Here are some excerpts from Trip Advisor reviews about Mae Sai:
– Not worth going to if you’re not on your way to somewhere else, or making a visa run.
– Don’t go here just to see the border, as it’s quite a trip from Chiang Rai.
– Waste of time!
– Worth a brief stop on a tour, but not a major attraction on its own.
And it goes on like this, which is why Trip Advisor is a giant piece of shit.
But perhaps a website like Trip Advisor is a blessing for the rest of us, because if we see a bunch of poor reviews, we can almost guarantee that there won’t be throngs of hard-to-please tourists sweating everywhere, talking down to locals and whinging about everything.
I don’t have a clue what these people are looking for when they travel, but clearly it isn’t the same thing as me. Mae Sai was great.
We stayed in the ‘Mae Sai Guesthouse’, which is located on the edge of the Ruak River – a river that acts as natural border between Myanmar and Thailand. As I type this, I can turn my head and practically see into the houses on the opposite bank. The river is only about ten metres wide, quite shallow, and would be incredibly easy to use as a quick passage between countries. Boys from Myanmar played in the river, a game that involved one person throwing a ball at another person’s head, then laughing that maniacal, mocking, laugh that the Burmese have.
Mae Sai Town
The town itself was a thrumming hub of cheap, pirated merchandise, flashing LED lights, and all the roadside food vendors anyone would ever need. Had there ever been an idea to form a ‘grid-like’ town, the notion was obviously abandoned. Narrow alleys snaked past noodles drying, woks steaming, and the sandy thud of petanque balls. One of the main highways in the country – Highway 1 – leads directly through the centre of the town and straight to the border; a gated bridge. There is one lane for cars with a constant jam of traffic (number plates in Burmese and Thai), one lane for motorcycles, and a walk-through area which didn’t seem to have the luxury of a queue, so opted for a more traditional, ‘the most pushy person wins’ situation.
We managed to find a calm patch for border crossings by foot (although the traffic jam seemed to be constant), and asked what would be required to pop through for the day. The answer was 500 Baht each and a new 15-day stamp into Thailand upon re-entry. This dissuaded us, mostly because we had more than 15 days left on our current visas.
It was impossible not to be intrigued by ‘Bird’, a garish hotel ornamented with golden gladiators. It was clear as we pulled in that nobody was staying there, and the five teenagers who seemed to run the place didn’t quite know what to do with us.
“Okay to take photo?” Caroline asked. They motioned that it was.
“Can we see inside room?” I ventured. They agreed, and a boy lead us to have a look.
Considering that the room was very nice, very clean, and had a great view of large, golden, amply-muscled archers, this was actually quite a reasonable price. But having never been intending to stay in the first place, we waved goodbye.
Now here’s something. We happened to be in town during a festival of some kind, but we have no idea what the festival was. It was too early for Loi Krathong; it seemed quite heavily influenced by the Burmese – but the people we spoke to didn’t know what it was, and the internet doesn’t offer much help. Whatever it was, it was quite a spectacle. There was a street parade, a fair, games, sideshows and performances.
It was also possibly the first time in my life that I’ve seen people not care about fireworks. At one point, colourful explosions started booming overhead, and people didn’t even turn to look. I tried to take some photos, but if you’ve ever tried to take photos of fireworks, you’ll understand why those photos won’t be found in this post.
The last post I wrote was about trash robots. After we’d had our fill of trash robots, we continued driving and sped past a thing called ‘Happy Farm’, which had more robots standing outside it. We made a mental note to return there, and on our second day in Mae Sai, we did just that.
Happy farm is essentially a pen filled with sheep, surrounded by an ice cream shop, a cafe, a steak restaurant, and a sea of strawberry fields. People can pay to take a bale of grass into the sheep pen, and then the sheep bleat and jump on the person in order to eat the grass. Around the site was a groundskeeper who spent half his time laying a concrete path, and the other half choosing which music to play at a little DJ booth.
Dotted around the complex were Spider-men, a Godzilla, and some Ultramen. None of it made much sense.
Wat Prathat Doi Tung
“We should try and get there,” I said to Caroline, pointing at a golden peak high on a hill as we drove away from Happy Farm. Caroline agreed, and I took what I supposed was the most likely turn to get there.
I was totally wrong, and we ended up going to a reasonably well-known temple called Wat Prathat Doi Tung instead. The temple itself wasn’t anything much different from the many others we’ve visited, but it did have a very nice long path lined with bells. Sticks were supplied at either end of the path, and so you could ding your way down it. At the end, unceremoniously, was a toilet.
The best part, however, was the trip up. The drive took around 45 minutes and was mostly steep climbing through stunning mountains and clouds. The road hugged the border of Myanmar, occasionally crossing it briefly, and soldiers with unnecessarily large guns were stationed at regular intervals, presumably to keep those pesky Burmese out.