In a nutshell
Mae Sot is a border town in the western district of Tak province, roughly 400 km northwest of Bangkok.
Why go to Mae Sot
Located just 5 km from the border with Myanmar, it is a busy town which has been discovered by Western travellers only after 2013, when the overland border crossing to the Burmese town of Myawaddy was opened to foreigners.
Mae Sot is a multi-ethnic city with an incredible mix of Thai, Burmese, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani people and several Burmese minority groups with Karens having the larger share but Hmong, Yao, Lahu also represented. They all live together in peace and concordance, along with a number of Western NGO workers and volunteers trying to help thousands of refugees in the region – the biggest Karen refugee camp is about 60 km away from Mae Sot and hosts 40,000 people.
Visit to Mae Sot is like being thrown into new Biblical times – with people speaking different languages, observing different traditions, eating different food and wearing different clothes, but somehow still able to understand each other and go along with each other.
Nowadays Mae Sot is an important trade centre for Burmese products, especially gems and teak wood. Visiting one of the many of Mae Sot markets will give you endless opportunities for shopping and if you need to bring home some souvenir, here you’ll find if not unique then at least different trick-a-tracks compared to what is sold everywhere else in Thailand.
There is a beautiful waterfall, hot springs and gibbon sanctuary around Mae Sot wish you stay in town for a couple of days and explore further afield.
When to go to Mae Sot
Rainy season in Mae Sot usually starts in May and finishes in October, but we would be concerned about rain only in July and August when storms can be quite heavy and last longer.
The winter season lasts from November until February and is usually extremely dry, but don’t expect it to be a lot cooler than the rest of the year. April can be really hot, but it’s also Songkran time and Mae Sot is one of the best places to celebrate the Thai New Year; the Thai and Burmese city dwellers will challenge each other participating in sports competitions, cultural performances and beauty contests; and of course there’s plenty of water to make everyone forget the heat.
Where to stay in Mae Sot
Mae Sot has quite a big choice when it comes to accommodation and generally speaking you’ll get better deals here than in many other places in Thailand. You’ll find cheap guesthouses and backpackers solutions along with nicer hotels and resorts aiming at travellers on a mid-range budget.
There’s no need to book in advance at any time of the year unless you really want to be sure to find a room in a specific place. Many of the guesthouses, restaurants and bars geared to foreigners can be found just west of the city centre along Intarakiree Road.
Where to eat in Mae Sot
Food is an experience in Mae Sot and it’s one of the main reasons why many people passing through on their way to Myanmar decide to stop for a few more days in town.
Local markets serving authentic Burmese food are everywhere, small shops and restaurants aiming mainly at refugees will be more than happy to make you try their traditional food; street stalls serving roti; Muslim quarters where you can taste Thai-Muslim cuisine – what do you want more? Add a number of restaurants offering Chinese, Thai and of course Burmese food in a nice and comfortable setting – the choice of places to eat in really surprising. And if you need Western food, there are quite a few options available as well.
How to get around Mae Sot
Walking around Mae Sot is the best way to visit it and to immerge yourself in the multitude of cultures and ethnic diversity. Be prepared to get lost while visiting the markets; you’ll probably find yourself wondering where the hell the way back to your hotel is, but don’t be too intimidated by that; get a map at your guesthouse and if worst comes to worst motorbike taxies and tuk-tuks are available at every corner and for few baht (THB50/100 depending on the distance and your ability to bargain) they will take you anywhere. Bicycles (THB50 per day) and motorbikes (THB250 per day) can be rented in many guesthouses and rental shops.
How to get to and from Mae Sot
A small airport is located a couple of km from Mae Sot. Nok Air operates daily flights from Bangkok and Yangon with rates starting at THB1200. Taxis and tuk-tuks will take you to town for THB100/150.
There are two bus stations in town; the old one in the centre of town is still alive, but it is served by slow local buses heading to a bunch of regional destinations. The new main bus station is located close to the airport and offers direct connections to many towns and provinces in Thailand. Motorbike taxis, tuk-tuks and shared songthaews are available to get to/from the bus station. Expect to pay THB20 for the shared vehicle or THB150 for a private tuk-tuk.
Many of the buses calling to this station will drop you in town if you ask them and this is particularly helpful if you’re arriving early in the morning or late at night when otherwise you’ll probably find only motorbike taxis to give you a ride to town.
In Bangkok buses for Mae Sot leave Morchit bus terminal either in the morning (from 8.00am until 10.00am) or in the evening (from 6.00pm to 11.00pm). Depending on the route they take and how long they stop in other cities the journey can take anywhere from 8 to 13 hours. We would recommend to avoid the 6.00pm bus if you don’t want to find yourself wandering around Mae Sot in the early morning. Tickets start at THB350 for a second class bus while a more comfortable VIP bus is THB650.
If you’re coming from Sukhothai or Kamphaeng Phet minibuses are available form 7.00am until 3.00pm and tickets are THB140.
If you’re planning to visit the North of Thailand you don’t need to go back to Bangkok; take a bus to the stunning Mae Sariang (THB200, available every half an hour) and get connections from there to Mae Hong Song and Chiang Mai.
Daily direct buses head from Mae Sot to Chiang Mai (6 hours, THB250) or to farther destinations like Laem Ngop (ferry to Koh Chang, 16 hours, THB750).
If you’re heading to Myanmar, the border is few km away from the downtown area. A tuk-tuk there will charge you THB100; otherwise take a shared blue songthaew (THB20; they stop close to the market area, ask your guesthouse for directions). Once you cross the border the small town of Myawaddy is right there (accommodation and food options are available). Please notice that without a proper visa Western tourists can enter Myanmar only for a short time (usually a day) which will be enough just for a quick visit or a visa run. If you’re planning to travel around Myanmar make sure you have your visa already.
Is Mae Sot a safe place to visit?
Mae Sot is generally a safe place to travel but it requires a bit more attention than other parts of Thailand. Occasional pick-pocketing cases occur so be careful with your valuables.
Pay attention when shopping for jewellery and gems; the majority of the vendors are honest and trustworthy, but unless you’re an expert and you can tell a fake stone from a real one we wouldn’t recommend you to buy anything super expensive.
Stray dogs can be quite intimidating at night but they’re usually harmless; bring a torch with you and use your voice to scare them off if needed.