The town of Mae Sai is located at the most northern point of Thailand. A river, the Mae Sai-Ruak, separates the town from Tachilek and Myanmar. A bridge across the River Ruak links the two towns. Many people only pass through Mae Sai on their way to spend a few hours in Myanmar. Foreign tourists use the international border crossing to renew permits to stay in Thailand as well.
Besides acting as Thailand’s northern gateway to Myanmar, Mae Sai is famed for its diverse shopping opportunities and this has long proved to be a major tourism draw. Those spending more than a few hours in Mae Sai will be also surprised to find there are a few other things to see and do in the town and in the nearby area including Doi Tung. A guide to the recommended attractions of Mae Sai follows.
Last Updated: June 2019
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN MAE SAI
Wat Tham Pha Chom is a temple in the backstreets of Mae Sai and built on a high hill offering commanding views back over the town and towards Myanmar. A couple of caves at this temple have lighting and collections of Buddha statues and other religious artefacts. At one of the temple’s highest points, a large Sitting Buddha statue is an imposing sight. There is a meditation school on the grounds of the temple.
Wat Tham Pha Chom: #779, M. 1, T. Wiang Phang Kham, A. Mae Sai, Chiang Rai 57130 | Open: 09:00-18:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 733 129, +66 53 731 415 | Fax: +66 53 640 773 | Facebook | Email
Wat Phra That Doi Wao is on a hill too and visible from Wat Tham Pha Chom. This temple features a number of attractive buildings and statues. Highlights are a crab statue, one of a cartoon character in monk’s robes and Chinese gods. The views across to Myanmar are great here as well.
Wat Phra That Doi Wao: #836, M. 1, T. Wiang Phang Kham, A. Mae Sai, Chiang Rai 57130 | Open: 08:00-18:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 640 421, +66 53 731 527, +66 89 261 4433 | Facebook
Wat Tham Pla is about 10kms before Mae Sai and accessible via a sideroad off Highway 1 from Chiang Rai. The temple is a good 15 minutes walk and it pays to visit this temple on a tour. Tham translates to English as cave. The cave at this temple is in the limestone cliffs and home to a number of religious statues. The collection of buildings at the temple complex ranges across different architectural styles.
Wat Tham Pla: #55, M. 5, T. Pong Ngam, A. Mae Sai, Chiang Rai 57130 | Open: 08:30-17:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 83 564 7544, +66 81 288 3523 | Facebook
Khun Nam Nang Non is a forest park in the same general area as Wat Tham Pla. The forest is made up of a mixed collection of trees which are home to animal species including deer and mongooses plus birds like the coucal. Tham Luang is a series of caves in Khun Nam Nang Norn from which a Thai football team and their coach were famously rescued in July 2018.
Tham Luang-Khun Nam Nang Non Forest Park: T. Pong Pha, A. Mae Sai, Chiang Rai 57130 | Open: 09:00-16:30 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 711 402 | Fax: +66 53 711 961
Shopping is what many visitors come to Mae Sai for. Shops and street vendors on the main road before the bridge are loaded up with goods such as jewellery, toiletries, cosmetics, clothes, fashion accessories, kiddie’s toys, chocolate, snacks and gourmet teas. The streets leading up to Wat Phra That Doi Wao offer more of the same, but at slightly lower prices. Across the border in Myanmar, Tachilek Market has a lot more shops with additional Chinese made products like media players and bicycles. There are a couple of duty-free shops in Tachilek with stocks of beer, wine, spirits and cigarettes. There are limits to what travellers can bring back to Thailand and customs officials do carry out random checks.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN DOI TUNG
Taking the Highway 1130 turning for Doi Tung leads at first to Choui Fong Tea Plantation. The plantation is large and spread over mountain sides. The views from the top and over the whole plantation are amazing. An onsite shop gives the chance of buying packs of speciality tea leaves such as Oolong, Assam and green.
Choui Fong Tea Plantation: #97, M. 8, T. Pasang, A. Mae Chan, Chiang Rai 57110 | Open: 08:30-17:30 (Daily) | Tel: +66 53 771 563 | Website | Facebook
Continuing up into the mountains from Choui Fong Plantation is the road to Doi Tung. This area was once prime opium growing country, but under the patronage of the late Somdej Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani it was reforested and turned into coffee plantations.
This temple is on top of Mt Doi Tung. The original temple was founded 1,000 years ago and has a chedi believed to contain a Buddha relic. The relic has turned Doi Tung into a popular destination for Thai and Buddhist travellers. Due to the high location of the temple, the views are panoramic.
Wat Phra That Doi Tung: #399, M. 2, T. Huay Krai, A. Mae Sai, Chiang Rai 57130 | Open: 07:00-18:00 (Daily) | Tel: +66 96 102 3578 | Facebook
The Royal Villa was where Somdej Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani lived when visiting Doi Tung. The buildings were built mostly from timber and the end result is an elegant mix of traditional Thai and Swiss architectural styles. The villa has been preserved as a monument and is open to visitors.
Doi Tung Royal Villa: A. Mae Fah Luang, T. Mae Fah Luang, Chiang Rai 57240 | Open: 07:00-18:00 (Daily) | Admission Fee: 90 B | Tel: +66 53 767 015-7 | Website
One-time opium fields have been turned into small forested areas and beautifully laid out flower gardens. Species such as orchids, pine trees, rhododendrons and Himalayan cherry trees are a pleasing sight. In the centre of the gardens, a huge sculpture called Continuity stands like a guardian angel. The Doi Tung Tree Top Walk provides the chance of viewing the gardens from a height of 30 metres.
Mae Fah Luang Arboretum and Gardens: T. Mae Fah Luang, Chiang Rai 57240 | Open: 07:00-17:30 (Daily) | Admission Fee: 90 B | Tel: +66 53 767 015-7 | Website