Day Trip to Chiang Rai
I always say the universe works in mysterious ways, Kyle and I always face the unexpected it seems like. Generally the unexpected takes me by surprise and I get frustrated. After this moment, I can take the situation and turn it into something good. When we originally applied for our non-immigrant visa’s we were told that we didn’t have to do border runs, just check into immigration every 90 days. However, that was not the case.
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A border run is where you have to leave the country every 90 days to activate the next 90-day stay. The visas we have are Non-Immigrant O, multiple entries. Meaning we can enter into Thailand multiple times for the span of a year, how long the visas are good for. Right before our 90 days check-in, in October, we checked in 2 days early. You can actually check in with immigration a week early, but we kept putting it off. Luckily we did go 2 days early and I’ll tell you why.
You have to arrive super early to go into immigration, so we arrived around 7 am to get into line. The lines are super long, and the inital line you stand in is just to get your number to be called up to meet with an immigration officer. Once we got up to the point where you receive your number, she said no sorry you have to do a border run. I was so angry because we had waited so long, people were pushy, and she made us get out of line. Luckily for us, I was able to call my mom who called someone in immigration. Yup, we were mistold- we have to do border runs.
So, of course, we were 2 days away from our 90 days. If we overstay the 90 day period, then there are fees or we could extend it for 7 days. The closest border to Chiang Mai, is the Mae Sa border in Myanmar. When I lived here when I was younger, I remember having to do a border run in Myanmar. Luckily we were able to get a private driver, to take us up there the very next day. Since we were paying for a full day of driving we decided to spend the day in Chiang Rai and Chiang Saen.
Although initially, I was upset, we figured the border runs are a great way for us to experience new places and visit other countries. Of course, it’s something we’ve intended on doing but now it’s like we’re forced to anyways! The total drive time took around over 4 hours to the Mae Sae Border. We actually live south of Chiang Mai, a little ways, so it was shorter than 4 hours and 45 minutes for us.
Mae Sa Border
If you decide to do a border run in Burma I suggest leaving early in the morning or arriving early. It took 4 hours to drive there, and we left at 6 am. Around 10 am the lines weren’t long, and imagine in the afternoon it gets busy. You walk up to the immigration officers, they stamp your passport and you walk across a bridge. We entered into an office, where the immigration officer from Myanmar asked us our purpose of visiting Burma was. He took our passports and said we’d get them back on our way out.
I’ll be honest in saying I don’t enjoy crossing this border. Because it’s a popular point to do border runs, there are vendors and taxi drivers at the entrance, trying to get you to buy. They’re not so pleasant about it either, they like to put things in your face and be very pushy. Not to mention there is a fee to do the border run.
My suggestion is finding a coffee shop, grab a quick coffee, and then be on your way. There were like 2 or 3 coffee shops at the very entry. Unless you desire to see Burma, I’m sure it’s not so in-your-face, inside the town. We just wanted to get our Visas stamped and be on our way.
On your way out they hand you your passport, then you re-enter Thailand. The immigration officer will then stamp your passport for another 90-day entry, with the date of your next ‘check-in’.
Since we had to come up the way up here we decided to make a day trip out of our border run. We spent the whole day in the northernmost part of Thailand visiting Chiang Saen and Chiang Rai. I highly recommend exploring these two cities, as they have a lot of history and culture behind them. Hire a driver if you can, because not only are they experienced in the area, but they can give you some really great history behind each place you visit.
Chiang Saen and the Golden Triangle
Our first stop to Chiang Sae was to the famous Opium Museum. If you’ve never heard of the Golden Triangle, it’s located in the northernmost part of Thailand. Now illegal today, the Golden Triangle, is a strip of land in between bordering countries of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand. Located north of Chiang Saen along the Mekon riverside.
Overall the museum was worth the money, there’s a lot to it. It took us a little over an hour to get through it, although it could have taken longer. If you like museums then I suggest going, otherwise it would be super boring! After our visit to the Opium Museum, we headed to the viewing points of the Golden Triangle.
Our private driver, Tony, told us the reason it’s called ‘Golden’ triangle is that gold is ‘untouched’. Just like the strip of land. In the past, the Golden Triangle was the world’s largest source of drug trafficking, mostly for opium. Because the strip of land was in between three bordering countries, none of these countries had jurisdiction over it, making this land ‘untouched’ therefore named ‘the golden triangle.’
Now, the area is a popular tourist attraction and no longer used for drug trafficking. From the viewpoint, you will find the land that connects the three countries surrounded by waters. There are boat trips you can take from Mekong River into Laos, and if you can even take a driver further up into China. It was really neat seeing how close the borders were and how easy it is to access other countries.
The second viewpoint, located in town, had some food stands, drink stands, and relics. You can pay respects to Phra Chiang Saen Si Phaendin or Phra Buddha Nawa Lan Tue, located outdoors on a large boat called Rua Kaew Kusoltham.
Directions: After passing Mae Chan sub-district, turn right onto highway no. 1016 (Mae Chan- Chiang Rai) and continue for 29 kilometers. Before reaching the old walls of Chiang Saen, the tourists can either turn left at bypass intersection and follow the guideposts to Golden Triangle, or go straight passing Chiang Saen district, turn left to Mekong riverside road, and continue for 12 kilometers.
Wat Rong Khun
Each Wat, temple, I visit in Thailand has something unique and beautiful. From the architecture to the religious and spiritual meanings behind each detail. One temple I’ve been longing to see is Wat Rong Khun, most popular for being- white. Luckily Kyle and I had the chance to visit it this past month, although we were planning to go in December.
It’s a gorgeous white temple, known for its unique quality of being white. Designed by artist Chalermchai Kositpipat, Wat Rong Khun has incredible architecture, with a story behind each part. It might seem creepy when you first enter because of the hands that reach out at the beginning of the bridge.
When visiting Wat Rong Khun, take some time to not just enjoy the beauty but the story behind each intricate detail of the temple. The message behind it all: “one must overcome hell (the cycle of death and rebirth) to reach heaven and nirvana.” The white represents the purity of Buddha. The hands upon entering reflect ‘hell’, and crossing the bridge means to overcome that hell. The temple itself, housing paintings of Buddha and other spiritual reflections, represents Heaven. The glass amongst the architecture represents Buddha’s teachings.
Beyond the temple, there are many coffee shops, snack stalls, and vendors. There is also an art gallery featuring all the art by Chalermchai Kositpipat, the artist behind the temple, that is free to enter. They feature his art from high school all the way up until today, which I thought was really spectacular.
There are numerous coffee shops, snack and souvenir stalls and tea vendors in a small arcade next to the car-park.
Opening Hours: 06.30 – 18.00 daily (temple); 08:00 – 17:30 Mon-Fri (museum of paintings)
Location: About 13km south of city center
Please remember to dress appropriately and respect all temples.
Our last stop in Chiang Rai was to Singha Park. A scenic farm with tea plantations, a restaurant, cafe, and a park. Our driver took us up to the scenic viewpoint which was located on the tea plantations. We arrived at the perfect time, right before sunset so the weather was nice and cool. I definitely would have liked to have stayed longer, but we were exhausted.
Singha Park is an ‘Agro-tourism destination focusing on the development of sustainable tourism in Chiang Rai, situated 450m above sea level and spans over 12.8km2 of fertile land.’ Some of the activities include Singha Farm Tour, Cosmos field, Bhu Bhirom Restaurant, and a sports and rec center.
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