Mae Sot (แม่สอด) is in Tak Province, Thailand at an elevation of around 210 m. It is a trade hub and has a substantial population of Burmese migrants and refugees. It is the main gateway by land between Thailand and Myanmar because of the Friendship Bridge connecting Mae Sot to Myawaddy in Myanmar.
The Friendship Bridge is part of the Trilateral Highway, aka Asian Superhighway, that is being built to connect Moreh, India and Mae Sot, passing by Mandalay. It has gained notoriety for its trade in gems and teak, as well as black market services such as people trafficking and drugs.
The city is part of Tak Province, 87 km from the city of Tak and 492 km from Bangkok. It is home to the district headquarters of Mae Sot District.
There are two bus stations in Mae Sot: 1 the city bus station just south of the market with lower frequency, and 2 the western bus station, the main hub. From the western bus station there are motor bikes and tuk tuk taxis. It is best to have a map and your destination on it. The typical fare for a shared ride into town and guest houses is not more than 20 baht - negotiate prior to embarking. For direct taxis the fare can be between 50 and 100 baht. Or you can walk the 2.5 km.
Access from Tak is 86 km along Hwy 105 via Doi Musoe (870 m) and Doi Son (784 m). Tak is on the regular bus route between Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
Frequent mini buses connect Mae Sot directly with Tak bus station, starting at 05:30 and ending around 19:00, and should depart every 30 minutes from the southern end of Burmese market. However those that are already full can be expected to leave early, and those that are not will probably go late. The journey takes about 90 minutes and costs approximately 78 baht/person. The surcharge for putting a bicycle on the roof rack is 50 baht.
The travel time between Mae Sot and Bangkok is about 7-8 hr. There are buses in the early morning and late evening (20:00, 21:00, 22:00) from Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok - but arrive at least 2 hr before your intended journey if have not booked ahead. A single ticket for the VIP buses cost approximately 613 baht per person. Try to get a spot on the top level of the VIP bus away from the toilets at the bottom level. There are also cheaper 1st and 2nd class buses, 382 baht and 306 baht respectively. Towards Bangkok the buses leave Mae Sot early in the morning and throughout the evening (18:00, 19:00, 20:00, 21:00).
From Bangkok you will most likely arrive at the western bus station, but you can try to get off when the bus passes the city centre. Most buses from the city bus station towards Bangkok will also stop at the western bus station.
Green Buses from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot depart daily at 08:30 and 13:10 (1st class).
Minivans from Sukhothai Bus Station leave 09:15, 10:15,14:15 & 16:15 (3 hr travel time).
You can walk across the 3 friendship bridge directly from Myawaddy to Mae Sot. The bridge is 700 m long and the walk takes 10 min or so, but is completely exposed to the elements (no shelter/shade). You pass through immigration on the Burmese side, then again to enter Thailand where free visa-on-arrival (valid for 30 days) is available for many nationalities. Both sides of the bridge have "foreigner" booths which generally provide a fast service versus the crowds of locals crossing back and forth. Remember to have an address of your destined stay promptly available, as the Thai immigration staff may be a bit less nicer than the Burmese one demanding this information.
Buses leave twice daily from Yangon to Myawaddy directly, morning and evening, with several different companies to choose from. 9,000-15,000 kyat, often including transfer from Yangon city to the appropriate bus terminal. Depending on the departure they may be arrive to late to cross the border in time, so check ahead.
Buses (5,000 kyat) and various shared taxis (10,000 kyat) also go directly from Hpa-An and Mawlamyine throughout the day. Nobody wants to buy Myanmar kyat in Thailand, so best to exchange or spend all of it before you cross the border into Thailand.
Once arriving on the Thai side, you can catch a Songthaew to town for 20 baht, motorcycle taxi for 60 baht or attempt to hitchhike, which is generally fairly easy as all traffic is passing alongside Mae Sot, and often includes large pickups and trucks.
However, you may even cross back to Myanmar on the same day.
