Only spending a short stay of a couple of weeks in Northern Thailand’s Mae Sot, as travelling to this town is mainly for a little volunteering with the same organisation as in Khao Lak.
At the time of writing in 2014, there wasn’t a direct bus from Kanchanaburi to Mae Sot.
Take the Chiang Mai bus (or overnight bus at 19:00hrs), which drives through Kanchanaburi at around 09:00hrs and at the time of writing in 2014, cost B365.
This journey finishes at the Tak bus station and only takes around six hours.
After a wait of half an hour in Tak, you take a minibus for around another ninety minutes to Mae Sot.
The problem is that the minibus arrives in Mae Sot at around 18:00hrs by which time, the Songthaews have already packed up and gone home. Only scooter taxis are available from 17:00hrs.
It so happened that on arriving in Mae Sot, the skies decided to open, dumping the full amount of Thailand’s wet season’s torrential rain on Mae Sot for several hours.
Walking back and forth from the bus station to the main road for over an hour trying to get a lift to the hotel some three kilometres away, a local advised that everything stops at around 17:00hrs in Mae Sot. Only scooters operate after these hours. So, on 2 scooters we go, complete with about thirty kilos of backpacks balanced precariously on each bike, with the drivers, and ourselves!
On this dark night and in the torrential rain, the drivers take the route ever so slowly but to their credit, we arrive at the hotel safely, unscathed and in one piece.
As we are volunteering so working regular office hours and Monday to Friday during the stay, this doesn’t leave much time to explore any sights around Mae Sot. I know that there is a Gibbon Sanctuary about one-and-a-half hours away, a couple of waterfalls, temples, but not much else.
My experience in Mae Sot is that this is very much an NGO/INGO and ex-pat clicky town.
Even to the point that if you sit in someone’s usual seat at the Bai Fern restaurant, the person will wait and keep watching you until you finish your meal or you shift seats, to jump in your seat. Very strange behaviour but there’s always a positive and you can have a lot of fun with such an odd mindset. In saying this, the locals are lovely and friendly, so you will feel at home in Mae Sot.
Having travelled to Myawaddy in 1989, I don’t do this trip again as doubt the town has changed much since then…Myawaddy is still one of the gateways to Burma, although I could be wrong.
I remember back in 1989 that if you stood on a corner long enough, someone would approach you with a small cigarette foil full of different kinds of semi-precious gemstones, for you to purchase. Quite intriguing.
Mae Sot is only six kilometres from the Burmese border, so, in the centre of town is a lively Burmese Market, which signifies a great cultural mix.
You will find Indo-Burmese food, textiles, and teakwood, but also minority shops from the Karen, Mon, and Hmong tribes. Fresh and also live produce is sold here among loads of delicious cheap treats, cooked while you wait.
In the morning and evening, a small indoor market is held at Baan Nua, which is where it is possible to buy cheap takeaway cooked meals, fresh vegetables, meats, and many more delicious authentic treats.
Want to buy gems?
One particular street (Thananon Prasat Vithit) is a gem street, which offers numerous gem and jade shops. Many brightly lit jewellery shops also grace this road.
If you get caught up in the town’s gem fever and you are up for a cash splash, make sure you know the difference between real and fake gems before you buy. You may be disappointed when returning home to find you purchased cut glass.
Where to stay
Baan Kiang Chan – booked three nights, but stayed two weeks.
Apart from needing a stable abode as working volunteering, we also wanted to extend at this hotel after the three days as the staff are excellent and accommodating. The hotel’s staff truly go out of their way to help you with anything you ask. Only around a couple of kilometres from town, it’s an easy walk and quieter than being in the centre of town.
If you don’t fancy walking, the hotel provides a free Songthaew. Have to mention, we arrived at the hotel in the evening just before 8pm. A member of the staff still drove us into town so that we could buy some dinner – very hospitable and kind people.
The large room is clean, serviced daily, and comes with wi-fi, albeit the wi-fi is a little slow on weekends when the hotel is full.
The free buffet breakfast is very good with eggs, rice, a Thai dish, soup (or Congee depending on the day), toast, tea, coffee, and more deliciousness.
Where to eat
Bai Fern Restaurant
Ate at the Bai Fern Restaurant several times. The fruit shakes are delicious as are the Thai Green curry, multi-grain BBQ chicken and chips, red wine, and several other Thai dishes. The cappuccinos and the Pad Thai are disappointing.
Arguably the best cappuccino in Mae Sot and probably a good part of Thailand, the Hazel Taste offers great ambience and service.
The 7-Eleven chain is absolutely everywhere throughout Thailand and great for small items but also cheap good nibbles while you are working. Pick up a sticky rice burger, Gyoza, Espresso, sandwich, chocolate, and much more from these outlets.
Leaving Mae Sot
The Green Bus (B432) leaves from Mae Sot’s Station 2, at 08:00hrs and takes around 8 hours.
There is a new route on the Green Bus that runs six times per day between Mae Sai and Mae Sot and then continues on to Chiang Rai.