Chiang Mai to Mae Sai visa run with the ‘Green Bus’
As our first Thai tourist visa was running out, it was time for us to make our first visa run from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai. We weren’t sure of the best way to get there, but what we did know is that we didn’t fancy taking a mini bus as they tend to be driven by lunatics, and the thought of being cramped in like sardines for eight hours without having the chance to stretch your legs didn’t sound like a lot of fun. So after a little research, we decided to take the ‘Green Bus’, which looked like it would offer us a little comfort and flexibility for a decent price.
After visiting their website, we went to Chiang Mai Arcade bus station (located just off Kaew Nawarat Road to the east of the city, across the river) three days before our journey to book the tickets.
Once inside Terminal 3, we found the Green Bus reservation desk immediately to the left. The staff spoke good English and the booking was simple and very quick. We booked the standard seats on a VX class bus at a cost of 234 Baht each for two people on a return trip, making the total cost 936 Baht ($31, €23 £20). There are also a number of other bus company offices located here.
We travelled on a Saturday and found that it wasn’t really that busy, even though we’d heard that it might be compared to a week day. When Saturday came, our bus left at 7:05am, just five minutes later than scheduled. The temperature inside the bus was good and the seats were fairly comfortable with seat belts available. It was quiet onboard and the driver drove well on what were quite hilly, winding roads – those who get travel sick may need to take tablets as the first few hours are quite bad. Our attendant looked after us well and provided us with a light breakfast snack and water (VIP get extra).
At 9:30am we stopped for a 15 minute break where we could get off the bus and buy more snacks and use the bathroom and by 9:55am we were at Chiang Rai Central Bus Terminal, stopping there for only five minutes to drop off and pick up passengers.
The road from Chiang Rai to the border was long, straight and quick (as we discovered on our second visa run which we did by motorbike) and we arrived at Mae Sai bus terminal at around 11am. From there we took a waiting Red Song Tao, along with most of the other passengers on the short drive to the border for a fee of 15 Baht.
The border is a big blue building that you enter on the left hand side so you can be stamped out of Thailand, before crossing the bridge into Burma, crossing the road as you go so that when you enter the Burmese building you are on the right. Here you will meet the Burmese immigration officials who will ask you if you would like to ‘go shopping’ or ‘return to Thailand’. Either way you will need to pay them 500 Thai Baht each (£10, €12.50, $16) for the privilege.
If you choose to ‘go shopping’ you will surrender your passport, have a quick photo taken and be presented with a ‘pass’ that allows you to enter Burma. We spent a good few hours wandering around the markets but to be honest, it’s not that great. It wasn’t like the Burma that we had experienced years before (read about that journey here). You’ll perhaps be pestered to buy fake goods, viagra cigarettes and pornography, but it’s not a lot of pressure or dangerous (in our opinion).
We then had lunch before heading back towards the Thai border this time entering the Burmese office on the right hand side (where our passports were waiting for us) before crossing over to the left to exit out into Thailand.
With the formalities over with quickly and our new visa stamped in our passports, we had time to visit the northern most point of Thailand (hardly a great attraction but a good photo opportunity), try locally produced fruit wine, and have a coffee before taking a Song Taos back to the bus station.
Leaving Mae Sai at 3:30pm, it was a long journey back to Chiang Mai arriving at 7:45pm. This time it wasn’t such a relaxing drive as darkness fell and our seats became more and more uncomfortable, we began to wish we’d booked VIP. We did have the chance to watch ‘Alien’ dubbed in Thai though, which was nice if you like that sort of thing.