Mae Sot is a busy border town located on the western border of Thailand next to Myanmar with Kanchanaburi province to the South. Just 5km from the Burmese border, Mae Sot has become a common overnight stop for travellers continuing into Myanmar as well as a hub for NGO’s focusing on helping ethnic minorities in the area. Dozens of ethnic groups live in this area and on any day one can easily run into multiple types exotic hats and faces. The Karen, Hmong, Yao, Lahu, Buddhist and Muslim Burmese all live together in this frontier town speaking different languages, wearing different clothes, eating different foods, and dancing different dances. It’s a fascinating place to walk around and encounter many cultures.
The Moei River runs north to south and forms the Thai-Myanmar border. On the Thai side is the Moei River Market selling variety of local products including hand crafts from the hill tribe villages and precious stones from Myanmar. Cross the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge and your will reach the little town of Myawaddy directly on the other side of the river (in Myanmar). This has become a common starting point for many travellers entering Myanmar overland since 2015 when the border crossing officially opened to foreigners.
Tha Song Yang
Passing the district of Tha Song Yang, there are large refugee camps hosting Christian Karen’s from neighboring Myanmar. They had to flee the country when they were overtaken by the Bhuddist Karen allied to the Burmese army. The refugee camps stretch a few kilometers with 3 or 4 sections host over 100,000 refugees, in thatched roof huts on the flank of the mountain.
Mae Usu caves (Tham Mae Usu)
Tham Mae Usu is an interesting cave which you enter on one side, explore through and exit on the other side before you trek back to the car park in front of the cave. Consider one hour or more to explore this cave. Local Karen children can be your guide with flashlight for a modest fee.
From Chiang Mai, Mae-Sot is a 5 hour’s drive via Tak. Chiang Mai to Tak is along Highway 1 (Asia Highway One). Then from Tak, it’s a wide mountain road with a few tourist attractions. Many of trucks use this road, so if you are driving your own car, be particularly careful.
We can organize private transfer by comfortable minivan with driver at a price of 6000 Baht (including petrol costs).
Driving North of Mae Sot has the feeling of a “no man’s land”. It would take about 4 hour’s to reach Mae Sarieng town and district. This scenic road follows the border all the way up, sometimes tracing the Moei river which flows North along the border. Don’t travel at night as you will encounter military and police check-points where you may be searched (this is a sensitive border area); you will probably see nobody else on the road.
It is worth bearing in mind that after a minibus was attacked by hand grenades on this road (around Tha Song Yang) in 1995 and the subsequent Karen fighting, the road was under curfew at night for a couple of years. It is no longer prohibited to travel by night. Today, locals are travelling days and night, but still it’s not recommended.
The road is paved but in bad condition at a few places, especially with frequent landslides during wet season. If you intend to drive this road during raining season, you should use a 4WD or pick-up truck and be equipped with ropes, tow cable and a large saw to cut eventual fallen trees or bamboo branches. A great adventure in perspective.