After one month traveling through the north of Thailand, our visa exemption of 30 days was going to expire. We were in Chiang Mai and wanted to extend our visa. There are multiple options one can do, like going to the Thai Immigration Office to extend a visa for another 30 days. Or you can go to a neighboring country to get a new stamp when crossing the border back into Thailand. Unfortunately, regulations change quickly, and it’s really difficult to find up-to-date information about doing a Thailand visa run in 2017.
2017 VISA RUN REGULATIONS
With five days left on our Thai visa, we had to extend it if we wanted to travel to the south too. We were in Chiang Mai, and luckily there are multiple ways to extend a visa over there. The Thai Immigration Office in Chiang Mai will happily extend it for you for 1,900 THB (54 USD). But because that’s too much for our budget, this was no option for us. The only alternative left was going to a neighboring country to do a visa run.
But doing a visa run has got more complicated because of the rules that are changing all the time. If you check the web for five minutes, you’ll find numerous of misleading information which isn’t up-to-date anymore. Last year, visa runs were made illegal for tourists, but this has changed back again. Since January 2017, tourists can do visa runs again, but only two times each year.
MAE SAI – TACHILEIK BORDER CROSSING
Without much up-to-date information, we decided to go for it! We chose to do the border crossing at Mae Sai, which is at the most northern point of Thailand. Most Thai & foreign people go here to cross the border to Burma. At the other side of the Friendship Bridge, there’s Tachileik. Here’s a big market with a lot of fake clothes, fake Marlboro cigarettes, fake viagra and fake dvds. Looks like the perfect place for criminal activities.
From Chiang Mai, buses go from the Arcade bus station to Mae Sai, with a stop in Chiang Rai. These take about 4 hours and costs 210 baht each way. Unfortunately, we can’t say if this is comfortable or not because we’ve hitchhiked from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. If you’re already in Chiang Rai and want to do the visa run from there, you can take the public bus at the bus station. This bus takes 1.5 – 2 hours and costs 40 baht.
Both buses arrive in the Mae Sai bus station just a couple of minutes out of town. From here, you’ll have to take a red songthaew towards the border. There are many songthaew’s standing ready at the bus station. They bring you right to the border checkpoint for a fixed price of 15 THB per passenger.
DOING THE VISA RUN
Doing the actual visa run is very straightforward. Just go into the building of the border checkpoint and get your exit stamp. There’s a big sign which says that visa runs are forbidden, but you can ignore this. The border officers know very well that you’re doing a visa run. If it would be forbidden, they won’t let you through because they don’t want you to end up in no man’s land.
Travel Tip: Make sure that your departure card is filled in before going to the exit window.
Walk across the bridge and go through the gate of Myanmar. Here you’ll need to follow the signs for foreign tourists and enter a small office. The border officers here are friendly and will give you a temporary entry permit for 14 days. You’ll need to pay 500 Baht for this. Giving a crisp $10 note is also possible, but they prefer 500 Baht because that’s worth more. In exchange, they will hold your passport until you cross back at the same border crossing.
Travel Tip: Empty your wallet and hide your cash before doing the border crossing. If you show the border officers that you only have $10, they will accept it.
With this temporary permit, you can only travel in the region towards Kengtung, but only with a guide! These tour guides will be waiting on you right after the border.
Note: Traveling further than Kengtung is impossible if you don’t have a Myanmar (e-)visa before entering the border!
If you don’t want to travel further, ignore them, and walk down the stairs on your right to the market. Stroll around but be careful when buying any counterfeit goods because they can get you into trouble when re-entering Thailand. Thai Baht is used everywhere here, so no need to exchange money.
Going back to Thailand is easy, go to the last window at the Burma checkpoint and hand over your permit. They’ll give you your passport back. Now, cross the bridge again, fill in your new arrival card for Thailand, and get your passport stamped.
You now have a new 30-day visa exemption!
The total price of going from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai, crossing the border and going back to Chiang Mai in one day costs 26 USD in total. It’s also possible to stay in Chiang Rai to visit the famous White Temple and the surrounding waterfalls and caves.
Agreed, doing a visa run is a lot of hassle and takes a whole day, but getting a new 30-day visa for half the price than at the Immigration Office is well-worth it for us!