- 4 Mae Sot Airport (MAQ) (about 1 km (0.62 mi) west of town, and just 3 km (1.9 mi) from the border). Nok Air connects Mae Sot with Bangkok Don Mueang daily for 2700 baht or more (1 hr 10 min). This airport's runway is too short for jet aircraft, but more airlines will fly to this airport once its planned runway extension is complete.
Getting around town is best achieved by foot. If you are planning to explore the surrounding area, bicycles and motorbikes can be rented at many guest houses for approximately 50 and 150 baht per day respectively. A helmet is supplied as the police fine people not wearing one. You have to leave your passport for bond and fill up with petrol when you return it. Cars and 4-wheel drives can be hired from several places around town (e.g., Well Driving, close to Casa Mia).
Taxis come in the form of motorbike or tuk-tuk, usually found near the Burmese market and outside Tesco. The drivers have special licence number jackets. Prices depend on distance, number of passengers and your negotiation skills, but as a rough guide, 50-100 baht for most places around the town.
In the city
- 1 Wat Mani Herbal Sauna (on the east side of town, north-west of Tesco Lotus; if you walk east on the northern main road, 300 m past the post office, enter the temple complex at the sign 'Wat Mani', walk straight and turn right around the main building). Open afternoons. This is a must do when in Mae Sot. Bring your own towel and water bottle. Women should wear a sarong or loose wrap. There are separate sections for men and women. The steam room is just 3x2 m but gives a good opportunity to mix with the locals. Don't be fooled by the shady surrounding, there is fresh water in the back near the fire and some workout equipment. The herbal sauna is the shady shed at the back of the main temple. 20 baht (bring the exact amount).
- Town markets. The vibrant Burmese market in the centre of town represents an amazing cultural mix. There are Indo-Burmese textiles, food and teak; as well as Karen, Mon, Hmong, and other Burmese minority shops of all kinds. Turtles, eels, and frogs all available at food stalls while pork, chicken, beef, and lamb are also sold. There are numerous gem and jade shops - but they are not for amateurs. (You better be able to tell the difference between real and fake gems if you plan to buy here.) Open morning and evening is a small indoor Thai market at Baan Nua, on the way to Mae Sot Villas with lovely fresh vegetables, meat and cooked take-away meals.
Around the city (sorted by distance)
- 1 Reclining Buddha and Buddha Foot at Wat Thai Wattanaram (on the way to the border, 700 m before the border post, look toward your right). There is a beautiful Buddhist temple which contains a giant reclining Buddha. Continue straight on and find the Buddha's footprint.
- 2 Rim Moei Border Market, Kiosks 113, 45, 6 & 24, ☏ . A whole range of locally made and Chinese and Burmese imports, including bootleg Viagra, cigarettes, whiskey and designer goods, plus gems and plants.
- 3 Mae Kasa Hot Springs (take the road at km13-14 of highway 105). Legend has it that the Mae Kasa Hot Springs are hot enough to boil an egg. There's a nice walk around the area and it's a great place to have a picnic.
- Gibbon Sanctuary (take the light blue songthaew #48 from the main road for an hour and a half; ring the bell to disembark at km41.5). While many other animals reside here, the gibbon sanctuary houses dozens of rescued gibbon, of the great ape group, who are often adopted as pets and then neglected by their owners when they reach adulthood. These fascinating creatures speak to you as you walk among their pens and hand feed them ripe fruit.
- 4 Tararak Waterfall (27 km south of Mae Sot along Hwy 1090). Tararak is part of the Ti Lor Su waterfall group and like its cousin Phra Charoen contains a nice walking trail and plenty of places to picnic.
- 5 Phra Charoen Waterfall (42 km south of Mae Sot on the 'Death Highway' No. 1090). There is a well-beaten trail alongside its 97 steps, providing a beautiful stroll through the jungle. Bring a picnic with you and be prepared to get wet. There is a Burmese refugee camp at Umpiam further south of the Waterfall, in case you are into local politics and society.
