It is ridiculously easy to find yourself lingering in Chiang Mai, which is how many people eventually come to live in Chiang Mai. However, it does involve some hoops, and those hoops are called visa runs. While the Thai government is pretty generous in allowing tourists to extend their stays, this can change on a whim. Check here for the most current information on visa requirements.
But for a quick and handy guide to some of our “favorite” visa runs out of Chiang Mai, read on:
Mae Sai, Burma
If you’re only planning on staying a couple of extra weeks or perhaps a month, then Mae Sai is a relatively easy spot to stay legal. As an overland crossing, the Mae Sai run only gives you two weeks, but is simple to sort out and a relatively cheap option (as long as you don’t make it a long-term practice).
How to Get There: Hit up any tourist agent in the city and they can book you a seat on one of many minivans that head to the border and back each day for about 500-600THB. The trip takes approximately 4 hours each way, with most drivers giving you 1-1.5 hours to complete your crossing, eat, and quickly sightsee before heading back.
If you hate minivans — and we don’t blame you if you do — take the Green Bus from Arcade Bus Station. Not only is this option cheaper (~300 THB roundtrip) but its a little more comfortable, and you’re on your own timetable. Just make sure to buy your tickets one to two days in advance, as they often sell out the afternoon before you want to leave.
- Visa runs don’t give you much time to explore the Burmese side, but try to spend your meager hour in the market directly across the border. You simply leave your passport with the Burma passport control office and wander through.
- If you don’t have time to go through, at least try our favorite Shan noodle cart on the Thai side. If you’re facing Burma, it is to the left of the bridge. For 10b, you can get a little taste of nearby Shan state in the form of rice noodles with tomato sauce and peanuts.
- Um, make sure to actually cross the border. We’ve seen a lot of people do this — pass through the Thai side and then try to come directly back to Thailand. Save yourself this beginner’s mistake and go all the way across the bridge, into the Burmese Passport office on the right, pay 500 THB, get your stamp and then head back.
Cost: Approximately 800 to 1200 THB, depending on your mode of transportation and including the cost of the stamp.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
If you plan on staying longer than a couple of weeks, you’ll need an actual Tourist Visa, as opposed simply extensions to your visa-free entry. Kuala Lumpur is a great option because of the direct flight from Chiang Mai on AirAsia. A roundtrip ticket will cost around 5000THB (depending on how far in advance you plan), which may seem pricey if you’re on a backpacker budget, but for the convenience it may be worth it.
As long as you arrive and submit your application between 9:30 and 11:30 am, you should be able to pick up your passport between 2:30 and 4:30 pm the next day, so you can plan your flights accordingly.
Tips: Unlike Vientiene (see below) and Mae Sai, its best to be completely prepared with the right paperwork, right-sized photos and any other requirements before you arrive at the consulate. While it is more professional than other consulate locations, it also doesn’t have any handy photo booths or copy machines if you forget something.
Cost: 110 ringgit plus travel and accommodation.
Slightly More Complex
Vientiene is another popular destination to get a single entry tourist visa. Hitting up the Vientiene embassy gives you good reason to hit up other top destinations in Laos in one extended trip. If you’re heading straight to Vientiene from Chiang Mai, here are your best options:
Nok Air to Udan Thani: If you plan in advance you can fly Nok Air for as little as 3000 THB roundtrip to Udan Thani. From there, you’ll exit the airport to take an easily marked minivan to the border (the Friendship Bridge), where you can get a visa on arrival for $30-35 depending on your nationality (unless you’re from one of these countries). After you cross, you’ll easily spot tuk tuk and taxi drivers willing to negotiate a price into Vientiene.
Bus to Udon Thani: Take note, we don’t mean a tourist *minivan*, we mean a VIP bus from Arcade Bus Station which will cost around 600 – 700 THB. If you want a cheaper option than flying to Udon Thani, we prefer this route — its far more comfortable, and according to many harrowing minivan tales, safer.
After you arrive in Udon Thani, you’ll need to go through the same steps listed above — head to the Friendship Bridge, get your visa on arrival and head over to Vientiene via tuk tuk or taxi.
Minivan to Vientiene: If you don’t want to worry about anything, and have someone guide you through the process of traveling from Chiang Mai to Vientiene, head to any tourist agent in the city and book a visa run to Laos through their minivan services. As mentioned above, these aren’t the most comfortable option, 12 hours long and can be a bit scary, but it can be a good option if you just want to book it (affordably) and go.
Tip: While your visa is being handled, try Joma Bakery during the day, and indulge in Beerlao towers at Bor Pen Yang in the evening.
Cost: 60-day double entry tourist visa for 2,000 baht plus travel and accommodation.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Unfortunately traveling from Chiang Mai to Phnom Penh is pricey, a pain in the neck, or both. However, like the Vientiene trip, you can extend your stay in the country to combine with some sightseeing (Angkor Wat anyone?), so it may work out to be worth it.
Flying Chiang Mai to Phnom Penh: Unfortunately, even booking in advance can run you an easy 8000 THB or more, roundtrip. Still, it is as easy as it gets.
Bus and Train: You’ll have to head down to Bangkok, either by bus or train and continue on from there. While you can head to Khao San road and go the tourist minivan route, a more comfortable option is the new Bangkok — Phnom Penh direct bus that leaves from Mo Chit several times a day for 900 THB.
Tips: Apply for a Cambodia visa online in advance, it’ll make your life that much easier.
photo credit: Shonali Banerjee