Riding a 115cc motorcycle 500km from Chiang Mai to Mai Sae (Burma) in one day for a visa stamp

To activate the second entry on my Thai visa, I needed to leave the country and come back in - just to get it stamped.

A few general options exist for doing this:

  1. Fly somewhere cheap on Skyscanner
  2. Use a visa run service
  3. Green bus it

As a keen motorcyclist I fancied doing things a little differently. I'm a big fan of doing long rides on small bikes - previously completing the Mae Hon Song loop in two days on a 125cc bike, how hard could it be to ride a 115cc bike 500kms, get a visa stamp and return home in one day? I decided to find out!

The plan

Ride my 115cc semi-auto Suzuki Shooter from Chiang Mai, to Mai Sai - get my visa stamped at the border and return back to Chiang Mai the same day.

Before heading out on any long journey on a motorbike, there are a few essentials to check:

1.Oil - which was low
2. Chain tension
3. Tyres

I did the tyres myself and inflated them to a comfortable PSI. I went to Bikky (who I rent the bike from) to get the oil and chain serviced (oil was a little low) however they refused as the bike needed to have done 200km more to require a service. I explained the ride that I was planning on doing and they strongly advised against me doing it. I said I will see them tomorrow and the bike will be over the 6000kms it required for a service.

Oh well.

I borrowed a helmet with a visor from a friend, took 2 litres of water, my multi-tool, basic first aid kit, iPhone with music and Waze (for navigation) and some snacks.

The ride

The morning of the ride I woke up at 5am, and was on the road by 5.30am. It was cold and dark - but the roads empty (apart from some drunk drivers) - so I was making good progress, sitting at between 70-80kmh - a maintainable speed for a bike of the size with the stock gearing.

As I left the main part of the Super Highway and onto the proper Highway 118 the road started snaking up into the mountains. The temperature dropped and the road was no longer lit - going round the chicanes became hard as I couldn't see the road, the headlights of the Shooter were pretty useless. Nonetheless I just slowed the pace a bit and kept pushing on.

At this time in the morning there weren't many other vehicles on the road, you'd get the occasional bus go roaring through, but as long as you keep to the left hand side (but not too far left to avoid punctures) you'll be fine.

My first stop was around an hour in at the natural hot springs:

Hot springs

This is one of the places many of the coaches and visa run services stop also, but I got here so early I was pretty much alone.

After a quick 10 minute stop I pushed on - the roads flattened out and I went through small random villages and eventually turned onto Highway 1, which would take me the rest of the way to Mae Sai pretty much.

Around 40kms out from Chiang Rai the land starts to turn to more rugged nothingness, sweeping hilly roads - which is coincidentally when my fuel starts to run low. Fortunately I found a station not far outside of Chiang Rai - ~170kms in for my second stop.

Just before arriving into Chiang Rai, there's a cool temple called The White Temple (aptly named).

White Temple

It's worth checking out and is just off the main Highway 1. After a 30 second stop I then pushed on through Chiang Rai, which can be quite busy even early in the morning.

The road of Chiang Rai to Mae Sai had some interesting stuff on it; lots of nice cafes (including a cat cafe :D), a chicken temple and lots of lakeview resorts/food places. There were plenty options for stopping but I pushed on into Mae Sai.

Cat cafe

Upon arriving at Mae Sai - it felt like the typical border town. People trying to sell stuff, general craziness. I just wanted to get my stamp and begin the long journey back home.

I parked up outside a shop, walked to the border and handed my passport over. You go from the left tower and re-enter Thailand through the right.

Mae Sai border

It was a pretty straight-forward process and I did have to pay 500thb to walk in and out of Burma - but really it only took around 15 minutes for the whole process to finish.

Burma!

I headed back onto my bike and started pushing home.

There was a disconcerting noise coming from my bike, since Chiang Rai. My initial hypothesis were that it was transmission related, I was thinking gearbox - but later pondering lead me to realise my chain had come pretty loose. In hindsight, I should've stopped and got it tightened - however I just made sure that my throttle application was very smooth. Joltiness would just make it worse.

I rode around another 70km and stopped at one of the cafes I saw on the way up - decent cake and coffee but typical roadside prices.

Coffee Shop

By the time I got to Chiang Rai, things were getting a lot busier - police put up customs check checkpoints in the roads which means the cars tailback - fortunately as a bike we can pretty much skip through most of this; filter down the side and the police will wave you through.

The traffic is Chiang Rai was pretty stacked up too - as always it's usually the high traffic riding that is the most dangerous - it was key not to get caught up here so riding carefully was paramount.

I then ended up back into the hilly curvy road and made my second and last fuel stop - around 70 baht per stop so 140baht in total.

The roads were pretty boring now and the bike was becoming pretty uncomfortable after ~7hours of riding so I made another stop and grabbed some food at a place called Coffee View - good food but again highway prices.

Coffee View

Although the view did make up for it.

I now wasn't too far from Chiang Mai and back on the mountainous road I previously rode in the dark. I hear sirens and look around, a police bike comes screaming through and following it ~50 Ducatis (mostly Monsters) a support/parts truck from Ducati Thailand and an ambulance. I still really don't know what this was so if anyone has any insight it would be cool to know. My only assumptions were that it was either a club ride, or something for advertising.

At around 4:30pm I arrived back to Chiang Mai - pretty tired but the mission/ride was completed.

Summary

It was a long hard day.

But worth it - at a fraction of the cost of a traditional visa run or bus service, I had the freedom to stop, explore where ever I wanted.

If you're an experienced rider, I would recommend riding over getting a bus.

Things to ensure are:

  1. Fill up before you go, it should only be a two stop trip on a bike like mine but it saves time on the road.

  2. Wrap up, bring layers, face protection and a visor. You can get extremes of weather - I had multiple layers on and my arms with visually shaking with cold when I left in the morning. By the afternoon, I was far too hot. You need to be able to adapt.

  3. Prepare your bike and prepare for it to fail - but minimise the chances by riding sensibly.

  4. Avoid stopping to often - each stop costs you a lot of mileage, only stop if you actually need to.

  5. Ride defensively, don't get pushed of the road, but do let faster vehicles through at appropriate points.

  6. Enjoy it.

Phil Hudson

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