Songthaews travel frequently north (Hwy 105) and south (Hwy 1090) in case you don't wanna rent a scooter or bicycle. They leave from the market or you can flag them down on route, but beware they are bone shakers and sometimes very full.
- 2 Gecko Garden Yoga Studio, ☏ . Daily 17:00-18:00. Yoga in a peaceful setting. Mat provided. Regular classes on Monday, Wednesday & Friday. Advanced classes on Tuesday & Thursday. 100 baht per class.
- 3 Puzzlebox Art Courses, 35 Intharakiri Rd, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu-Sa 09:00-17:00. The Puzzlebox offers courses in batik, ceramics, sandblasting and basic art. Professionals teach basic techniques, and you create your own original work. The course culminates in a product you can take home. Participate individually or schedule a group course.
- The most recommended Thai massages are the one on the grounds of Mae Sot Hospital, rear entrance, and the one on the Asian Highway on the left towards the river, just past the traffic lights to Mae Ramat.
- Two Wheels Bike Rental, 10/24 Samaksapphakarn, Ban Mae Sot, ☏ , email@example.com. Explore the scenic surroundings of Mae Sot on bicycle. Fully-loaded Trek 3900 with disc brakes. 216, 218 and 220 inch available. 100 baht/day, 50 baht/half day.
- Youth Connect Foundation, 10/24 Samaksapphakarn Road, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. The increase in long term migrant labourers has resulted in a rapidly growing youth population. In response to the population growth over 75 different migrant schools have been established in the Mae Sot area alone. All together Youth Connect Foundation works with apprentices for a minimum of 10 months. During this time the apprentices will go through three stages: In-School Training Program, Intensive Training Program and Apprenticeship Placement and Career Centre.
- Volunteering in an orphanage, email@example.com. The Center for Children in Need needs short- or long-term volunteers in their grass-roots project for abandoned Burmese children. Volunteers participate in the daily activities and there are often small construction and renovation projects. The director also takes the volunteers to the market and shows them around. You pay 300 baht per day, which includes 3 meals and the use of a bicycle and Internet.
- 1 The weekend market (the road to the east of the police station). This market is famous for its countless local food stalls to the north with a great variety. To the south cloths and local handicraft can be found.
- The main market is a great place to purchase some Burmese goods. Wandering around it is easy to see the ethnic diversity in Mae Sot. It is also a fantastic place to buy great fresh, often live, food.
- There are many gem stone and jewellery shops offering good bargains. Most of the trade is for wholesale however. As with anywhere in Thailand, although many sellers are reputable, be wary that if you look European, low quality stones might be sold for high prices. Do some research before you buy.
- For locally made ethnic handicrafts, fair trade/social enterprise, goods try the Weave & Borderline shops, which are almost opposite each other on Inthrakiree Road heading into town from the west. Borderline also has an artist's gallery, a coffee shop, and free WiFi out the back.
- There are a couple of trekking/tour companies operating out of Mae Sot, with jungle trips, elephant rides and white water rafting. SP Kitchen on Asia Highway is one option, Bai Fern in the centre on Inthrakiree Road is another. Some routes are seasonal and cannot be accessed at the height of the rainy season, May-Oct.
Your best bet would be to walk around and choose the place that looks most promising.
- Aiya, Intharakiree Rd. (when heading east, across from Bai Fern). Thai-Burmese restaurant with an expansive menu in English. Friendly, but very slow service.
- Cafe de Moei (next to PTT, left side of Asian Hwy on the way to Moei River). Good Thai fusion cuisine.
- Casa Mia (left off Intharakiree Rd when east of the bus station at the west end of town). Thai, Burmese, and Western food. Friendly, English-speaking staff, with homemade bread, pasta and cakes.
- Coffee Corner (DK Plaza, opposite DK Hotel on Intharakiree Rd). Thai, Burmese and Western food. Comfortable with friendly staff and Bu, the owner, speaks English. The food is reasonably priced with good service. They make excellent coffee.
- Hazel Cafe (right side of Intharakiree Rd, just before the police station). Sleek décor with delicious cakes and chocolates. Air conditioning and free WiFi.
