Although just 5 m across the river from Mae Sai, the northernmost town in Thailand, Tachileik seems a different world. The happy outgoing atmosphere that you have been used to in Thailand evaporates instantly and is replaced by a slightly uptight one. This is not to say that the Burmese people are not welcoming, indeed they love tourists and are very keen to sit down and talk (when they think they are not being watched), but do not expect to feel at ease here, and do not be surprised if you are followed by government people throughout the town. As long as your purposes are legitimate, you follow local rules and customs and you don't go around making a spectacle of yourself, you will have a great time in Tachileik and the border area of Burma. The demeanour of the locals has lightened greatly since the advent of Myanmar's fledgling democracy and much of the feeling of being watched has dissipated. As of October 2017 the transformation in Tachilek has been remarkable. Now it is Mae Sai that is a quiet backwater now that visa-runners have been banned and there are few tourists and Tachilek is now a fun place to spend the day. Everyone from the immigration officials to local market traders has a sense of joie de vivre that did not exist even 3 or 4 years ago. If anyone is watching anyone nowadays it is on the Thai side with officialdom watching over many aspects of peoples increasingly regulated lives whilst Tachilek has taken on the mantle of party town.
The majority of people crossing over to Myanmar are Thais shopping for bootlegged Chinese goods in the market. Alternatively some Thais cross to play golf on the only course in the region, so expect to see the surreal sight of large groups of people crossing the border carrying sets of clubs. There are also 3 casinos in Tachileik, one of which caters to "low" rollers. You may even find a 10 baht roulette table. There are very few foreigners making the crossing these days.
If you are expecting to see the real Myanmar, this is not the place to do it. If you are "stamp collecting" in your passport, want to see something a bit more visceral than what you find in Thailand or are at loose ends in Chiang Rai for the day, then this is a good place to go. A good thing about visiting is the ease of entry to the border area, getting another stamp in your passport and getting a flavour of life in Myanmar.
A 14 day visa is USD10 or 500 baht. Note, if your USD10 is not in pristine condition, the authorities will not accept it. They really want 500 baht instead since it is worth USD16. As of October 2017, $10 is readily accepted again and the notes no longer need to be pristine. The visa is valid only for the Tachilek-Kengtung area and is not for travel to other parts of Myanmar. Note that the Myanmar Immigration authorities will hold on to your passport for the duration of your stay in the country, giving you an entry permit instead. You will get your passport back on crossing back over to Thailand, on the right side of the bridge (facing Thailand). Holders of a normal one-month Myanmar visa cannot use it to enter at Mae Sai. As of November 2017, foreigners holding Myanmar e-visas can enter the country at Tachilek.
Ensure you have the appropriate travel documents to re-enter Thailand at Mae Sai, you will only be able to get a 15 day entry pass into Thailand rather than the usual 30 day one that you get at the airport. If you have a visa and want to keep it, remember to get a re-entry permit in advance. As of July 2016 even 15 day entry Thai entry stamps are not being issued and a large sign at the border stresses that the crossing cannot be used by visa-runners.
If you are a Thai citizen, you can get a temporary border pass at the Mae Sai District office, about 2 km before the border on Pahonyotin Rd in Mae Sai, for 30 baht. The building for border pass applications is to the right of the main district office building. All you need is your bat prachachon (ID card). The pass is valid for 7 days only at the Mae Sai-Tachileik crossing, as of December 2019.
Shared taxis (USD12) and buses (USD8) run to Kengtung (4-5 hr) in the mornings. A permit is necessary but bus and taxi drivers can make the arrangements (don't show up at the last minute). Onward travel from Kengtung to Mong La on the Chinese border is possible with permission from Myanmar immigration, easily organised in Kengtung.
Tachilek is small and there are plenty of trishaws for hire; short 1-2 hour tours can be negotiated for about 200-300 baht. Motorcycle taxis and car taxis are also available. The bus station and airport are outside town on the road to Kengtung. Take a pickup or hire a taxi to get there.
- Market. The local market, populated by vendors from villages near and far, is worth a visit. The market closes in mid-morning. A second market caters to day tourists from Thailand.
- Shwedagon Paya. The main pagoda in town, it is large and gilded. Not to be confused with its namesake in Yangon.
- Regina Casino. Try your luck here, a short 100 baht tuk-tuk ride from the border. They're the same people who own the golf course. Definitely for low rollers, you can play roulette with 10 baht chips. They've also got blackjack, craps and gaming machines. If you change 2,000 baht into chips you get a free Thai lunch. You can change remaining chips afterwards. A casino minibus will take you back to the border.
