With its bustling border crossing into Burma and kilometres of tacky souvenir stalls, MAE SAI can be an interesting place to watch the world go by, though most foreigners only come here on a quick visa run. Thailand’s most northerly town lies 61km from Chiang Rai at the dead end of Highway 1, which forms the town’s single north–south street. Wide enough for an armoured battalion, this ugly boulevard still has the same name – Thanon Phaholyothin – as at the start of its journey north in the suburbs of Bangkok. The road ends at the Mae Sai River, which here serves as the Thailand–Burma border.
For a lofty perspective on the comings and goings, climb up through the market stalls to the chedi of Wat Phra That Doi Wao, five minutes’ walk from the bridge on the west side of Phaholyothin, behind the Top North Hotel. As well as Doi Tung to the south and the hills of Laos in the east, you get a good view up the steep-sided valley and across the river to Thachileik.