- Krua Canadian Cafe (Mae Sot centre, opposite the police station on Inthrakiree Rd). 07:00-. European, Mexican, and Thai menu. The owner always offers help to foreigners. Reasonable prices with good quality food. Sells take-away bread, wine, and Thai coffee in gift bags. Free WiFi.
- Mai Thai. Lovely place to eat and drink. The Thai owner and chef cooks each dish to order according to her northern Thai roots. Open early for "after-work" drinks and on until late. Food is tasty, but standards of hygiene are not perfect.
- Opposite T Corner (Fishtank, due to its location next to an aquarium shop). Good Thai food. Don't be put off by the décor and TV soaps as the food is all freshly cooked in front of you by a chef recently returned from a top Bangkok hotel.
- 1 The Passport @ HCTC, ☏ . Th F Sa nights. Call for reservation. Vocational restaurant run by the Hospitality & Catering Training Centre, a charity offering a hospitality programme to under-privileged children of the Tak-Myanmar border. As part of their studies for the Certificate of Hospitality and Tourism, students are required to master basic cooking and service techniques. In order to enable this, they have opened a casual dining venue opened to the public 3 nights per week. Great cocktails and the most extensive wine list in Mae Sot. Thai specialities: sum tam spring rolls, tom yam gung, curries, dessert tray. All reasonably priced.
- Peace Cafe (Sawanwithi Rd in town centre, at the traffic light of Intharakiri Rd, just round the corner from the VIP bus stop to Bangkok). 09:00-21:00. Supports the Best Friend Libraries and education projects. Sunday night at 19:00 is the Burma Film Series, admission free. European and Burmese food. Many vegetarian dishes. Bicycles for rent and guided tours.
- SP Kitchen (left side of Asian Hwy heading towards the border with Burma). Delicious Burmese, Thai, and Western food.
- Wadee Restaurant (up the road from Casa Mia). Delicious Burmese food, also some Thai dishes. Very friendly service.
- Yellow Green Coffee Shop, 599/1 Inthrakiree Rd (westbound, before Irawadee Resort). Owned by a husband & wife, who bake daily. Free Wi-Fi and has a nice balcony on the 2nd floor.
- A bit past the mosque the road splits, and on the right fork at the end of the 1st block is a wonderful fried chicken take-away.
- Two steak houses are on Asia Hwy. One is named "Cowboy & Indian" (note "Cowboy & Indian" burned down in 2015 but is being rebuilt). The other is a bit further east and has a bright yellow sign.
- The Night Market is terrific for late diners as the open air shops stay open quite late. All Thai food with English menus.
- Sweet Harmony Coffee Shop and Bakery, 2/3 Sripanich Rd, ☏ , . Pleasant atmosphere in a bustling central location with good snacks and drinks.
- Y2K. A Thai nightclub. The interior is "table style" where everyone has their own group and table. On Friday and Saturday nights host a large number of ladyboys with live music. Admission is 70 baht, includes a small Leo beer.
- Centre For Children In Need (in Ban Nonq King Fa, close to KWO, Backpack, CDC, airport and bus terminal). Homestay in grass roots project. 3 rooms available with fan, shared bathroom. Village has WiFi, taxi, restaurants and shops. 25 min by bike to town centre. Supports the orphanage. 80 baht.
- 1 Smile Guest House, 738 Intharakeeree Rd (beside Ban Thai Guesthouse and 5 min walk from Borderline Shop/Cafe), ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: 12:00. Clean and simple. Staff speaks good English. Free WiFi. 100-250 baht, 100 baht single rooms with fans, 180 baht double room with fan and en suite bath, 250 baht with air-con.
- 2 Lusy's Home Guest House. TV, hot shower, fan and a bottle of water. 200 baht.
- 3 Green Guest House (130 m south of the central Mae Sot bus station (and market), crossing the bridge). Check-in: Any if room available, check-out: 12ː00. An attractive and quiet collection of small rooms run by a friendly local family. Warm showers, towel provided, fan or air-con rooms with decent WiFi. 250 baht.
