Mae Sot offers a taste of Myanmar without crossing any borders.
This is because many aspects of everyday Thai and Burmese life have become tightly intertwined in Mae Sot. This city, in western Thailand, is now a gateway to Myanmar after becoming home to the Friendship Bridge that connects the two countries.
For most travellers, Mae Sot isn’t a destination but more of a stopover. It’s an interesting place to experience a fusion of cultures as there’s said to be around 135 different ethnicities living in Mae Sot.
However, if you do find yourself stopping in Mae Sot for a few days, there’s still plenty to keep you busy. You can choose to volunteer at a gibbon sanctuary, take part in a cooking class with a social enterprise or explore the stunning surrounding nature.
That’s not all, so here’s some of our favourite things to do whilst in Mae Sot:
New to Mae Sot? We’ve written this compact Mae Sot guide to show you the best areas to stay, restaurants you don’t want to miss and many more tips for your visit to Mae Sot!
#1 Visit or volunteer at a gibbon sanctuary
About an hour outside of Mae Sot you will find Gibbons at Highlands Farm, an animal sanctuary with the aim of providing a safe haven to rescued animals.
The sanctuary’s main focus is gibbons, having 69 in total, but also has 22 macaques, 1 black bear, 1 Binturong and 5 otters.
A tour around the sanctuary is free, but it’s highly recommended that you provide a donation to the foundation in order for them to continue delivering high-quality care to the animals they rescue.
As their website doesn’t provide a lot of information about visiting, it may be worth sending them an email before you arrive to double-check they’re open to visitors at the time you hope to visit.
How to volunteer at the gibbon sanctuary
However, the best way to really experience this sanctuary is to volunteer with the gibbons for a week or even longer. For a donation of $50 a day, you get accommodation, 3 delicious homemade meals and lots of love in return from the singing gibbons. The sanctuary can only exist with the help of donations and volunteers.
It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about these wonderful animals, contribute to their wellbeing and if you’re lucky, get up close and personal with some of the gibbons.
#2 Grab yourself some Thai-Burmese goods at a market
Being so close to Myanmar, Mae Sot has become a trading outpost for a whole host of goods imported from their neighbour – gems, teak, seafood, seasonings – the list goes on. So it’s no surprise that visiting one of Mae Sots markets is a great way to spend your time.
The daily night market is a relatively small affair, with most stalls serving food. An hour or so spent at this market will give you the opportunity to try some Thai-Burmese dishes at the cheap prices that we all love.
If you’re in Mae Sot on a Saturday, this is where you’ll find most of the locals after the sun has set. Just east of the police station, the Walking Street becomes lined with stalls offering handicrafts, paintings, clothes and of course delicious food.
Rim Moei Market is the official border market for Thailand and Myanmar, offering everything from electronics and clothing to custom-made jewellery. If you’re not visiting Burma, but would still like a souvenir from there, then this large indoor market just 5km from Mae Sot should be able to do the job.
#3 Visit Borderline for eating, shopping and cooking, all with a social purpose
Borderline is a glorious combination of a tea room, cooking school, handicraft store and an organisation that’s helping to support Burmese refugees from the nearby Mae La camp.
If you decide that you’d like to learn how to create some of the tea room’s signature dishes, there is a great opportunity to participate in a cooking class in Mae Sot.
The class teaches you how to cook Shan, Karen, Burmese and other foods of the region with ingredients that are fresh from the nearby market. And to top the day off, at the end you receive your own copy of Borderline’s cookbook.
Also, make sure to check out the handicrafts on sale that are made by nearby refugee families in an attempt to make some extra income.
#4 Treat yourself to some tea
A wonderful piece of Burmese culture that has managed to filter into Mae Sot is tea rooms.
You’ll easily be able to distinguish a Burmese tea room from a regular café by the little plastic or wooden stools and tiny tables. They’re so small, you’ll think that only a child can fit on them, but somehow it just works.
These quaint establishments serve Burmese food and snacks alongside Burmese tea – a combination of strong black tea leaves with evaporated or condensed milk. It may take a few tries to get used to the strong taste!
Sometimes when you’re travelling, you just need to take a day to step back and relax. Well, for 60 baht you can hire one of the hot spring water tubs at Mae Ka Sa Hot Springs.
The hot springs are said to boost blood circulation, reduce stress and relax muscles. Where do we sign up?
If you don’t want to pay the extra fee, you can soak your feet and enjoy the surrounding jungle in Mae Sot for free. And, if you’re up for it, there’s also Mae Usa cave a 20-minute hike away.
After the small hike, it’s become a popular activity to boil an egg using the hot springs to prove just how hot they actually are! Grab some Maggie sauce for your egg and enjoy.
#6 Pha Charoen Waterfall
Like in most other Thai cities, venture a bit further and you’ll be sure to find a stunning waterfall. Mae Sot is no different!
Just 40km outside of Mae Sot and easily reachable by car, motorbike or the number 48 songthaew, is Phra Charoen waterfall. The 50m and 97 tiered waterfalls is situated within Namtok Pha Charoen National Park, so there’s more to explore than just the waterfall.
Unlike other Thai waterfalls, this one probably won’t be bombarded with other tourists. This means you can get that spectacular photo without someone lingering in the background or splash around in the waterfall pool without being splashed by strangers.
#7 Explore Wat Thai Wattanaram Temple
Exploring Wat Thai Wattanaram temple won’t just give you an insight into Thai culture, but also to Burmese’s. This temple was built in 1857 in the Burmese style of Mahayana Buddhism, and is one of the most remarkable structures in Mae Sot.
Also in the same complex, you’ll find a huge reclining Buddha and an additional 28 Buddhas scattered around.
The temple is open to visitors from 8am – 5pm and the entrance fee is 50 baht.
#8 Enjoy some home comforts in the Tesco supermarket
Whilst some people may see this as just another supermarket, a lot of people from Europe (especially those from the UK) will get very excited over the large friendly logo.
Walking through the doors is like receiving a comforting hug from home and a chance to purchase some of the things you’re missing from home.