A November 2002 trip
to Mae Sai by markiemark
Quote: The northernmost town in Thailand, Mae Sai is on the border with Myanmar and is very busy with traders and tourists alike. The surrounding area is green and mountainous with many places of interest only a 1- or 2-hour drive away.
One thing Mae Sai has that kept me happy during three days of rain are the markets. Great food, particularly from the stalls lined up along the main street in the evenings.
I also came to Mae Sai in order to nip across the border for the day, now the border has reopened, and get another 30 day stay in Thailand on my return.
The visitor centre, at the entrance to the town, has a small exhibition hall with pictures of the excavation and restoration work, and a relief map of the area showing the ruin sites. Opposite is the Chaing Saen National Museum (entry 30B) with displays of various artifacts from the excavations and a hill-tribe crafts and customs room.
At the time I visited, the main street through Chiang Saen was being dug up and new pavements laid, so it was a messy, dusty sight and for me, the most interesting sites were just off this dusty sight: the leaning Wat Phra Yan, the vegetation-festooned Chedi Luang (the tallest structure in Chiang Saen), and Wat Pa Sak which sits just outside the old city walls and has the most extensive ruins which is why it's the only one you pay an entry fee for (30B!). Remains of a prayer hall and several pillars still stand and the stupa itself still has some of the Buddha statues in their niches around the base.
A walk along the dirt roads that follow the old city walls makes for some nice, quiet exercise among the flowers and butterflies. There are signposts to direct people to the various ruin sites and information boards at each point of interest. Some of the outlying ruins are little more than a pile of laterite bricks, but it makes a pleasant, though dusty, way to spend a day.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 25, 2002
Mae Sai, Thailand
Attraction | "Doi Wao & Wat Thamphajoen "
Not content with one run-in with the army, I almost had another one! Along the Mae Sai River that forms the border, there are a few guesthouses right on the banks. After passing an open but empty police checkpoint, I followed a cement path that runs behind the Mae Sai Riverside and Mae Sai Guesthouses. This became a narrow dirt trail after the latter, still right on the river bank. A lady was shouting and waving at me from the Myanmar side, all very friendly I thought, as I passed through an open gate and across a small plot of cultivated land. Here, one of the young men working on it said something to me in Thai to which I nodded, not understanding, and carried on. After 100m or so, another young man came running up behind me to ask me, in English, where I was going. Just walking I told him. "But you're in Myanmar, now!" he replied. He told me there was a police post up ahead where they wouldn't be too happy to see me. I then remembered that the map I'd been given by my guesthouse has the Mae Sai River as the border only for a couple of hundred meters west. The river then turns north and the border south, a border I'd seemingly just walked over. Now I understand why the Thai army on the hilltop were so edgy! There's no river to cross from one country to another. I was very surprised that there wasn't at least a sign warning of this. Anyway, it was quite a pleasant walk while it lasted with many butterflies, so at least I got something out of it and didn't get shot!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 25, 2002
Doi Wao & Wat Thamphajoen
Mae Sai, Thailand
Nervous glances to the top of the mountain were many as it had rained for those three days previous and the top of Doi Tung had been hidden. The clouds were breaking up, but it was still pretty cloudy up there. Another 1km took me to a turn-off signed for Doi Tung-wrong!Well, not exactly wrong; it does go to the top after 9 km - straight on takes you there in 4km! So, I went via the zoo, seeing lots of birds, including a very aggressive hornbill and dozens of chickens (?). It was a long trudge up the winding road that I thought would take me to the top in a kilometre so. Half way around, about a 45-minute walk along the very quiet road, it dawned on me that the road sign had indicated the scenic route! Scenic it was! Lovely views of the green mountains of Myanmar but virtually no traffic for a lift. 3 kms from the top I got picked up by a Canadian on a motorbike, which strained to get us both to the summit. There is a Buddhist temple there with great views of...white clouds! It was completely wreathed in white stuff at the top unfortunately, but the views on the way up and down were fantastic.
Not being the most confident of pillion passengers, I really didn't like the very steep descent, so I tried to concentrate on the views! I was dropped at the Royal Villa turn-off again where I quickly got another lift to the bottom and a bus back to Mae Sai from the main road.
Mae Sai, Thailand
I walked in from the 8km marker under a big arch proclaiming "Mae Sai Garden City." I saw no signs in English, Thai, or Swahili after that, despite having to take various turnings, the first of which was just 50m from the arch at a roundabout! By continually asking the locals the way, I eventually made the 3km or so to the park--right at the roundabout, left at the T-junction, right at the temple, and right again at the karaoke restaurant. I then traveled 2km straight on to the forest park track, which was signposted! This 2km took me along a well-paved road running parallel to a range of hills and cliffs that form the natural border between Thailand and Myanmar. The forest park and caves sit in a little niche in these cliffs. It's a very peaceful place; even on a Sunday there were few people about.
There are four caves to visit. I found two of the smaller caves not at all interesting; one above Reindeer Cave and one a cave shrine by the toilet block. The one that is worth the short hike up the slippery and overgrown trail by the visitor center, is Tham Lieng Pha, or "Reindeer Cave." This is tucked away up the hillside, overhung with trees and vegetation, and bristling inside with stalagtites and stalagmites. I heard my throat-clearing echo long before the cave was visible and had to duck under fallen branches to reach it.
Tham Luang was a bit of a disappointment, but I didn't go walking inside. Apparently, you can walk over a kilometer. There is a stream running through the cave that you must paddle if you want to get right inside the belly of the cliff, but you need a very strong light. Tham Luang doesn't have the formations that Reindeer Cave does, but the view from inside looking out through the entrance is like looking through a huge mouth--teeth and all!
Mae Sai caves; Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park
Mae Sai, Thailand
Tachilek is a slightly less affluent reflection of Mae Sai. There was little in this town that reminded me of the six weeks I'd spent in Myanmar earlier in the year. The roads are bad and dusty, and most of the men wear longgyi rather than trousers, but this was really just a suburb of Mae Sai and, as such, is geared toward tourism and cross-border trade.
The Shwedagon Pagoda sitting on a hill about 200m from the border post has a great view of the surrounding areas of both Myanmar and Thailand - particularly of Doi Tung, the highest point. People were quite friendly on this side of the border and I met a few people who wanted to practice their English. However, a couple of hours in Tachilek is plenty as there's little of interest to see. So it's back to the Burmese immigration office for my passport and my Thai entry stamp. Unlike the exit stamp earlier, this stamp is given at the border and free of charge!
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