Things To Do At The Mae Sai Border

Sunset at Wat Phra That Doi Wao

Are you ready to explore the northernmost town in Thailand? The Mae Sai border town is packed full of things to do. So, don’t fly by here that quickly on your border visa run to Myanmar. Take some time to explore this border town. Here are some things to do at the Mae Sai Border.

Outdoor MarketMae Sai Outdoor Market

One of the most exciting things I find to do in Southeast Asia is to browse the outdoor markets. And Mae Sai has one of the biggest I’ve seen. My jaw dropped open when I walked through the outdoor market, and then the next thing I knew I was under a massive covered market. This was incredible. My head was swiveling left to right so quickly; I almost gave myself whiplash to see everything. Right on the left side of Phahonyothin Road, you can’t miss all stalls jammed packed with everything you could ever want. There are household goods, clothing for all sizes, and of course whatever souvenir you might be thinking of collecting. Go ahead and see what kind of bargain you can achieve.Mae Sai Covered MarketMae Sai Covered Market 2

Overlook View of Mae SaiOverlook View of Mae Sai

There are two ways to reach the Wat Phra That Doi Wao (a.k.a. Scorpion Temple). One is to climb the steep staircase, and the other is to walk up the windy road. We chose the windy road. It looks steep but, if you go slower, it isn’t too hard to make it up. To be honest, I did stop a few times to take a breather, but there was always something to photograph at that moment, especially all the elephant statues.Steep Staircase to Wat Phra That Doi Wao Temple - Things to do at Mae Sai borderWindy road to Scorpion Temple

Do you know why the elephant is Thailand’s natural symbol? One of the main reasons that the Thai people celebrate the elephant is because of its incredible strength, durability, and longevity. Another more profound reason is that ‘according to Buddhist tradition, on the eve of Buddha’s birth, his mother had a dream and was given a lotus flower by a white elephant. The animal was so revered and respected; it was even on the Siamese flag until the early 1900s.’ Now you can understand why there are so many elephant statues around the Buddhist temples. Shrine on the road to Scorpion TempleElephant column at Mae Sai OverlookElephant StatueElephant Statue 2

Wat Phra That Doi WaoWat Phra That Doi Wao

After climbing or walking up the hill, the temple is quite a site to see. We made it up there to see the temple at sunset, which made the gold chedi shine so brightly. The Wat Phra That Doi Wao was built in memory of the thousands of Burmese soldiers who fell in 1965 during the war against the Kuomintang army. There are so many buildings and Buddhist shrines to see in this complex. You can spend quite a bit of time up here taking pictures of every angle of this temple. Dragon guarding the entranceWat Phra That Doi Wao 2Wat Phra That Doi Wao 3

Scorpion Temple and Other Buddhist ShrinesScorpion Temple

The Scorpion Temple was dedicated to Thailand’s Lanna King Naresuan who beat back Burmese invasions into Thailand. The scorpion is a message to the Burmese people to not invade Thailand again with its claws pointed directly at Tachileik. With the other shrines at the Scorpion Temple, each is more elaborate and decorative than the last. The use of gold and silver is liberally applied on each shrine, which is eye-catching when the light hits it. Scorpion statue at Mae SaiPurple building at the Scorpion TempleBuddhist shrine at Scorpion TempleBuddhist shrine at Scorpion Temple 2Buddhist shrine at Scorpion Temple 3

Going Down the Staircase

I took one look at that giant steep staircase and said no way was I going to climb up that after walking around Tachileik all day. But, I had no problem walking down those steps. I tried to figure out how many steps there are, but I couldn’t find an accurate count. Let’s just say there is a lot of them. The neat thing about walking down besides taking your time is you get to enjoy some of the local flavors. What do I mean by this? We noticed that there were a few roosters right next to the steps, so we stopped to take their picture. I love how these animals all roam free here in Thailand.Roosters next to the staircase

Doi Nang Non (Sleeping Woman Mountain)

This unusually shaped mountain can be seen if you look to the west when driving up from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai. The silhouette of the mountain range takes the shape of a reclining woman with long hair when seen from certain angles. This is something I have to still get a picture of. I think I saw it on the bus, but I wasn’t sure. If you have more time to visit Doi Nang Non Mountain, you can go exploring in the many caves and waterfalls there. Next time…

Tham Luang Caves & Khum Nam Nang Non Forest Park

The extensive Tham Luang Cave system lies under Doi Nang Non Mountain. There is a visitor center outside the main entrance which provides a detailed map of the cave. The first 0.6 mi of the cave is open to the public for guided tours between November and June. The rest of the time is during the rainy season. This cave made national news when a soccer team in 2018 got caught in the cave for two weeks before being rescued. Knowing this, would you still dare to explore the cave?

The Thai-Burmese Border GateMyanmar Border

Of course, the main reason many foreigners head to Mae Sai is to cross the border for a visa run to Myanmar. You can read all about my one-day exploring Tachileik and the process to cross over to Myanmar here. If you like to people watch as much as I do, you will be fascinated with the comings and goings over this bridge and in Mae Sai right before the bridge. There will be a line on both sides of the street of food vendors selling all types of food (some I can’t even figure out what it is) and other items. They will yell and try to get your attention so that you buy from them. Even though another vendor is selling the same thing, two stalls down. It is highly entertaining to watch. But, this makes for a bustling and loud intersection before the border crossing.

Summary

If you are planning on going to Mae Sai for a border visa run or an adventure looking for waterfalls or spelunking through caves, take some time to see what else this city has to offer. There are guided tours available if you aren’t sure what to do or are on a time crunch. Or you can explore on your own, which is what I always enjoy doing. Either way, you might be pleasantly surprised to see all the things to do at the Mae Sai border.

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Further Reading

If you would like to see more of my nomad travels, check out my post on my first month of traveling full-time: One Month of Nomad Travel. If you are coming to Thailand for a visit, check out these posts:

2 Comments

  • dtanya 3July2019 at 1:40 PM Reply

    Thank you for your beautiful pictures of the Doi Suthep Temple. I climbed that same staircase in 2,000.

    • Heather 4July2019 at 2:23 PM Reply

      I give you a lot of credit for climbing up the stairs. I only chose to climb down them.

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