It was during our last day in Pai that Razvan realized that our visa was about to expire in a few days. We did not bother to apply for a proper 3-month visa before we came to Thailand so we got a 30-day entry visa. This means that every 30 days we have to leave the country and come back to get another 30-day visa. This is called a visa run and it's something common for most foreigners in Thailand. Travel agencies offer 'visa run' packages to the nearest border point and even one of the officials in the Chiang Mai immigration office recommended that we do a visa run instead of applying for an extension at the office.
Renting a bike in Chiang Mai
The closest border crossing to Chiang Mai is in Mae Sai at the Burmese border.We decided to rent a full-sized motorcycle and make a road trip out of it. After a bit of research we found a bike rental shop called CP Service that rents out big bikes and good protective gear. You can find them just south of Tapae Gate, on the west side of the moat, on Kotchasan Road, just north of Loi Kroh Road. (Btw, this treasure-hunt like explanation is necessary, because Google Maps fails miserably if you try to look up the address directly.)
It's a small shop run by a nice Thai couple. Amy speaks English quite well and was very professional. Since we needed to cross into Burma for the visa, we couldn't leave our passports as a guarantee for the bike, so Amy was nice enough to accept a photocopy of the passport along with my driver's licence.
We rented a Honda CRF250L for 600 baht/day. We also rented motorcycle jackets. A few days earlier we met a guy in a restaurant who had some horrible road rash from falling off his scooter while wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Even though it was 35C outside we wore the jackets. It was actually quite comfortable once we got moving and the wind cooled us down.
The road to Mae Sai
Razvan had ridden the CRF250 in Pai during our off-road adventure, but not with a passenger. I think we were both a bit nervous, but we took it easy and he got comfortable by the time we got out of Chiang Mai. It was 10:30am. Our plan was to drive to Mae Sai as quickly as possible, because we did not know how long the border would be open.
We quickly realized that our dirt bike was not the most comfortable choice for the 600km+ ride we were about to do. As I was losing feeling in my legs, I distinctly remember being jealous of the pigs in a transport truck that was passing us. Eventually we pulled over to stretch our legs and check out a little off-road trail map we bought at CP Service.
The highway from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai is excellent.
Crossing the border
We got to the border at about 3pm. The border crossing was right at the end of a big market. There were actually people selling stuff right next to the border building. As we made our way to the gate we were told we could not cross with the motorbike so Razvan went off to park it nearby while I waited in line with our passports.
The Thai border official informed us that we overstayed our visa by 1 day and we had to pay a fine of 500 baht/person. At the Chiang Mai Immigration Office we were told it would be ok to cross over on Monday because our visa expired on Sunday, during a holiday, but the officer at the border said that's not the case. Oh well.
We walked over to the Burmese side where we paid a 500 baht fee to enter the country. The Burmese border official asked us if we wanted to do some shopping in the neighbouring town of Tachileik and seemed a bit disappointed when we said we'd just turn back to Thailand. We read that the Tachileik market offers pirated DVDs, switchblades and other products that we were not really interested in.
We crossed back into Thailand and got a shiny new 30-day visa. Mission Accomplished.
Finding a place to stay
It was getting late and we went to find a place to stay. There were a few hotels in Mae Sai, but the town gave us a bad vibe so we drove back towards Chiang Rai. The mountains just west of the highway looked were very beautiful, so we decided to explore the area in hopes that we would find a place to stay closer to the mountains.
We found a beautiful little place hidden away at the end of a small alley just west of Highway 1. I would guess that we were the only falangs to ever go there, because they only have signs in Thai and the entrance is hard to find. Google Maps says the place is called Pimanee Resort. The elderly couple who own the place were tending to the garden when came in. Using the few Thai words I know and a lot of hand waving we managed to book a room for the night.
With about an hour of daylight to spare, we jumped back on the motorbike and went out to explore the country side.
We rode past lots of pineapple fields and Jackfruit trees.
Razvan had a great time riding on the dirt roads and narrow trails in the area.
We loved the area so much we decided to stay there another day and explore.