek, where it is possible to do a visa run. The city and especially the surrounding area offers much more than just a border bridge.
The area between Chiang Rai and Mae Sai is very popular with tourists from Thailand and especially in winter there is always a lot going on. But also “Farang” (Thai word for foreigners) come to Mae Sai to live and work here, to teach English or to “take along” Mae Sai on their way to Laos.
Information and tips about Mae Sai city can be found below, information about the surrounding area can be found here. For all tips the coordinates or GoogleMaps points are listed.
General Information Mae Sai
Some general information first: The small town Mae Sai in the district of the same name (Chiang Rai province) is about 800 km away from Bangkok and about 60 km from Chiang Rai. The approx. 22.000 inhabitants are mainly Buddhist. Officially the location is given with the following coordinates: 20°25′41″N 99°53′1″E (from Wikipedia)
Journey to Mae Sai
about 10 km south of the border, (100/55, Moo 5, Phahonyothin Road, Tambon Wiang Phang Kham, GPS 20.404641, 99.882128)
There are daily overland buses from different cities to Mae Sai. From Chiang Mai Green Bus runs several times a day in 4 to 5 hours. In Chiang Rai, both the slow local bus (about every half hour), which stops wherever someone wants to get on or off, and the minivans, which leave whenever the 10 seats are occupied, start. There are night buses from Bangkok.
Flight and taxi
There are several daily flights from Bangkok to Mae Fah Luang International Airport Chiang Rai. Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways depart from Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. NokAir, Air Asia and Thai Lion fly from Don Muang.
At the airport there is the possibility to rent a car as well as to charter a taxi. For the trip to Mae Sai it costs about 600, – to 800, – Baht (from Chiang Mai by the way about 3000, – Baht).
Highway No. 1 leads directly to Mae Sai and ends there at the border.
If you are looking for a rental car, I recommend BSP, a booking portal with the best prices in Thailand.
Most important: a roof over your head – Hotels in Mae Sai
The Mae Sai Complex Hotel is a purple house about 200 meters from the border. Address: 284 M. 7, Mae Sai. Reasonable prices. Accordingly, one should not have high expectations regarding the equipment. (20.444407° N, 99.881185° O)
Topnorth Hotel on Main Street. 306 Moo1, Phahonyothin Road. As the name suggests, very close to the border crossing and thus at the northernmost point of Thailand.
Wanliya Resort, near the Tea and Oil Park, 479 M. 10, Weangpangkham. There is a nice covered pool, which makes this resort very attractive for the hot season. It is also a great place for those travelers who missed a delicious bread or buns and croissants for breakfast. The Dutch operator Leo is a baker.
Green View Place, across from the Tea and Oil Park, 2/5 Moo 8, Pahonyothin Rd. Probably the best view of the mountains if you live out front. Clean rooms.
Piyaporn Pavillion Hotel, next to Hongfah Shopping Centre in the city center, 925/36 Moo 1 T.Wiangphangkham. Right in the middle!
For German-speaking people who want to stay longer in Mae Sai, the bungalows at Eddi’s are a good choice. The location is central and Eddi speaks German. Menschen – Eddi
Hungry!!! Eat out in Mae Sai
The range of food is enormous. The whole variety of Thai cuisine can be found in the restaurants and street stalls of Mae Sai.
During the day there are many small restaurants and street stalls. For example, I can recommend the best noodle soup in town. At the main street next to the district administration (on GoogleMaps)
Or how about a delicious Kao Soi, on the main road towards the border after the entrance to the hospital and to Greenwing. (Nada Kitchen Muslim Cuisine, 20.431521° N, 99.884316° O)
Sticky Rice with mango should not be missed. You can find them in Muang Daeng especially during the mango season in April.
In Payang Road you can find Salapao, a kind of steamed noodles. Filled and steamed dumplings.
In the evening street stands from about 18 o’clock.
E.g. the Muslim stand with duck on the main street between the immigration and the mosque. They serve green noodles with roasted duck pieces and a dark brown sauce – delicious! GPS 20.4305 N, 99.8851 O
Restaurants popular with Thais
The restaurant “Sirit” offers delicious and beautifully arranged, northern Thai dishes in an upscale atmosphere. The prices are equally high. On Payang Road opposite Café Poonawat. GoogleMaps
A real insider tip is the Baan Wanwa, a restaurant above the city with a magnificent view over the city, delicious dishes and pleasant live music. GoogleMaps
Coffe Heart, good coffee and nice people near the border. (Main Street at the height of the Hongfah shopping centre, 20.439517° N, 99.882503° O)
Poonawat (Payang Road, ), WiFi is better.
Sangkhom Niam Coffee Roasters. An excellent barista draws the most beautiful pictures on the coffee. GoogleMaps
Evening out, bars, live music
Chanpa (address, 20.4151 N, 99.8844 O, 47Q 592339 2257663), excellent food and loud live music. Open from 18 o’clock, but only from 21 o’clock there is something going on. Ideal to drink a beer tower.
