I’m currently typing this blog post from the rooftop at Backpack Hostel in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I just arrived here via private shuttle from the border city of Mae Sai to Myanmar. This hostel is located only a few hundred feet from the bus station, it’s clean and cozy, gets really good reviews on HostelWorld, and the tattooed owner is super friendly. Her name is Apple, like the Computer — Steve Jobs would approve. My day began by waking up at 4am in the morning, drinking a much-needed cup of coffee, finishing another chapter of the gripping adventure novel Into Thin Air, and hopping in a taxi cab to the bus station in Chiang Mai. It was located about 5 km outside the Old City Square, and there was no way I was going huff it along dark streets, so I had reception staff at D-Well Hostel reserve a taxi driver the night before. I paid the conversational driver 150 Baht for the enjoyable ride, grabbed a quite bite to eat, and waited patiently for my bus. I realized I forgot to take a screenshot of my electronic ticket (purchased on 12Go.Asia for only 253 Baht), so I rushed into the ticket sales office. No Wi-Fi! Luckily, a friendly couple let me borrow their phone hotspot. I get by with a little help from my friends. I was assigned to the front row VIP seat, and we were off to the races!
This Green Bus was headed to the Thailand – Myanmar border town of Mae Sai. The trip duration was expected to be about 5 hours. I talked to a girl at my hostel the night before who just extended her visa another month. She went to the immigration office in Chiang Mai and got it taken care of for $60 USD. I’m still a broke backpacker and not about to fork over that kinda money when I can go on an exciting adventure and pay a fraction of the cost. Smart advice from straight out of Travel Hacking 101. I usually find it very difficult to sleep on buses and planes. I’d much rather listen to music, read a book, watch a movie, or look at changing scenery out the window. Travelers are usually curious dreamers on the run. The first half-hour of the trip was mostly on shoddy dirt roads. The lady beside me was snoring up a storm, so I put on my headphones and blasted the new album Tame Impala as we motored along down the road of dreams. Before too long, we pulled into a bus station in a nondescript town for a bathroom break and snack food. I immediately noticed three monks sitting on a bench looking positively zen. I politely asked if I could take a photo and captured this striking image in a single shot (the third monk is out of frame)…
I grabbed a Thai iced tea and hurried back to the Green Bus. The scenery was beautiful! As an avid world traveler, I’m pretty much immune to the culture shock by now. Sometimes it still hits me, and I just embrace it. We passed an assortment Buddhist temples along the way. You often see monks walking along the side of the road dressed in traditional orange garments.
Did you know Thailand is 95% Buddhist? It’s like a different world (more peaceful and enlightened). That’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to stay another 30 days in Thailand. Which is also why I find myself on this bus to the Thai-Myanmar border. There’s still lots of places I want to explore in this beautiful country. I spent the majority of my first month in Southern Thailand (Phuket, Koh Lanta, Krabi, Koh Tao, etc). Now it’s time to travel around the Northern part. There’s so many amazing temples, national parks, waterfalls, not to mention interesting people to meet.
But I’m getting distracted… Back on the bus. At 11:20AM, we arrive at the bus station in Mae Sai, a group of us hop on a red taxi-truck which takes you to the border (for only 15 Baht), and in about 10 minutes we’re there! I’m getting irrationally nervous at this point. Lots of “What If’s” are racing through my mind. “What if I get stuck in Myanmar and can’t return to Thailand?”, “What if I have to buy an expensive visa?”, “What if my camera equipment is seized?”, bla bla bla. Of course, none of those hypotheticals occured.
I simply showed my passport to Customs on the Thai side, scanned my fingertips, and walked through the gate. I couldn’t resist taking a few photos on the other side. A guy at immigration motions me to passport control. I exchange a few short words with the disgruntled officer, he asks if I’m doing any shopping in Myanmar, “No, sir!”, he stamps my passport with entrance and exit, and I pay him the mandatory 500 Baht fee. Then I walk the short distance back to Thailand and get the visa-exempt passport stamp to extend my stay another month until March 24th! As usual, the officer asks if the picture on the back of my passport is my son, and I reply, “No, that’s me when I was 2 years old.” I don’t have a son and never plan to have kids. The entire process took about 15-20 minutes, it makes for an interesting story, and I saved about $50! Not too shabby if I say so myself. Note: You can apparently make a land border crossing only twice per year. That’s alright, since I’m going to Vietnam in late March!
I’m excited to spend a few days in Chiang Rai, then go to Pai, and make the legendary drive on motorbike back to Chiang Mai, which is a very popular destination for digital nomads and remote workers such as myself. I’ll probably call it a home base for the next month while exploring other areas on Northern Thailand. Maybe I’ll even make it down to Bangkok which I’ve been avoiding up to this point. It’s a large bustling polluted city (population: 12 million) which isn’t all that appealing to me. But I feel like it’s important to experience the place while I’m here. Only time will tell. Just remember: You can always make more money, but you’ll NEVER get your time back! Choose to spend it wisely doing something you love.
That’s the story of my journey crossing the border into Myanmar. Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed it, and maybe even learned a thing or two. You may also be interested in my other blog post entitled How To Extend Your Visa in Thailand. Now, without further ado, I’m going to take an urgent nap since I’m exhausted from a very early morning. Tomorrow I plan to rent a scooter and ride to a few famous temples, including the famous Wat Rong Khun White Temple, and maybe Phu Chi Fa National Park.