I try to add a bit more spiciness to my otherwise very dry and regular visa runs. I either explore new countries or choose a route that’s a bit different. Thanks to that strategy, I’ve crossed 3 out of 4 allowed Thailand-Myanmar overland border crossing. The first two were easy, maybe because I was leaving Myanmar. This time, coming from Mae Sai to Tachileik and heading to Myanmar’s inland, it was a bit more difficult.
Although it is now allowed for foreigners to travel by road to Kengtung, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is also easy to go this way. Especially because, the road from Kengtung further into Myanmar is closed for independent travellers and you have to have either a guide or arrange an expensive transport to Taunggyi. Easiest is to fly out, which is what I did in the end. But let’s start from the beginning.
Mae Sai – a hidden cosy place
I was planning to pass through Mae Sai on Thai side, cross to Tachileik and catch a bus to Kengtung. But plans are made to be changed, so there I was in Mae Sai, innocently reading about the town when a guest house caught my attention and I decided to check it out. Especially when they claim to be ‘the original and best Mae Sai guest house‘.
I was welcomed by a lady owner who showed me the bungalows and I immediately liked them – moreover at such pristine place (albeit simple) they had fast internet and I had decided to stay there for 2 days to finish my nomad work. Disturbed by nobody, I was working persistently at the river bank where only a cat was my company and the elder owner smilingly small-talked with me from time to time. He even thanked me when I told him that I had decided to stay one more night – who does that these days?
Good morning, it’s 6 o’clock, the gate is open
The owner woke up early just to open the gate just for me and instead the farewell he wished me a good night! Poor guy, he must’ve been looking forward to go back to bed already. I headed to the Thai immigration, where I received a stamp and off I was to Myanmar. The first office on Myanmar side checked my visa as normal, but after that the real fun began.
Getting a permit to travel inland
The next door was of the Hotel and Tourist Office, from where I had to receive a written form allowing me to travel further to Kengtung. Now, normally, I would need to firstly go to the bus station in Tachileik and buy a ticket with a number of the bus I will be travelling and come back to this Hotel and Tourist Office and get my form done.
Luckily, I had met my guide from Kengtung the previous night in Mae Sai and he sent me a picture of his bus to speed up my administrative process. But before I could get the form I had to visit another office next door where they registered my name in a tourist book. I then came back to the Hotel and Tourist Office to pick up the form. That was not the end though, the form was not signed by an immigration authority. I was instructed to go to another office, across the road.
My boss will be back by 8am. But my bus leaves at 8:00!
That’s right, I needed a signature of an officer at the immigration, but the responsible person was not yet in. There was an officer on duty who wasn’t authorised to sign anything and looked fairly distressed when I showed up there. I asked him to call his superior who after few failed calls finally called back and promised to come in few minutes. The officer on duty seemed to be relieved. After I got the signature I was instructed to go and make 10 copies of the document and bring them back to all at the offices I’d visited so far. I found the copy center around the corner, paid 10 Baht and headed back to give away free copies of my document. All officers seemed to be extremely proud of me!
Now, where’s the bus station?
To my surprise, the document was my permission from all other check-ups, once I had showed I have it, I wasn’t asked for anything more. My only remaining task was to get a taxi to the bus station and buy my ticket. There are plenty of options after the border: tuk tuk for 150 baht or a motorbike taxi for 50 Baht. Or maybe those prices were discounted only for me when I stared to talk in Burmese – the taxi people were all smiling at me. I arranged a motorbike taxi and in 5 minutes I was at the bus station. And the taxi driver was so nice that he only wanted 30 Baht in the end! That never happened to me before – they charge rather more – it was good to be back home in Myanmar, where people are just naturally nice!
On the way to Kengtung
The bus left on time, which is very unusual for Myanmar, I must admit. I sat next to a lady who, after sleeping for few initial minutes, kept looking outside at all the natural beauty we were passing. I was excited to be heading back to the mountains, away from the phone coverage. I’d spend few days exploring Kengtungs surroundings and falling in love with the people and the place. But that’s for another post…