Tachileik market is much like any market you would find on the Thai side of the border except that it sells a large quantity of items that may get you into trouble with customs authorities in your home country.
Stock up on Thai baht on the Thai side before you arrive in Tachileik. The de facto main currency used in Tachileik is the Thai baht, although ATMs will only give out Myanmar kyat. Expect Myanmar kyat to be declined by street vendors and some shops. The unofficial rate is 1,000 Myanmar kyat / 20 Thai baht as of December 2019.
You can find all the latest DVDs at prices ranging from 40 baht. As long as you don't go mad with the quantity you should have no problems getting them back into Thailand. As for taking them back home, that depends on your country's customs policies.
Expect, occasionally, to see wildlife, endangered animal pelts, and skulls, though these are rarely seen in the main part of the market. Local handicrafts range from kitsch to genuine Shan clothing.
Knock-off prescription drugs (in particular, Viagra) and X-rated films are carried around by very annoying, but licensed hawkers. Knives and guns are freely available. Do not buy cigarettes as they are usually Burmese knock-offs put into Western-branded packages and may get you into trouble with Customs when you try and return into Thailand: also, they taste terrible.
If you do intend to shop here, the Thai customs authority screen every bag returning to Thailand and do not take kindly to many of the things sold in the market. This applies mainly to returning Thais, although foreigners' bags are hardly ever screened as long as the bearer looks presentable.
Tachilek Duty Free shop (Golden Palace Plaza) sells alcoholic drinks and tobacco products at way, way below Thai prices. A bottle of decent quality single malt Scotch whisky costs from 1,500 Baht baht a bottle as of July 2016, though the selection may be limited. There doesn't seem to be any definite rule about the quantity you can bring into Thailand: for foreigners the unofficial policy seems to be if you can carry it you can import it. Don't go mad though, you always stand the risk of having everything confiscated, although this is extremely unlikely as a complicated network of people benefit financially from the shop. As of July 2016 Thais are being told that they can only bring in 1 litre of any kind of alcoholic beverage. The excess is not confiscated though. Foreigners (October 2017) are now required to put their bags through the scanner but this does not seem to be to check the quantity of duty free purchases.
Golden Palace Plaza This is the duty free shop on the Burmese side of the border. The complex now has a 'steak house' of sorts, serving chicken, pork and beef steaks and french fries. The main reason to eat there is the range of beers and wines that can be pulled out of the fridge to accompany your food: Belgian beers, German beers, Mexican beers and sometimes Beer Lao, all on sale at way, way below the prices 20 m away across the Sai river in Thailand. As the border is now open until 21:00, you can afford to linger after your days shopping and gambling.
MHTS Duty Free Shop This is located in the main tourist market, near the KBZ bank. In addition to a decent duty free range, the shop also stocks a range of imported beers in its fridge for you to drink outside the shop and people watch. As of July 2016, Thai Leo or Singha beer costs just 20 Baht a can. Guinness Foreign Export costs 55 Baht a can. Hoegaarten from Belgium and various German and Korean beers are also available at low, low prices. It is also possible to grab a portion of Samosas or Pakoras from the passing vendors to complement the beer.
Most tourists to Tachilek pop across the border from Thailand for a night and there are many hotels in town. Prices are usually quoted in baht, but US dollars are welcome.
- Dream Flower Hotel, ☏ , , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Recently renovated, the hotel is nice, neat, quiet and tidy, albeit in a concrete building. 250-400 baht.
- Platinum Star Hotel, 8/7 Thalaphi road, San Shai (A), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 12PM. 3-star hotel, modern, WiFi from the rooms, TV, breakfast included from 6:30AM to 10AM, no curfew, frontdesk 24 hours, parking for free, free pickup and drop off 1000 bahts for standard room, 1200 for a superior, 1500 for deluxe, 2500 for grand deluxe.
- Allure Resort and Casino, Baydar St. Luxury hotel and casino aimed at a Thai clientèle. 3,000-30,000 baht.
Shan, Burmese, Thai, Chinese (Mandarin and Yunnanese), and some English - listed in order from most widely to least spoken - are all widely spoken languages in Tachileik. Wa is the main language spoken in the southern part of Wa State near Tachileik, but these areas are off-limits to most foreigners. Akha and other hill tribe languages are also spoken in the Tachileik area.
If you have a Myanmar visa and plan to exit Myanmar at the Mae Sai border, you must obtain a permit in advance from the MTT offices in Yangon.