The Cheapest Chiang Mai visa run, why would you need to know that? Well, do I have story to tell about that.

There will come a time for most travellers when any of the following will happen:

  1. You find yourself in the wonderful Thai city known as Chiang Mai and the expiration of your visa is fast approaching.
  2. Your bank cards get locked due to suspicious activity and you’re on the verge of homelessness. You have to be careful with how you spend your remaining cash.
  3. All of the above and your visa is expiring in just one day.

As you can see by where I’m going with this, number 3 happened to me.

Hitchhiking From Chiang Mai to Myanmar

Hitchhiking to chiang rai cheapest visa run from chiang mai

“No worries” I cheer to hide my real feelings.

I decided I would hitchhike. 

I previouslymet a guy on a train in Bangkok and he had regaled me with talk of his hitchhiking journeys, between cities in Thailand.

He described how it was easy if you made it outside of the city. 

I didn’t think about it then, but he was about 175cm (5’7”) and wirey. I’m an exact 2 metres (6’7”) and “built like a brick shithouse” so they tell me. 

I know which guy I would feel more comfortable giving a lift.

I had also read some other bloggers who claimed it’s pretty easy to hitchhike here. I’ve since found that website again only to read the “about” page which shows a hot little blonde chick. 

I definitely know who I’d prefer to give a lift.

This is the part where I was going to upload a video of me standing in the middle of nowhere, getting drenched in rain. The rain was soaking through my 20kg backpack  while I was getting sprayed by the cars driving past. 

I would have, but my phone departed my pocket while on a scooter this morning. One of those weeks you know…

You could guess how this went. 

I walked in the 35 ℃ (95.00 ℉)  80% humidity heat for about 4 hours. I was walking in the direction of Chiang Rai all the while wearing through the soles of my thongs/flip flops.

Because PayPal locked my accounts, I had no food or water and I felt like I was dying. 

I stopped in at a branch of SCB bank to see if I could open a bank account because I was hoping they might offer me some water. They gave me a very hot, sickly sweetened tea that was making matters worse, but I waited it out for the air conditioning.

I felt like a dick for such blatant abuse of hospitality, but definitely not bad enough to not do it. Desperate times…

I walked for one more hour and it started raining with such ferocity that within a minute, I was soaken through. 

I stood there trying to wash as much salty sweat out of my hair as possible.  I wanted to start drinking the water running down my face and actually get some hydration. It was quite cooling but made me look like even more of a madman who shouldn’t be given a lift.

I relised that at this rate, I would die before Chiang Rai. If I made it that far, I would still need to make it to Mae Sai to the border of Myanmar (Burma)

Miserable, wet and stinking big time, I made it back to the centre of Chiang Mai and had a sleep in the middle of the park.

I walked around to different hostels to see who was able to take an online payments. A friend was going to to let me use their debit card online.

I wasn’t having much luck with the language barrier. Most staff told me to use Hostel World, who only take a deposit with the balance being payable in cash. 

I stumbled upon a hostel where the owner, understanding my plight offered for me to stay until I resolved my accounts and to pay on check-out. 

They then showed me where the unlimited snacks were and gave me some of their own food. 

Things were looking up, though I was still short one border crossing and visa.

Catching the Bus: Chiang Mai to Mae Sai

bus to Mae Sai cheapest visa run from chiang mai

At this point, I had been able to cash out 700thb (Thai Baht) worth of bitcoin that I had left over from 2013. It was a good start. 

I knew it would cost me about 400thb in return bus tickets and that you need 500thb to get the visa on arrival for Myanmar (Burma). 

Without that, you can’t get the departure stamp required to be able to get back into Thailand.

I was still in a bit of a pickle, but with my visa expiring the following day, I knew I had to chance it so I dropped 400 on a return bus ticket.

I caught a 30thb taxi at 5am the next morning, dropping me off at the Chiang Mai bus station which is a 1 hour walk from town. (Trust me, I know).

