Thinking about getting a visa extension or a border run?
Not sure what the difference is between the two?
Maybe you already did your visa extension and now you have to do a Myanmar Thailand border crossing.
That was my case.
All in all, it went pretty smoothly, but I’d recommend it as a last resort.
Here’s what happened and what I would do differently next time.
First, let’s see if you even need to do a Chiang Mai to Mae Sai Border Run.
- 4 Options to Extend Your Time in Thailand
- How Do You Get to Mae Sai Border?
- Chiang Mai to Mae Sai Border Run
- Total Cost of Mae Sai Border Run
- Next Time, I Would...
4 Options to Extend Your Time in Thailand
So you’re really enjoying yourself in the Land of Smiles and want to stay longer.
But legally you need to GTFO.
That’s not-so-great, but you got a few options:
- Fly out & back in
- Get extension on visa/visa-exemption stamp
- Get another visa
- Do a border run
In my case, my only choice was #4, because #1 is too expensive, I already did #2, and #3 is overkill.
Before jumping into how my border run from Chiang Mai to Myanmar went, let’s clear the confusion on a few things:
- Visa Extension vs Border Run
- Visa Run vs Border Run
Visa Extension vs Border Run
You do completely different things for each of these.
In my opinion, here are the pros and cons of each, along with who should do which one.
If you figured out that all you need is an extension…
First – congratulations!
Second – check out this step-by-step tourist visa extension guide to save you time!
Border Run vs Visa Run
No, they aren’t the same thing.
A visa run entails you actually getting a visa. You’ll have to go to the Thai consulate at whichever country you’re in, fill out a form, pay the fee and wait 24-48 hours to collect your passport with the new visa.
I never had to do this, but I know many people who did their visa run in Vientiane, Laos from Chiang Mai.
I’ve been told to make it a ‘long weekend’ trip…because it’s about 10H one way from Chiang Mai to get there. (Ouch!)
On the other hand, a border run is usually a one-day trip across the Maesai border to get a 30-day (or however many days your country gives you) visa exemption stamp on your passport.
Now that you know the difference, pass on the knowledge.
OK, so you’ve decided you need to do the border run.
Good – you’re in the right place!
First things first though.
You need to decide how you’ll get to the Myanmar border.
Usually, the border that everyone talks about is the Thai Myanmar border. From Chiang Mai, you travel to Mae Sai, Thailand and cross over to Tachileik, Myanmar.
How Do You Get to Mae Sai Border?
That’s a very good question!
Consider the following options:
- You can bike there yourself if you feel confident enough on a scooter
- You can rent a car and stay the night in Chiang Rai on the way there (or back)
- You can take the Minivan (semi-private)
- You can take the Greenbus Thailand (public)
In my case, #1 – I’ve never driven a scooter before, #2 – no one I knew was also doing a Mae Sai border crossing, so couldn’t turn it into a trip, #3 – I didn’t find out about this option until it was too late…so #4 it is!
How is the minivan different than the bus?
Well, it’s an actual visa run service.
They drive a bit faster (so it’s 4H instead of 5H each way), they pick you up at your place and drop you off right at the Thai border.
Now, it does cost a bit more. 990 baht + 100 baht if you want to reserve a seat.
My good friend took the minivan option with Chiang Mai Visa Run and had this to say:
“10 seat van plus driver. Had arm rests. Cushy chairs. They lay back. Has AC”
He told me that if you can’t rent a car and stay overnight in Chiang Rai, this is the next best option.
Chiang Mai to Mae Sai Border Run
It’s not complicated, it just takes a little preparation and a lot of time on the day of. So, just follow this guide and you’ll be just fine.
1. Book in Advance with Green Bus Thailand
I booked mine 30 days out.
You don’t have to be crazy like me, but do it at least a week ahead of time to pick the seat you want.
It was a tad bit confusing for me to navigate greenbusthailand.com, so I broke it down for you:
1A) Translate site to English & input info
Fill it out in this order to avoid breaking the site:
- From: Chiang Mai Bus Station (It’s Terminal 3, not Arcade!)
- To: Amphoe Mae Sai
- Depart & Return Date: Same day whenever you want
- Select Your Trip (For Depart): Whatever time fits your schedule*
- Select Your Trip (For Return): Whatever time fits your schedule*
*With the 8am & 3:30pm VIP buses, you’ll have just enough time to do the formalities, eat lunch and maybe to shop for a few minutes.
Btw, just in case you were wondering (because I sure was!):
- The (#) just means the maximum number of people that can fit on the bus
- The M2(a) bus fits 48 people & costs baht 174; Air Condition Bus #1 fits 38 people & costs 310 baht
1B) Pick your seat on the next page
Some things to note:
- I didn’t want to sit with anyone
- There are only 4 singular seats, so I’m happy I booked early
- There are only 4 singular seats, so I’m happy I booked early
- I picked seat 3A for both ways, and boy did I chose right!
