How to get to Thailand from Myanmar

Mae Sai Tachilek border crossing
Mae Sai Tachilek border crossing

Several border crossings between Thailand and Myanmar are open to day-trippers or short excursions in the vicinity. As yet none of these link up with routes to Yangon or Mandalay or other cities of any size. Nor are you permitted to enter Thailand from Myanmar.

Mae Sai-Tachilek

The infamous bridge, Lo Hsing-han’s former ‘Golden Triangle’ passageway for opium and heroin, spans the Sai River between Thailand’s northernmost town and the border boom town of Tachilek (called Thakhilek by the Thai, Shan and ‘Khun’ peoples). Depending on the current situation in Myanmar’s Shan State, where Shan rebels continue to battle Yangon troops despite warlord Khun Sa’s 1996 surrender to Yangon, border permits for up to two weeks may be obtained from the Burmese immigration at the border for excursions to Tachilek and beyond as far north as Kengtung and Mengla. You can also use this border as a way to renew your Thai visa if you happen to be in Northern Thailand.

It remains off limits to travel west to Taunggyi; you must leave the way you came, via Tachilek. During parts of 1994 and 1995 this border crossing closed for a few months due to fighting between Shan insurgent armies and the Burmese.

Rumour has it that an overland route all the way to China via Kengtung will soon open here, but so far Kengtung’s the end of the line. The road continuing west from Kengtung to Taunggyi is in usable condition, although this runs through the opium poppy harvesting area of the Golden Triangle, a common site for Shan army clashes with the Yangon military, and is definitely off limits to non-Burmese. It’s 163km on from Tachilek to Kengtung, and another 450km from Kengtung to Taunggyi.

Further to the south, in Thailand’s Mae Chan district, it is possible to cross the border almost everywhere – with a local and reliable guide. This is opium country and Sunday strollers are not welcome.

A gateway for various invading armies and an important smuggling route for many centuries, this is one of the most interesting and accessible of the border crossing points.

Now that the Burmese have wrested control from the Mon and Karen armies, there is also legal trading happening at Three Pagodas Pass. The settlement on the Burmese side, called Payathonzu (Three Pagodas), is open on and off to foreign tourists for day trips. Travellers have been allowed to go as far as a dozen or so kilometres inside Myanmar from this point, but teh roads are so bad that almost no-one makes it even that far.

Chiang Dao

A dirt track turns left 10km north of Chiang Dao in Chiang Mai Province and leads through the small town of Meuang Ngai to Na Ok at the border. This was the most popular opium route from Myanmar 25 years ago, but the main trading items now are water buffalo and lacquer. It would be wise to be very careful in this area.

Kawthaung

You can travel by boat between Kawthaung in Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Division and the port of Ranong in Thailand via the Gulf of Martaban and Pakchan Estuary. Exiting Myanmar from Kawthaung is now legal, and you don’t need a visa to enter Thailand for a 30 day stay or less. In the reverse direction you won’t need a Myanmar visa for a day trip, but if you plan to stay overnight or to continue farther north, you’ll need a valid Myanmar visa.

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