The bus/coach that I caught was pretty decent and seemed to be reasonable value for money. 

The bus driver seemed to think he was qualifying for the opening round of the World Rally championship.  

While we hooned our way through the mountains, I tried to catch up on some sleep between falling off my seat..

The bus trip lasted about 5 hours and had plenty of stops along the way where you could use the toilet or buy snacks. Both of these required money though…

Best Way to Book Public Transport in Chiang Mai

Since the visa run, I have caught many more buses and trains from Chiang Mai and through the rest of Thailand. A lot of them can be booked from a local office with cash, but sometimes it can be a bit tricky. Most places don’t accept card online and while you may be able to book it from your phone or computer, you might have to pay at 7/11 to collect the receipt. I have found the best service to be 12Go (below). I have never had an issue and they have many, many reviews online.
Bus Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai $ 6.98–15.09 3h 10m – 6h 35m
  •   VIP 05:15, 06:45, 07:15, 08:00, 08:15, 08:45, 09:30, 10:30, 12:15, 12:30, 13:00, 14:00, 14:45, 15:30, 15:45, 16:30, 17:15, 18:00
  •   Express 05:15, 06:00, 07:15, 08:00, 08:45, 09:15, 09:30, 09:45, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 13:15, 14:00, 14:15, 15:00, 15:15, 15:30, 16:00, 16:15, 16:30, 17:00, 17:30, 18:30, 19:00
  •   VIP 07:30, 08:15, 09:00, 09:15, 09:45, 11:15, 12:00, 12:45, 14:30, 15:30, 16:30, 17:00, 17:45, 18:00
  •   Express 06:15, 07:30, 08:00, 08:15, 08:45, 09:45, 10:15, 10:30, 11:00, 12:00, 13:15, 13:45, 14:00, 14:15, 14:30, 15:00, 15:30, 16:00, 16:30, 17:15, 17:30, 18:00, 18:45, 19:30
Taxi Chiang Mai - Chiang Rai $ 97.26 2h 30m
  •   Economy
  •   Economy
 

Mentally Preparing for Possible Jailing or Abuse

bus to Mae Sai cheapest visa run from chiang mai

When I finally arrived at the Mae Sai bus station, I had 160thb in notes and 30 in coins. I noticed a sign next to a row of Songthaews that said 15thb to the Mae Sai border. It seemed like a good deal considering I didn’t know how far it was. It turned out to be around 5km’s so I set aside the remaining 15thb I had in my backpack so it wasn’t visible in my wallet.

The area of town as you approach the border is quite nice with a vibrant market feel. There are many shopfronts and streetside stalls.

The border between this part of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand is the ruggedly beautiful Sai river. It was very high due to Monsoon season and was part way into some of the buildings lining the Thai side of the border. The Friendship Bridge is what links these two countries at Mae Sai.

Immigration is in a large, semi ominous looking building/gateway that opens up to the bridge crossing the Sai river.

It was game time. 

I had already been told that Thai immigration are quite savvy in this area. I walked into the border area past the huge sign that said “No Visa Runs” in bold red writing.

I knew that if I was asked to prove that I had the money to get into Myanmar (burma), I would have no way to do so. 

Thai immigration would have an obligation not to allow me into the no man’s land between borders where I would get stuck. They would also realise I was about to overstay my visa and didn’t have enough money to meet the requirements for staying in Thailand. 

With this in mind, I took my camera out of it’s bag wore it around my neck and tried to make it look as expensive as possible. I gave my watch a quick polish and I strutted in with my chest out, trying to look as affluent as possible. 

Once you show your passport at the immigration checkpoint, they will then inspect your departure card. I was hoping no questions would be asked.

They gave me my departure stamp and I walked straight through along with everyone else.

Do Not Try This at Home

That was the smallest hurdle out of the way. 

I walked across the bridge to the Burmese border and waltzed into the immigration office. 

