Our 1st Visa Run in Thailand. Chiang Mai to Burma Visa Run
The 3 months stamped in our passport when we first arrived on Thai soil was coming to an end, the expiration date in plain sight. This could only mean one thing, the birth of our visa runs.
Visa runs are a part of life in Thailand for expats and long term visitors extending their stays.
Even though we have a year’s multiple entry ‘B’ type visa for Thailand, we still need to cross the border every 90 days and get a new stamp in our passport.
Living in Chiang Mai, the nearest border crossing for us is at Mae Sai and the Burmese border.
There are numerous bus companies that you can use that drive you up to Mae Sai from the Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai, however we decided to take our own car, drive ourselves and take our time.
With it being our first visa run, we didn’t know what to expect. The bus companies give you an hour to update your visa before getting back on the bus and returning to Chiang Mai, which is more than enough time to do all of the official stuff.
We decided to make more of a day out of it though, if we were going all the way up to Mae Sai we thought we might as well!
We left our house at 6:30am, the journey was incredibly scenic, as soon as we were on the highway 118, the Northern Thailand views came out to play.
Crop fields near Burma
We drove past more rice fields than I could count, farmers hard at work in the fields tending to the land, 6 foot high corn fields with mountainous backdrops and hilltop temples stood glistening in the early morning sun.
The drive to Mae Sai took us 4 and a half hours and we arrived in the town at 11am.
Mae Sai Town
After driving up and down the road a few times looking for somewhere to park, we noticed a man standing by the side of the road holding a hand written car park sign.
Car Parking in Mae Sai
We followed him down two back streets where he led us into a car park which could hold 6 cars, we paid 50 baht to him to park our car there, it seemed to be the best option as there were no spaces available along the road side. Plus we didn’t want to come back to a clamped vehicle.
We walked up to the immigration building and all was pretty self explanatory, we filled out our departure cards in our passports, handed them over to the border officials who stamped us out of Thailand and gave our passports back.
Next we walked across the bridge to the Burmese officials. There was no queue, just one other person in front of us.
Thai Immigration in Mae Sai
When you enter the room, you hand your passport to the staff on the right hand side who give you an entry permit, you then have to pay the 500 baht fee per person.
You then go to the staff on the other side of the room, sit down in the chair, they fill out the card, take your photograph and then hand your passport and Burmese arrival card back to you.
At this point you can either go straight back into Thailand or cross over into Burma. If you are going straight back into Thailand, they will give you back your passport.
If you want to go across into Burma, you hand your passport and the card to the first desk, they keep your passport, giving you half of the arrival card which you need to keep with you as a ‘receipt’
Once this is done you then walk across the bridge into Burma and the border town of Tachileik.
Note- You don’t need passport photos at Mae Sai for a regular visa run.
On the bridge that joins Thailand to Myanmar
The entry to Myanmar
Here the town is full of touts and street sellers offering cigarettes and souvenirs. There is a large market which is worth a look around and a few food places.
Tachileik Street Market
Myanmar, part of the golden triangle
For Jmayel, crossing the border was more than just a quick visa run, His grandmother is Burmese from a Karen hill tribe and his mother was born and raised in the country, before leaving during the war in the late 60’s.
Jmayel is now the first member of his family to visit the country in over 45 years, it was a proud moment for him to be inside the place he grew up hearing all about, to be in the country where his heritage lays. Even if just for a short while.
The streets of Tachileik, Myanmar
Although Tachileik itself is no poster for Burma, painting an inaccurate picture of what the true Myanmar holds beyond the border town, just having the Burmese stamp in his passport was enough for Jmayel.
River in Tachileik
Knowing we were confined to this town, as leaving the vicinity of Tachiliek is illegal without our passports. (Still being held by the officials at immigration) And a 28 day visa that has to be bought 2 days beforehand in Bangkok. We decided not to stray too far.
We spent over an hour inside Burma before heading back to re enter Thailand.
Our heads full of possible trips back to Myanmar in the future to venture further afield and delve deeper into the country that holds Jmayel’s family history, and now as his wife, part of mine too.
We went back to the Burmese immigration, handed in our entry permits and collected our passports. We then filled out new arrival cards for Thailand, before going through the foreign passport control desk where our passports were stamped with a further three months.
We left Mae Sai at 2pm.
At the Northern most point in Thailand!
On the way back to Chiang Mai we stopped off at the impressive Wat Rong Khun, ‘The White Temple’ 13km south of Chiang Rai off of Highway 1.
Wat Rong Khun – The White Temple
It is well worth a visit if you are near Chiang Rai.
We arrived back home at 7:00pm, after a long day of driving and 1,800 baht spent on petrol, next time we will consider spending the night in Chiang Rai or a town nearby to break up the journey and explore more of the surrounding areas.
Our first visa run went without a hitch and the task of the day fulfilled, with fresh Thailand stamps inked into our passports.
Watch the Cinematic Episode – Visa Run to Burma
Sacha El-Haj – 8 Miles from Home
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