Hard to believe but we’ve already been here in Thailand for 60 days! Time really does fly; it doesn’t matter what you’re doing so you better be making the most of it.
Our 120-day-double-entry visa is actually two 60 day visas. This means it’s time for us to do a Thai visa renewal involving exiting and re-entering Thailand in order to activate our second 60 day visa. There are a few ways to do this; different exit/entry points, going by bus or train, or employing a service to take you. We thought it would be fun to do it ourselves and so planned a 5 day moto-scooter trip that would take us not only to the border but also on a short tour of Northern Thailand.
As there would be two of us on the scooter we had to pack light. I wore one small backpack and we could fit a couple of things in the basket at the front. To save space I decided not to bring my ‘big’ camera so I apologize for the picture quality – I won’t be making that mistake again!!
With 243 KM from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai our first day proves to be the hardest. Having spent time in northern Thailand before we were expecting winding roads, sweeping mountain vistas, and fresh clear air. Turns out that the highway is nothing but a soul-less strip of tarmac stretching from one city to the next.
To make things worse it is the hot, dry season here and a combination of forest fires and farmers burning their fields has resulted in a hazy, smoky atmosphere making visibility limited and making those fabulous mountain vistas just out of reach.
The ride passes easily enough though as we pass through nameless towns and larger centers intent on reaching Chiang Rai by cocktail hour. At an average speed of about 50km/hr it’s going to take a while.
After 5 ass-burning hours on the bike we make it to Chiang Rai. We’re hot, sticky, and tired so quickly find our guesthouse and relax in the garden with a beer.
The next day we set out for the border. Being only 60 KM away it only took a little more than an hour. Thankfully this resulted in minimal ass burning.
Traffic got thicker, and more unpredictable, as we neared the border. People getting dropped off and picked up, tuk-tuks over-burdened with product to import/export, and many just like us who were just trying to figure our way through the choked roadway. Like any border town the energy was frenetic with people to-ing and fro-ing every which way. Everyone seems to have a purpose, commerce is everywhere, and we’re always on high alert for any scams that might befall us.
When we first saw the blue archway we thought it was just a checkpoint so we merrily tried to motor through causing a bit of a hubabaloo. Apparently you can’t take your rented scooter into another country. Oh well, we zipped it around, found a parking spot and headed through on foot.
It is, like most border processes, a two step process. First we exit Thailand; a quick process whereby the border officer simply stamps us out. Then we cross what must be a no-mans-land where we’re no longer in Thailand yet not quite in Myanmar. In this case it’s actually a bridge crossing over a river. Once on the other side we entered into a small room where our entry into Myanmar was processed. There is a 500 Baht ($18) fee to enter Myanmar. As we planned on staying an hour or two they took our passports and issued us temporary visitor permits.
It’s important to note that you cannot actually enter greater Myanmar from this border crossing. You can cross to Tachileik in Myanmar and you can stay up to 14 days but you cannot leave the small province you enter into. Make sure to do additional research if you plan on visiting Myanmar proper.
There are plenty of touts on the Myanmar side offering goods and services, tours and moto rentals; some people don’t like touts but on a short trip like this they can really provide you with what you need without too much trouble. Surprisingly to me they mostly spoke very good English.
We pushed through though, walked through the market a bit, and stopped to have some lunch.
The way back through to Thailand was just as easy. We stopped on the Myanmar side to return our visitor permit and pick up our stamped passports and then continued on to the Thailand border officer again. When entering Thailand you must fill out an entry and departure card; the entry card is kept by the officer and the departure portion is stapled into your passport to be used on your departure. We filled out the cards, handed our passports over, and were stamped into Thailand once again. IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure that the officer marks the correct date for your departure. Many people come looking for a 15 day extension and we had a 60 day visa. We checked to make sure that our expected departure was marked for 60 days. A mistake not caught here could be very difficult to rectify!
With the business end of our trip complete we scooted back to Chiang Rai to visit the sites around town. The White Temple is a big draw here with plenty of tourists choking the place while the Black House is a much quieter site to see. I will write more about each of these later, only because they were each so weird.
The following day we packed up and headed out into the hills for a technology retreat. We spend inordinate amounts of time on our computers and needed a chance to just relax, hang out, and read. I found the perfect place just 25 KM from Chiang Rai.
Driving out of town streets thick with guesthouses and bars turned into neighbourhoods with schools and corner stores and then melted into a winding road through the steep mountains surrounded by bamboo and palm tree jungle. With time to spare we followed some random signs pointing to a Buddha up one of the hillsides. Pushing the bike as hard as she’d go we climbed the steep roadway up through tiers of hills until reaching the massive statue at the top. South East Asia’s ability to build massive sculptures continues to amaze me; here, in the middle of nowhere, stands a perfect Buddha image accompanied only by a few shacks to house the monks who stand guard.
Exploring complete we headed to our home for the next few days. The Bamboo Nest sits atop a hill surrounded only by other hills and Karen tribe villages. No electricity, no tv’s, no wifi, no distractions. Time is spent hanging in the hammock, reading, and chatting with other travelers. Heaven. I will write more about this place in another post but suffice it to say that if you find yourself in this area you should seek it out.
We climbed on the bike again the next day for another ass-burning 200KM journey to Chiang Dao. This time, however, is much more fun.
This is what we were hoping for; winding roads, little to no traffic, small villages, farmland and towering mountains. We swooped around corners, climbed hills, and stopped only when the smiles on our faces could no longer soothe the burning in our asses. Too. Much. Fun. The only downside was that this was the smokiest, haziest part of the trip. We passed by fires burning right on the side of the road, the flames licking the pavement as we whizzed by holding our breath. I only hope we can return once the smoke has eased so we can see more of the scenery. It would be worth a return trip.
We didn’t actually enter into Chiang Dao proper. We only stopped here to offer some relief to our butts and avoid a super long day. Super glad we stopped though. Staying at the Chiang Dao Nest 2 guesthouse was a perfect treat.
Nestled right at the base of the mountain it is perfectly shaded and away from the hustle and bustle of town. The bamboo cabins are scattered over the grounds so that it seems as though you are in your own, perfect, paradise. There is a cave nearby to explore if you feel the need to walk. We didn’t. We had a drink on the patio, wandered down the road to Nest 1 for another, and then returned for dinner. The restaurant served fabulous, fine, northern Thai food and we enjoyed a great meal set that included all the best that this area has to offer. Well worth the stop.
After coffee the next day we set out for a relatively short ride back home.
It was a great trip and I’m glad we did it on the scooter despite all the ass burning but once was enough. I abhor tourist vans and buses but I think next time we’ll find a local bus to Chiang Rai, rent a scooter there for the run to the border, and then return by local bus. It’ll be a different experience but will involve far less ass burning and that can’t be bad!!