The border crossing at Mae Sai/Tachileik
The border crossing at Mae Sai/Tachileik has been an important gateway to Myanmar for at least a century. It was here that American missionaries escaped from Thailand after the invasion of Japanese troops in December 1941. The border at Mae Sai-Tachileik was closed on March 23, 2020, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This only left the second friendship bridge open for cross-border cargo under strict conditions. On February 20, 2023, the border crossing at Mae Sai/Tachileik re-opened for all nationalities. More than three years ago, I visited Tachileik in Myanmar and decided to return as soon as I could.
My first visit since December 2019
On Friday, March 10, I drove from Chiang Saen, where I had spent the night, to Mae Sai. Early in the morning, it was still very quiet in Mae Sai. The border was already open, though. After taking pictures, I went through Thai immigration and entered Myanmar via the Friendship Bridge over the Ruak River, which divides the countries here. I had to show proof of vaccination against Covid-19 before I entered the Myanmar immigration office. Apart from that, procedures were similar to what they were in December 2019.
Burmese officials took my picture and produced an entry permit for a day. The visa fee is 10 USD or 500THB. I had to leave my passport at the Immigration office, where I picked it up later in the day. I think you can get a visa for up to two weeks and might be able to travel to the city of Kengtung, but I advise against doing that now because of the political situation in Myanmar. The border at Mae Sai/Tachileik is open every day from 0630 until 1830.
A diverse population
It was nice to be back in Tachileik after more than three years. It is not the prettiest city in Shan State, with its potholed roads, many construction buildings, and trash everywhere. The city is quite extensive, with a surprising amount of vehicles congesting the streets. The people in Tachileik are mostly Shan (Tai Yai), who are culturally and linguistically very close to Thai people. There are many Akha tribal people and Chinese in Tachileik as well. The distance from Tachileik to Mongla on the Myanmar-Chinese border is about 250km.
Many people in Tachileik speak Thai; the currency mainly used is the Thai Baht. Civil servants and border guards are Burmese. Peter Ah Hae, an Akha man I met via social media, took me to several places in and around Tachileik, such as two Akha restaurants/coffee shops owned by the Akha people. We also drove to a new tourist resort about 10km outside Tachileik on the road NH4 to Kyaingtong (Kengtung). Much more interesting though than this resort was an impressive temple complex on a hill we passed along the way so we stopped on the way back on my request.
Magnificent Wat More Nyin
This temple, Wat More Nyin, is a large, somewhat dilapidated compound with a hodgepodge of interesting buildings and a large number of gilded pagodas. The main assembly hall contains a beautiful Shan-style gilded Buddha image. I suppose not many daytrippers make it to this interesting temple. We met only one monk who told us the temple was constructed twenty years ago, but Peter and I agreed that Wat More Nyin is much older than that. From the temple, you have a nice view of the countryside, but with the smoke-infested sky, the view was not great. In one building, many small sand pagodas were under construction for the upcoming Songkran water festival.
Visiting downtown Tachileik
On the roads outside Tachileik, there were no checkpoints or police or military. Also, in Tachileik proper, everything looked as it was in December 2019. I strolled through the border market in Tachileik, which was quieter than before, with many stalls still closed. Just before I left, I found one of the last remaining samlor drivers in Tachileik, 67-year-old Lung Nang, who took me to Wat Thai Yai, one of the loveliest Burmese-style temples in the city.
I walked back to the border through the indoor market and surrounding food stalls. I picked up my passport and passed through Thai immigration at about 1500. It has become significantly busier at the border gate than in the morning. Many minivans and trucks were queuing on the Thai side, waiting to enter Myanmar. In Mae Sai, I visited the border market and observed quite a few western tourists as well as a large tour group at the “northern most of Thailand.”
I would not advise anyone against making this day trip from Mae Sai to Tachileik and back. I didn’t feel unsafe on the Thai or Myanmar side of the border. Tachileik has been peaceful and quiet for decades, during which it became a popular destination for Thai shoppers and foreign tourists. Many Thai tourists visit the border market on the Myanmar side every day and I also noticed foreigners at the Tachileik border market. There doesn’t seem to be a strong resistance movement against the Myanmar government, although recently, there have been several bomb attacks targeting Burmese officials. People believe these bomb attacks were linked to the anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021.
In Tachileik, several sights are worth visiting, such as a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon and the magnificent Thai Yai Temple. Crossing this overland border is always exciting and interesting with the hustle and bustle of trade and commerce and people crossing the Friendship Bridge. The markets on both sides of the border are worth visiting as well. Overall I had a wonderful trip and hope to return soon.