The staff here seemed slack compared to Thailand. When they asked me (while sitting below a large sign that said “No Visa Runs”) what I was planning to do, I admitted to doing a Visa run. 

My logic was coming from the notion that they wouldn’t care very much, because Thailand were the only real “victims” of doing a visa run.

They were rather happy with this answer and stamped my passport into Burma. 

So far, so good but then came the clench your butt cheeks so hard you’ll take the seat with you if you stand up moment. 

I kept a casual expression until they asked me for 500thb and pretended to be as surprised as possible. “I didn’t know I needed 500 baht!” They kept repeating it to me, assuming I didn’t understand what they were saying. 

All the other immigration officers came to the desk trying to explain to me, and I was eventually able to make them understand that I didn’t have the money. 

I tried to hand the officer the 160thb I had and he threw it back at me. 

This deadlock continued for over 10 minutes, but my biggest fear was that there would be an ATM (Cash Machine) nearby that they would take me to. Fortunately this was not the case. They explained that I could pay $10 instead. When I asked what type of dollar, the officer showed me an American $10 note. “I’m not American, why would I have that?” 

That attitude didn’t get me very far, but they realised I was willing to hang around and would be a nuisance. I was able to settle for $3.00SGD (Singapore Dollars) and 160thb.

They marched me to the departure office and within 30 seconds of the two officers chatting, I had a departure stamp.

My familiarity with Thai culture over Burmese, barely raised my spirits that I would at least be in a Thai jail.

Entering a Country, 20 Minutes After Leaving It

It seemed as though a lucky spirit had kissed me on the arse.

I was mildly optimistic, but wasn’t out of the woods quite yet.

I walked back over to the bridge, towards the third “No Visa Runs” sign of the day and worked hard on conjuring a smile that looked casual.  I didn’t want to look too optimistic, not forced and generally just wanted to look chill.

Within 45 seconds I had a new stamp and was back in Thailand. I had a good chuckle and went to find a Songthaew upon which I would splurge my last 15thb.

Mae Sai sees far less Western tourism than most other parts of Thailand. I smiled for the photos that the other passengers wanted to take with the pastey giant. I finally got back to the bus station. 

I hung out in the air conditioned food court of a Tesco Lotus for an hour and a half and then wandered back to catch my long-ass bus ride back down the mountains. All in all, a success.

Chiang Mai Immigration Office

If you have the 5,000thb required to get a visa extension, that’s probably your best bet. You can get a 30 day extension without the hassle of a border run from Chiang Mai.

The Cheapest Visa Run From Chiang Mai to Mae Sai

The roads to Mae Sai are beautifully winding if you’re a lover of motorbike riding such as myself. As it transpires, it would have been a bit cheaper to hire a decent sized scooter for the day and the ride would have been far more fun. 

Ride from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai by Motorbike

If you’re not a rookie when it comes to riding, this would be my suggested method compared to a bus. You will have to have on-bike stamina though as it will be at least 10 hours of riding.

Drive From Chiang Mai to Mae Sai

If you’re travelling with friends, or you meet a bunch of cool people in Chiang Mai, it’s likely that others will need to do a run at the same time. Your best bet might be to hire a car and have an awesome road-trip with some mates.

How to do the Visa Run From Mae Sai

Once you’re in Myanmar (Burma), you can get a visa on arrival that lets you go as far as the next town for 500thb or $10.

At the very least, spend a few hours there and buy some souvenires to make you look like a tourist.

I had assumed that many people would stay there for a day or two like they do in Southern borders such as Malaysia.

From the amount of people I met on the bus who were also doing visa runs, it doesn’t seem necessary to stay overnight. Things might have changed there since 2017, so be careful.

The Moral of the Story

bus to Mae Sai cheapest visa run from chiang mai

Please, whatever you do, do not try and attempt to recreate what I did to save money.

It was out of absolute necessity and I got lucky. Doing this without dire need is ignorance and disregard and you could be deported.

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