- I got the shade both ways with the sun was shining on the other side.
- Online reviews said it could be really cold with the AC blowing at you
- This is why you don’t sit at the very front
- It was a bit chilly and I thought I was prepared, but my legs were still cold. I’ll talk about what to pack next!
1C) Fill out Passenger Information
Pretty self-explanatory here.
1D) Pay for your ride
There are many options – I used credit card.
Here’s the breakdown of the cost:
347 baht one way X 2 = 694 baht + 20 baht processing fee = 714 baht / 30 = $23.80 USD.
$23.80/10 hours of traveling = $2.38 USD each hour.
Dude, that’s pretty cheap!
Next is the confirmation page.
Not wanting to take any chances, I selected both ‘Send SMS’ and ‘Price Ticket’ options, knowing that I could ask my landlord to print it out for me on the house.
Time: 20 minutes if you know what you’re doing and the times you want
Cost: 714 baht
2. Pack Your Bag The Night Before
I hate feeling rushed and stressed in the morning, so I usually prepare the night before, especially if I know I have an early morning.
This was what I put in my backpack:
- Include either a NEW, CRISP $10 USD (with no writing on it) OR a not-so-crisp 500 baht – I picked the latter
- Your passport (Duh!)
- Remember to fill out the Departure Card – it’s stapled to your passport
- Print out of Bus Ticket
- Water & snacks
- Thai “trail mix” – pineapple cookie, almonds and some black biscuit
- Tissue paper, wet wipes, hand sanitizer
- Mosquito spray, lotion & afterbite
- A hat, sunglasses and earplugs (to drown out the noise)
- I also set out my clothes the night before – long sleeve, long pants, jacket and scarf
- Notebook and 2 pens
- I planned to do some reflection and journaling
- My pen ran out of ink half way through – I wish I brought 2!
Time: 10 minutes
Cost: Priceless 😉 (but the snacks cost me 100~ baht)
3. Arrive 15 Minutes Early On The Day Of
I got a grab bike about 45 minutes before departure time and arrived at Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 3 with 20 minutes to spare.
Since I printed out my ticket, I went straight to Gate 20/21.
The bus number should match what’s on your ticket.
It should be clearly marked Greenbus Thailand.
It should say “Chiang Mai Chiang Rai Mae Sai” on the front.
With an extra 20 minutes, you can:
- Buy more snacks – there’s a few shops and a 7-11 nearby
- Pee – it’s 3 baht to use the station’s toilet & you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper (or pay extra)
There’s also a toilet at the back of the bus, but I wouldn’t use that one…
The bus was full and people were loading their luggage underneath. I noticed that a lot of locals actually took this bus, and everyone boarded right at 8am.
We left the station 5 minutes late.
A bit about the bus:
- The headrests are adjustable
- You do get a lot of legroom
- The bus attendant will hand you water and a small snack
Time: 20 minutes – Left home at 7:20am and arrived at 7:40am
Cost: 20 baht for raisin bread + 35 baht for grab bike = 55 baht
4. Arrive At Mae Sai Station
It took about 4.5 hours to get to Mae Sai station. The bus stopped at Chiang Rai and other smaller bus stations to either let people on or off.
There’s a longer break at Chiang Rai (maybe 5-10 minutes – ask the driver) where you can get off and stretch your legs.
If you opt to go to the toilet, b-line there and back. Our bus left without someone and he chased us down before we stopped to let him back on!
Also, tell a buddy (or the driver!) where you’re going. Since I was alone, I didn’t get off the bus until it was the terminus stop.
Lastly, we were ‘pulled over’ 3 times in total for police checks. Each time they asked to see my passport – nothing to worry about, but this does extend travel time.
Time: Budget 5 hours! Left station at 8:05am and arrive at 12:40pm
Cost: Already paid
5. Take Songthaew to Mae Sai Border
When in doubt, follow the farangs.
I had NO clue where to go after I got off. Luckily, there were 2 older gentlemen with their thai wives that were talking loudly – one American and one British.
I asked them if they were also doing the border run and said I’d just follow them since it was my first time.
We got on the red trucks.
15 baht each for a 20-minute ride to the border.
No need to negotiate, the price is set and it’s already really cheap.
They pack everyone in like sardines, so get a seat if you can.
Time: 20 minutes, 12:45pm – 1pm~
Cost: 15 baht
6. Exit Thailand
First, you need to exit Thailand.
There were a bunch of people who were queuing on the left, but with foreign passports (I think!) you can just go down the middle aisle.