- 4 Zee Guest House (next to the city bus station), ☏ . Convenient location. 200/300/400 baht (fan/air-con/double).
- 5 DK Guest House, 298 Intarakeeree Rd. A well-used tourist hang out with mostly older NGO people, missionaries, and the like. Tiled big double rooms with air, Western toilet (hot water), cable TV, and a balcony; fan double rooms are cheaper. Don't get the rooms at either end as the noise can be a bit much from chickens and cars very early in the morning. The staff are nice; Internet is available in the lobby, as well as free WiFi throughout the hotel. Cable TV includes BBC, Al Jazeera, MTV, Thai, Burmese, and Chinese channels. Rating at Tripadvisorː 3 of 5 stars 250-400 baht.
- 6 Krissana Guesthouse (ehemals Baan Tung Guesthouse), 63/4 Baan Tung Road (ask for directions, the GPS coordinates might only indicate the road), ☏ , , email@example.com. A boutique style mid-range place to stay. Quiet location, close to the town, markets, eating places and en route from the bus station. Large, clean and very comfortable en suite bath, double rooms with locally crafted furniture and seating area. Have a fridge, cable TV, and free WiFi. Enjoy fresh coffee on the balcony or terrace and obtain excellent information from the Thai owner, Kung, or his friendly staff who speak Thai, English, and Burmese. High ratings on Booking.com and TripAdvisor. 350-650 baht (fan, air-con, deluxe).
- 7 The Charm, 11/41 Intharakiri Rd, Soi 3 (just outside the gate to Mae Sot Villa in the east of town), ☏ , . A boutique hotel with style and atmosphere. Offers clean, quiet, affordable accommodations. All rooms are en suite with air-con, cable TV, hot showers, towels, complimentary water, free unlimited WiFi. Free bikes for guests. Services include pick-up and drop-off, massage, laundry, room service, English classes, cooking classes and photo/video. Native English-speaking staff can provide excellent information regarding the area and assist in organizing local sightseeing trips. Long-term rates available. Has a full-service restaurant on the ground floor. Good views of Mae Sot are from the penthouse. Conference room available. Smoking is permitted on balconies and the outside eating area of the restaurant. Two single rooms, each costing 400 baht, 550 baht with breakfast, 650 baht during high season. Six double rooms which cost 600-700 baht with breakfast.
- 8 Picturebook Guest House, 125/4-6, Soi 19, Intharakiri Rd, Mae Sot Amphoe, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. A non-profit guest house run by a local organization that works in vocational training. Its design is unique and detailed and the rooms clean and comfortable. Described on their website as "boutique on a budget", it contains a secluded garden with a horseshoe recreation area and a beer-drinking table. Breakfast, air-con, hot water showers in all rooms. Ground floor rooms 500 baht, balcony rooms 700 baht.
- 9 Maesod Guesthouse, 208/4 Intharakhiri Rd., ☏ , . Here is only spoken Thai. Six bungalows with private covered parking. Reasonable rooms with hot water bath, TV, free fast Wi-Fi and cold drinking water. Close to the tourist police for information and city map. 200 baht fan, 350 baht A/C.
- Auntie's B&B, Intharakiri Rd, Mae Sot, ☏ . A tiny, friendly, and comfortable bed & breakfast that will make you feel like home when staying here. They also have a good selection on their menu with a big breakfast, excellent coffee, a selection of teas and delicious yogurt smoothies. Beautiful garden, clean nice rooms, air/fan & hot shower, towels & shampoo at premium quality, free WiFi, free coffee and tea available 24 hr at main living room, free bicycles for guests.
- 10 First Hotel, 444 Intharakiri Road, ☏ . Has invested its time and energy on its interior with wood carvings covering ceilings and bedposts, leaving the exterior to be remarkable only by their omission. Air-con rooms with double beds are available, as are other variations.