Must do and Must see
What must one have seen or done in Mae Sai?
The biggest temple of the city – Wat Doi Wao – on a hill very close to the border is probably always mentioned first. Apart from a few beautiful Buddha statues (including the gestures of the weekdays) and an unusually large sculpture of a scorpion, I especially like the view over the city and into the adjacent Tachilek. Even Laos can be seen on clear weather. On Buddhist holidays there is a lot going on here and the worshippers come to pray, light candles and walk three times clockwise around the Stupa. (GPS 20.443025° N, 99.877880° O)
The Northernmost of Thailand – the northernmost point of Thailand – is marked by an archway very close to the border crossing to Tachilek. The place is actually boring, if it weren’t for the many tourists (especially locals) who take pictures in all locations.
Furthermore, the border bridge is probably one of the most interesting places in Mae Sai. There is a busy border traffic of both pedestrians and vehicles of all kinds. Our tip: Stay there for half an hour or even a whole hour and watch what happens on and under the bridge. There are some people jumping over the fence, and this is so obvious that the cameras definitely cannot miss it. There are children swimming through the river, which is really dirty there. There are shady characters just standing around and having a phone call from time to time. There are beggars pinching their children to make them complain louder. And so on. (GPS 20.444276° N, 99.880646° O)
The Burmese market is another attraction right on the border. On one side of the main street are the traders with the Buddha statues, the lacquer boxes and the noble accessories. On the other side is the big market with cheap brand imitations from China. There you can find everything from Rayban sunglasses to selfie sticks and brass knuckles. Everything that people need to be satisfied by consuming. (Directly at the border follow the road on the left and after 50 meters turn left)
A few hundred meters to the south on the same side of the street, the large food market is hidden behind the first row of houses in labyrinth-like corridors. In the morning, from tamarind to rose-apples, all kinds of exotic fruits, vegetables or meat are for sale. Whoever walks over the market here early in the morning needs a strong stomach because of the many different “smells”. (GoogleMaps)
A beautiful story is told around the local mountain of Mae Sai, the Doi Nang Noon. In the cave of this mountain the drama about the missing football team took place.
For the extension of the residence permit, for proof of residence or other formalities you can go to the newly renovated Immigration office in Mae Sai. (GPS 99.884647, 20.429545)
I find current visa regulations best discussed on the Thai-Visa-Forum .
All Thai banks have branches in Mae Sai. There are endless ATMs all over the city as well as at Tesco/Lotus. The Bangkok Bank also has a branch at Tesco. For Thai ATMs you pay a handling fee of 220 Baht in addition to the fees of your bank.
Money changers are a popular alternative to the bank with usually better rates. At the moment the prices there are about half a Baht higher than at the bank. At 400, – Euro this is about 200 Baht. A serious exchange office in Mae Sai is near the border.
Do you have to send money to Thailand? I use torFX because of the good rates and the exceptional service. Try it out and get a quota.
In case of problems: Tourist Police
Thailand-wide with the telephone number 1155
Border crossing point to Burma
For currently 500 Baht tourists can make a trip to Tachilek. Often you can see travelers who cross the border here with a multiple entry visa in order to obtain a next 90-day residence permit when they re-enter Thailand.
The visa run, which used to be common in the past, in order to obtain 30 days of residence permits again and again without a visa, is now only possible to a limited extent. EU citizens can only enter the country twice a year without a visa. This means that you can get your 30-day residence permit (visa on arrival), but only to a limited extent. As mentioned above, you can get the latest visa regulations in English at the Thai-Visa-Forum.
Directly after the border, a staircase goes down to the right into the market, where the brand imitations are even cheaper and where you can surprisingly get the Chilean wine “Gato Nero”, which in Thailand costs 700 Baht, for 250 Baht. There are also very cheap DVDs of current movies. 10 of them for currently 300,- Baht.
I have heard different statements about the question how far you are allowed to move into the country. After about 20-25 km there are police controls at every road. You can ride your bicycle till there.
Besides the above mentioned there are other food markets in Mae Sai. For example in the afternoon at Payang Road and Soi 17 behind the Cosmo gas station. (GoogleMaps)
In addition to the omnipresent 7/11, there is also a large Tesco/Lotus and a Makro market on the outskirts of the city. The latter has mainly large containers for shops, but the prices are a bit lower. However, you should consider if as a tourist or traveler you really want to support the big (and already rich) suppliers or if you prefer to buy in a small local shop. Sure, there is no cheese or olive oil. But the things of daily use like water are available there as well and sometimes even cheaper. For example, on the same side of the street as Makro, not far from the pharmacy, there is a very cheap shop.
