Visa runs from Chiang Mai by car and by bus

Guess what? We’re experts at visa runs now guys! Well, not really. But we wanted to write a post to share our experiences with you guys.  We have a one year business visa here in Thailand and it requires that we leave the country every 90 days.  Sounds easy? Well, sort of.  Our first visa run was at the end of October 2015.  We didn’t  know quite what to expect and a lot of worst case scenarios were flashing through our brains.  But as it turned out, it’s a very simple process.  For our first visa run, we decided to drive up to Mae Sai and cross the border on foot.  As we’ve already mentioned to you before, we decided to take a short trip through Chiang Rai on our way to do our first visa run so the whole trip took us 4 days.  But in reality, you can do a visa run all in one day.   The drive from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai (which borders Myanmar) is about 4.5 hours.  The drive is easy, straightforward and definitely not boring.  There are plenty of gas stations where you can fill up, relieve yourself and buy road trip necessities – candy, candy and more candy!  A small, but very important note: if your car runs on LPG, make sure you fill up whenever you see an LPG station.  Don’t wait and think you can catch the next one because you might just run out of gas by the time you reach the next LPG station.

After we parked our car, we headed on foot towards the border of Mae Sai and Tachiliek.  Head towards the big blue building because that’s the Thai immigration office.

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The big blue building in the background is the Thai Immigration office between Thailand and Myanmar


This is the Myanmar Immigration office.  You go to the right hand side to enter Myanmar.  


The Duty Free is on the lefthand side, just before the exit.  

The process is simple.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Complete your departure card (which you should have attached to your passport or given to you when you first arrived in Thailand).
  • You go to the very first window, present your passport and departure card.  The immigration officer will stamp you out of Thailand and hand over your passport back to you.
  • You then walk towards the bridge, go over to the right side of the bridge to see the Burmese immigration officials.
  • You walk into a room, hand over your passport to the officer and you will be asked how long you want to be in Burma for.  Because we are just doing a quick run, we told them 1 hour.  The officer will then stamp your passport allowing you to enter Burma and you pay a fee of 500 baht per person.
  • You can then either walk right back out of Burma on the other side of the bridge or you can do a bit of shopping at the Tachilek market.
  • When you walk back towards Thailand, complete a new arrival card.  Once completed, proceed to the next available window for foreigners.
  • Hand over your passport and arrival card to the Thai immigration officer.  They will attach the departure card to your passport and stamp your passport.  The stamp date will indicate when you need to leave Thailand again. (Arkadi got asked what we are doing here in Thailand the first time, but there were no questions asked on our last run).

Here’s a giant tip: before you head on over to Thailand from Burma, don’t forget to stop at Duty Free.  It has a nice selection of wines, beers, liquors, chocolates and other merchandise for lower prices than what you’d pay back in Chiang Mai.  You can also find cheap, but not bad, alternatives like Royal Gin (Burmese made) for only 120 baht for 750 ml while Gordon’s Gin is 450 baht for the same size.

For our second visa run, we decided to take a Green Bus up to Mae Sai instead of driving. We arrived at the bus station at 7:40 a.m.  and the bus departed for Mae Sai at 8:15 a.m.  (it was supposed to leave at 8:00 a.m.).  The bus stopped at a bus station in Chiang Rai for 5 minutes.  Then we got back on and continued to drive to Mae Sai.  We arrived at the Mae Sai bus station at around 12:30 p.m.  We then took a tsong taew to the border.  It cost us 15 baht per person one way.  By the time we finished with all the official immigration business, we had 30 minutes for lunch before we had to catch the next bus back to Chiang Mai.  We took a tsong taew back to the bus station, boarded the bus by around 3:30 p.m. and arrived in Chiang Mai by around 8:30 p.m.  The ride back took a lot longer because of traffic through Chiang Rai.  So the entire process took all day but there’s very little effort on your part.

Here’s some tips for you to make the ride a lot easier:

  • Dress properly.  It’s insanely cold on the bus.  (We happen to have to do our second visa run on the coldest day in Chiang Mai this year and by day’s end, we were frozen because the bus had air conditioning on full blast).  Bring a blanket or a scarf or better yet a sweater and socks.
  • Bring your Ipod or any other electronic devices to keep you occupied.  If you’re old school, bring a big book because you can probably finish the entire thing by the time the whole trip is over!
  • The bus company provides you with a small bottle of water, a juice box and a packet of cookies on the way to Mae Sai and also on the way back.  But feel free to bring along other snacks with you.
  • If it’s within your budget, pay for the VIP seats (it cost us 650 baht per person return). They are cushy, roomy and all around more comfortable.
  • They do have a toilet in the back of the bus, but it’s much easier to balance yourself at the bus station washrooms! Do not forget to bring wet wipes, a small bottle of soap and/or sanitizing gel.  The bus station washrooms didn’t have toilet paper nor did they have soap to properly wash your hands.  Also, they don’t have western toilets, just squat toilets.

*For further details on the location of the bus station and for pictures, click this link:

Hope all these tips help you do your visa runs and if you have any other tips, please remember to share!


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