- 11 Irawadee Resort, 758 / 1-2 Intrarakiree Road, Mae Sot (Westbound), ☏ , , email@example.com. Hotel décor is of old classic Thai-Myanmar style. Clean and well-maintained rooms making you feel like you're staying in a real hotel, not only overnight sleep room. Free WiFi and breakfast included in the room rate. Opposite and surrounding it are several restaurants and coffee shops: Bor-Kung Phao, dinner only with seafood caught in Myanmar; Krua Kon Wan, lunch & dinner Thai-style food; Som Tam shop; Chansuda Shop, Thai traditional desserts and snacks; Yellow Green Coffee Shop, coffee, tea and baked goods; T Corner, coffee and some food. 850-1,250 baht.
- 12 Centara Mae Sot Hill Resort, 100 Asia Road, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. 2,000 baht.
Remember, there are two bus stations in Mae Sot, so be sure you know which station your bus departs from.
Around Mae Sot
Another way to leave Mae Sot is to catch the minibus to Tak to connect to onward buses. These leave throughout the day around every 40 min from the old market area which is over the bridge from Green Guesthouse. The trip to Tak takes around 1½ hr and costs 78 baht.
Songthaews travel frequently to Mae Sariang (north) and Umphang (south). They leave from the market or you can flag them down on route, but beware they are bone shakers and sometimes very full.
Further east of Umphang lies Khlong Lan National Park. The park covers around 300 sq km with its highest point at 1440-m-high Khun Klong Lan. Wildlife includes sambar deer, wild pig and macaques. There are also a number of waterfalls, including the Khlong Lan Waterfall which cascades over a 100-m-high rock face. The Khlong Nam Lai Waterfall is good for swimming.
In addition to the Mae Sot to Mo Chit (Bangkok) route, buses also travel directly to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Departure times from Mae Sot are 06:00 and 08:00 from the main bus terminal. Tickets can usually be purchased without problems at the station on the morning of departure and are 250-350 baht or 350-500 baht, respectively, depending on the service class. Ask your guesthouse to arrange an early morning tuk-tuk to the station. The ticket booth opens at 05:30. The Green Bus, direct to Chiang Mai, has moved its ticket office to a building on the Asia Hwy just to the west of Hwy 105 North. Total travel time to Chiang Mai is about 6 hr and Chiang Rai about 9 hr.
Along the Myanmar border Mae Hong Son is another destination north of Mae Sot.
One bus line serves Laem Ngop, (Ko Chang), and Mukdahan daily. The company that runs this service is Phetprasert. The Laem Ngop bus travels south towards Bangkok, veering east before entering the city, and then travelling along the coast via Chonburi and Rayong. The travel time from Mae Sot to the ferry departure point for Ko Chang is around 16 hr and the ticket costs 750 baht. The Mukdahan bus makes station-only stops, including Sukhothai, Phitsanulok and Khon Kaen. The company claims that total journey time is 12-14 hr.
Famous for its ruins is the ancient city Sukhothai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is about 170 km away from Mae Sot. As of June 2019 there's no direct connection to Sukhothai. However, you can take a minivan or minibus from the small bus station south of the market to Tak (78 baht). From Tak there are frequent bus connections to Sukhothai (56 Baht). Both journeys combined take around 3 hr.
Songthaews to the friendship bridge leave frequently from the far side of the Burmese market. Locals should be able to point you in the right direction. They depart throughout the day, but only when full, so wait times may be up to an hour. Best to go fairly early morning, when the locals do. 20 baht per person, and be prepared to squeeze in. Motorcycle taxis cost 60 baht.
Be aware that there is no visa on arrival available in Myanmar, so you will need to have obtained a visa previously. The E-Visa is also accepted at this land border. After passing through customs in Thailand, you can walk across the bridge (10-15 min) and stroll into customs on the Myanmar side. Both customs offices have booths for foreigners, speeding up the process. From Myawaddy it is easy to catch onward transport into Myanmar (Hpa-An and Mawlamyine), although generally easier earlier in the morning before the border opens at 06:00 Thai expats; remember to obtain your Thai re-entry visa before crossing.