Mae Sai Post Office
If you want to send a parcel or a real letter (is there such a thing?), you have to go to the post office. Not far from Tesco/Lotus in the direction of the border, take the 4th side street to the left. (GoogleMaps)
Trips around Mae Sai
The area around Mae Sai is beautiful and offers many destinations for trips. I suggest tours to the Hall of Opium, the Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen, the Khunnam, the Monkey Temple and the Doi Tung. These suggestions are described here.
Rent a scooter
The best way to explore the area is on a scooter. (Only very fit people can do this by bike.) On the main road opposite the Bangkok Bank, the Honda dealer rents good scooters for 250, – Baht per day, which are very well maintained. The procedure is also completely correct. (GPS 20.4367 N, 99.8836 O, 47Q 592245 2260053)
In most hotels and guesthouses you can have your laundry washed. It is usually cheaper in laundries. But where are they in town?
If you are on the road for a longer period of time or stay longer in Mae Sai, you might want to do some sports. There are several possibilities for this.
Free of charge:
Jogging at the Tea and Oil Park. Many Thais do their after-work lap here, which is about 1.2 km long. (At the big crossroads with the ugly hotel, where it goes to Chiang Saen, GPS 20.4197 N, 99.8832 O, UTM 47Q 592212 2258176) Alternative you can watch the joggers and walkers from the beautifully situated restaurant.
There are badminton fields on the sports ground near the stadium (20.4267 N, 99.8813 O, UTM 47Q 592010 2258948) or in the park near the secondary schools (20.4290 N, 99.8814 O, UTM 47Q 592019 2259206), which can be used free of charge.
If you have a bike with you and are fast on the road, you can join the daily rides of the Mae Sai Cycling Club. Meet daily at 5 pm between Cosmo gas station and big intersection opposite the Tea and Oil Park. The rides take about 2 hours, i.e. at the end of the rides it is dark, so be sure to have lights with you. Clamp lights can be bought at Fat Free Bike Shop in Payang Road (807 M. 8, Payang Road, 20.426151, 99.886899)
Among the sports offers that cost something are swimming, Thai boxing, yoga, football, fitness and sauna.
Yeah, you read it right. There’s a sauna in Mae Sai. A real wood sauna and a steam bath with cold plunge pools to cool down. If you think now that you don’t need that in Thailand, you should be in Mae Sai during a cold spell in winter. According to the owner, 30 to 40 people come to the sauna every day in winter. The sauna is separated for male and female. Admission 100, – Baht, towels and sauna pants (naked is not allowed) can be rented for 30, – Baht. (First Fitness and Sauna, GPS 20.425200, 99.876069)
In the same building there is also a fitness centre with strength and endurance equipment. Admission incl. sauna 120,- Baht.
If you have ever seen Thai boxing, you will be fascinated by the special atmosphere of the fights (article coming soon). Actually you can learn or train this. Those who are more interested in fitness will be better off somewhere else. But if you want to prepare for a fight – or at least pretend to – you should contact them (starts between 5 and 6 pm, Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri, That’s training).
Mae Sai Soccer offers artificial grass pitches for rent. Including ball and vest in two different colors 500 Baht per hour. Phone 08-88066356, the address is “between Muang Daeng and Pajang Road”. GPS 20.4261 N, 99.8963 O
The swimming pool of Piyaporn Pittaya School has a 25m pool. The water quality is poor. But there is usually not much going on. GoogleMaps
Meanwhile I much prefer to swim in one of the 50-meter pools at Mae Fah Luang University or Rajabhat University. But both are about 40 and 50 km away from Mae Sai.
The traditional massage so famous in Thailand is offered in some places. The quality varies. Whether a happy ending is offered, I cannot say.
There is a day clinic with a very good reputation and a hospital.
The Sriburin Clinic offers high level examinations and English speaking doctors. When I had bronchitis, I once had myself examined there. Incl. x-ray it cost only 1200, – Baht. (Tambon Wiang Phang Kham, GPS 20.4349 N, 99.8834 O, 47Q 592225 2259855)
The Mae Sai Hospital with emergency room. It was confusing how my girlfriend was examined next to a dying man after a scooter accident. (20.429007° N, 99.879335° O)
A dentist has his practice on the main street. A certificate of a further education at the University of Frankfurt adorns the waiting room. Funny that you have to take off your shoes here, too. (Address, GPS 20.437872° N, 99.883477° E, GoogleMaps: Thanon Phahon Yothin, Tambon Wiang Phang Kham, Amphoe Mae Sai, Chang Wat Chiang Rai 57130, Thailand)
For bigger treatments I have found a very good dentist who practices in Baan Du and Mae Chan: Dr. Jenjit.
Also this exists in Mae Sai. There’s one on Payang Road by the Poonawat Café. Another clinic is next to the Macro. If you stand in front of it, to your right. The corner house next to the pharmacy.