The American guy I was tagging along with was the expert. He’s done it every 3 months for the last 8 years, so I just followed.
You present your passport to the officer and the machine will prompt you for your fingerprints and a photo. You’ll get your passport back to exit Thailand.
You don’t have to pay yet – entering and exiting Thailand is free.
You then enter this No Man Land in between the 2 countries where you see a lot of officers and beggars.
Cross to the other side of the street to enter Myanmar
Time: 10~ minutes – 1pm-1:10pm
7. Enter Myanmar
There will be officers to direct you if you get confused but just follow the crowd.
Once you enter the ‘gate’, you’ll be ushered into a room with officials. They collect your passport, write some stuff down in their notebook and ask for payment.
Again, it’s $10 USD (CRISP!) or 500 baht.
The officer told us to walk across the street to collect our passports.
This didn’t make sense to my new American friend.
How are you supposed to go into or exit a country without your passport in hand?
Yeah, good point!
So, he turned us back around and got our legal IDs from the same officer.
He has already stamped everything in the 3-5 minutes that we spent contemplating whether or not we should follow the flow into Myanmar or just turn back around.
I’m sure following the flow was the right thing to do. I mean, there was only one way to walk after you exit their office.
At this point, you can stay to do some shopping (I’m told that most shops accept the Thai Baht) before you collect your passport.
OR, just get your passport and re-enter the Thai kingdom.
Time: 10 minutes – 1:10pm to 1:20pm
Cost: 500 baht (or a brand new $10 USD)
8. Re-Enter Thailand
This was where we had to wait in line. It was a breeze but a longer-than-I-imagined wait.
Get the arrival/departure card from the box office in the middle and stand in line (the one on the left, closest to the wall) to fill it out.
Instead of filling it out on the counter where everyone else is doing it, which is also where the ‘public’ pens are.
At this point, you’d be happy you brought your own pen with you.
I wasn’t asked any questions, but was told to take my hat off (my bad!) for the picture and was prompted for digital fingerprints.
He gave me back my passport with a 30-day visa exemption stamp, and I walked out.
There’s a little security check on the way out, just like the airport, with a big german shepherd.
So, don’t try to smuggle anything illegal – it’s just not worth it.
Plus, you can probably find whatever you’re looking for inside Thailand…but you didn’t hear that from me!
We sat down for lunch at this place right outside the border where the red trucks dropped us off called Feast Cafe.
I got noodle with fish balls (59 baht) and my new friends ordered western meals (250+ baht).
Time: 1.5 hour = 1H for re-entering Thailand and 30 minutes for lunch; 1:20pm to 2:20pm
Cost: 60 baht for lunch
9. Go Back to Chiang Mai the Same Way
It was 3pm and we caught another songthaew back to the Mai Sai Bus station.
Again, our bus was 5 minutes late to depart.
It took 5.5H to get back home.
Holy crap – it felt like the longest ride ever.
They were driving a bit slow, but I guess that’s better than passengers getting motion sickness.
And, there were parts of the road that had construction around it. I felt that we stopped at more stops on the way back.
Time: 5.5 hours broken down:
- 3pm to 3:20pm – red truck back to Mae Sai station
- 3:35pm – 8:35pm~ arrived back at Chiang Mai Bus Terminal
Cost: 15 baht
Total Cost of Mae Sai Border Run
With everything added up, the entire border run cost me 1520 baht.
See my break down on the right.
Not to mention 12H of my time…
which is a bit more of a commitment than I’d want to make.
Next Time, I Would...
I’m hoping there will be no next time.
But if I had no choice then, I’d probably pick one of these options:
Option 1: Get on Earlier Bus
so I can come back to town earlier.
I think the 6:30am and 2pm bus combo is good.
In theory, you’ll get to the border around 11:30am, get enough time to cross the border, shop/eat, and make it back to Chiang Mai around 7pm.
Option 2: Minivan
It’s only a difference of 350 baht (just for transportation).
It’s faster, more comfortable, convenient – they pick you up at home and drop off right at the border.
Option 3: Overnight in Chiang Rai
I would have loved to make it a fun trip to Chiang Rai with friends!
The same friend who did the Minivan also stayed overnight in Chiang Rai before.
He said the transportation cost works out to be roughly the same.
I know this was a long post, so here’s a quick recap:
- Visa extension over border run any day!
- If border run, take the 6:30am and 2pm Green Bus Thailand
- Clothes to keep warm on the cold bus
- 1 (or 2!) pen
- 500 baht or a crisp $10 USD for the Thai-Myanmar border
- Your passport (duh!) with Departure Card
- An analog watch
It was a long and tiring day, but worth it to be in Thailand for another 30 days.
Hope this guide was helpful for you. Now, go and enjoy your Mae Sai border run!