The Top Things to See and Do in Mae Sot, Thailand

The pagodas of temple Wat Chai Watthanaram in Ayutthaya Historical Park are some of Thailand's best preserved
The pagodas of temple Wat Chai Watthanaram in Ayutthaya Historical Park are some of Thailand's best preserved | © Iryna Vlasenko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alex Robinson
14 July 2021

Tucked away along the border of Myanmar is the western Thai city of Mae Sot. It’s quite a journey to get here, but you won’t regret coming one bit. This is a fascinating place to spend a day or two; a whirlpool of cultures including sizzling cooking, serene temples, buzzing markets and exhilarating cycling opportunities.

Shop and scoff at Mae Sot Market

Market
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Mae Sot, Thailand - February 3rd 2019: People shopping on the market. Many different ethnic groups can be seen on the market.
© Kevin Hellon / Alamy Stock Photo

With the Myanmar border a hop away, Mae Sot is as good a place to shop for Burmese arts, crafts and food as it is for Thai products. For the best choice head to the night market, which has stalls heaving with semi-precious stones – be sure to ask around if you’re interested as not all are genuine. Look out for Karen (Kayin) hill tribe weaves, carved wooden effigies, cheap clothes and accessories. The food area serves thick Burmese curries as well as Thai street food, from green curries to spicy salads.

Get chopping at Borderline Cooking Class

School
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Vegetarian pad thai with tofu
© Magdalena Bujak / Alamy Stock Photo

Plenty of cooking schools in Thailand will show you how to make a pad Thai or a papaya salad. Borderline can teach you too – but what makes their half-day courses different is that you choose what you learn, with guidance from a big menu of Thai and Myanmar recipes. Sourcing the ingredients in the local market, you’ll discover how to choose the best produce. When you’re done with cooking you can also learn how to make Thai batik.

Relax at Wat Thai Wattanaram Temple

Buddhist Temple
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Even if you’ve got temple-sightseeing fatigue, don’t miss Mae Sot’s main wat, which looks unlike any you’ve seen in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. It is typically Burmese, with an ornately carved teakwood façade of glittering gold, golden-goose sculptures and a banana-bud pagoda shaded by an ornamental hti umbrella. There’s an enormous reclining Buddha and the main bot (prayer room) has tiered Pyatthat roofs topped with shimmering taing bu spires.

Refresh at Wat Mani’s herbal sauna

Buddhist Temple, Health Spa
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Despite the heat, herbal saunas are popular in rural Thailand. Scented with lemongrass and traditional woodland herbs, these unisex steam rooms are so small that three feels like a crowd. Changing areas are simple and you should dress to fit in; a t-shirt and fisherman’s trousers or shorts for women, shorts or swimming trunks for men.

Enjoy a brew at Phoe Htoo Myanmar Teashop

Tea Room, Thai
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Traditional Burmese Lahpet salad is made out of pickled ( fermented ) Tea leaves & beans, nuts and sprouts.
© Boaz Rottem / Alamy Stock Photo

The Burmese are great tea drinkers and this informal café-restaurant is as close as you’ll get to a Mandalay tea house in Thailand. At wooden street tables under a large awning, workers gather early in huge numbers to down cups of sweet, strong lahpetyei gyo (made with black leaves and condensed milk). Families come in the evenings for tea and Burmese food, including lahpet fermented tea salads, a national delicacy. It’s quiet the rest of the time.

Go underground at Mae Ka Sa Hot Springs and Cave

Natural Feature
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The journey to Mae Ka, some 25km (16km) from Mae Sot, is fun in itself. The motorbike journey is a whizz through tiny hamlets and rice paddies whilst the spring itself is an unfancy artificial fountain in a grove of trees. Locals love to chuck in raw eggs and you can follow suit – although nobody seems to know how long it takes to cook them. Dripping with stalactites, the caves are at Km. 95 on the Mae Sariang Highway and entering means a wade through a stream.

Make a splash at Pha Charoen Waterfall

Natural Feature, Park
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Views of the tiers of Pha Charoen Waterfall, Tak, Thailand. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.
© Thompson-Holmes Travel / Alamy Stock Photo

Teeming with locals at weekends and on national holidays, the Pha Charoen falls are hugely popular – and dramatic, dropping over limestone rocks in tiers, surrounded by thick forest chirruping with cicadas. Come at other times and you’ll find peace. They’re easy to reach – either by hired motorbike or aboard songthaew pick-up 48, which departs Mae Sot town centre every half an hour. It drops visitors at the entrance to Namtok Pha Charoen National Park, from where steps lead to the falls.

Cycle to the Burma/Myanmar border

Market
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Mae Sot’s suburbs sprawl along Highway 12, west of the airport, all the way to the winding River Moei and the ramshackle border village straddling the Thai-Myanmar border. It’s an easy 40-minute cycle ride. There’s an Instagrammable plaque next to Rim Moei market (where you can buy food and drink), marking the town’s westernmost point and roads hug the river running north and south if you want to pedal the waterfront, off the busy main road.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Kelly Iverson.

These recommendations were updated on July 14, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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