Although just 5m across the river from Mae Sai, the most northern town in Thailand, Tachileik is in a whole different world. The happy outgoing atmosphere that you have been used to in 'the land of smiles' in Thailand evaporates instantly and is replaced by a slightly uptight one. This is not to say that the Burmese people are not welcoming, indeed they love tourists and are very keen to sit down and talk (when they think they are not being watched), but do not expect to feel at ease here, and do not be surprised if you are followed by government people throughout the town. As long as your purposes are legitimate, you follow local rules and customs and you don't go around making a spectacle of yourself, you will have a great time in Tachileik and the border area of Myanmar. The town is a typical border trading town with a twist.
The majority of people crossing over to Myanmar are Thais shopping for bootlegged Chinese goods in the market. Alternatively some Thais cross to play golf on the only course in the region so expect to see the very surreal site of large groups of people crossing the border carrying a set of clubs. There is also a small casino in Tachileik catering even to 'low' rollers. You may even find a 10 baht roulette table.
If you are expecting to see 'the real Myanmar' this is not the place to do it. If you are 'Stamp collecting' in your passport, want to see something a bit more visceral than what you find in Thailand (such as men wearing traditional longyi) or are at a loose end in Chiang Rai for the day then this is a good place to go. The great thing about visiting here is the ease of entry to the border area, getting another stamp in your passport and getting a flavour of life in Myanmar. Tachilek has a pronounced wet season during which it is likely to experience flooding 2 or 3 times. The Ruak River rises quickly and falls almost as quickly. It is not uncommon for there to be some flooding in the centre of town, but not the border crossing itself though on the 5th September 2014 there was a heavy overnight storm which caused an exceptionally high river flow and flooding and the river flowed over the border bridge.
It is possible to enter Myanmar at the Mae Sai border post. There is a day entry-permit that allows travellers to enter Tachileik for one day only, while the Myanmar Immigration authorities will hold on to your passport. You will require two photocopies of your passport (offered for 6 Baht from a shop west of the bridge). On the Thai side, the Thai authorities will retain your passport, and stamp both copies (this costs 200 Baht for non-Thai nationals). You then take your authorised copies to the Burmese side. Here, an official stamps one of the copies and retains another (for 500 Baht). You are then free to enter Tachileik. On your return, you take the remaining copy to the Thai border control, who will hand you back your passport, and retain the remaining paper copy. No entry in made in the passport, so there is no record of entering Burma. Thus, for non-Thai nationals, the cost of entering Tachileik for the day is 706 Baht (around $22). This information is correct as of October 2014. Note that border operations close at 5pm (return to Thailand before then). The Thai border control will screen your possessions for illegal items, such as endangered animals (parts) or narcotics.
Update: Since 28th August 2013, the Tachileik / Mae Sai border is designated as an international entry and exit point . Having obtained a full Myanmar Visa in advance (from a Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, Vientiane, Hanoi, ...) you are welcome to enter Myanmar overland. However traveling further than Tachileik is restricted, but possible, see Get out section.
Be sure that you have the appropriate travel documents to re-enter Thailand at Mae Sai, you will only be able to get a 15 day entry pass (non-visa exemption) into Thailand rather than the usual 30 day one that you get at the airport. If you have an actual visa and want to keep it, remember to get a re-entry permit in advance.
Note that as of November 2013, G7 member country passport holders can receive a 30 day entry pass for Thailand: UK, USA, Japan, Germany, France, Canada and Italy. In addition to G7, the following countries already can receive a 30 day entry pass: Hong Kong, Laos, Macau, Mongolia, Russia and Vietnam.
In case you are a Thai citizen, you can make a temporary border pass at the Immigration office about 2KM before the border on Pahonyotin Rd in Mae Sai for 30 baht. All you need is your bat prachachon (ID card).
Several domestic airlines operate flights from and to Tachileik, but schedules might change frequently or not operate every day.
Local flights also operate more like a bus schedule, with one plane making several stops in a day, this can make looking at flight time tables confusing, but also can make travel quite simple as you can just wait on the plane rather than changing to a new flight at the airport.
Check schedules and further routes on booking sites e.g. www.visitmm.com
The airport in Tachileik has non-computerized processing of passengers.
Shared taxis (US$12) and buses (US$8) run to Kengtung (4-5 hrs) in the mornings. A permit is necessary but bus and taxi drivers can make the arrangements (don't show up at the last minute). Onward travel from Kengtung to Mong La on the Chinese border is possible with permission from Myanmar immigration, easily organized in Kengtung.
Tachilek is small and there are plenty of trishaws for hire. Motorcycle taxis and car taxis are also available. The bus station and airport are outside town on the road to Kengtung. Take a pickup or hire a taxi to get there.
Try your luck at the Regina casino, a short 100 baht tuk tuk ride from the border.They're the same people who own the golf course. Definitely for low rollers, you can play roulette with 10 baht chips. They've also got black jack, craps and gaming machines. If you change 2,000 baht into chips you get a free Thai lunch. You can change left over chips back again afterwards. A casino minibus will take you back to the border.
If you go in a group, you may want to try in the meeting centre in British Columbia International School Tachileik, located in the southwest of the city, you will have to rent the meeting room, there will be a melody played at around 3 pm, it's not to stop the meeting but it is used everyday for the school. In the meeting room, you will see an opened cupboard and lots of arts designs on the wall. The meeting can be between 10:00-18:00. Unofficial meetings from Thailand are usually held here.
Tachileik market is much like any market you would find on the Thai side of the border except that it sells a large quantity of items that would get you into a good deal of trouble with your customs authority back home.
You can find all the latest DVDs at prices ranging from 40 Baht. As long as you don't go mad with the quantity you should have no problems getting them back into Thailand, as for taking them back home, that depends on your countries customs policies. Thai authorities do check what is brought back into Thailand. While bootlegged goods are fine, endangered animals, products made from them and narcotics are not. Be prepared to be arrested if you try to bring such items back into Thailand.
Expect, occasionally to see wildlife, endangered animal pelts and skulls, though these are rarely seen in the main part of the market. Local handicrafts range from kitsch to genuine Shan clothing.
Knocked off prescription drugs (in particular Viagra) and X rated films are carried around by very annoying, but licensed hawkers. Knives and guns are freely available. Do not buy cigarettes as they are usually Burmese knock offs put into western branded packages and will likely get you into trouble with the Thai Customs when you try and return into Thailand. (also, they taste *terrible*)
Be wary that if you do intend to shop here the Thai customs authority screen every bag returning to Thailand and do not take kindly to many of the things sold in the market.This applies mainly to returning Thais however, foreigners' bags are hardly ever screened as long as the bearer looks presentable.
Most tourists to Tachilek pop across the border from Thailand for a night and there are many hotels in town. Prices are usually quoted in Baht but dollars are welcome.
Travelling to destinations within Myanmar is limited or even forbidden.
With a guide you may travel
However it is forbidden for tourists to travel overland from Tachileik to Taunggyi, although there is a bus going there.
Flights to Kengtung are also available.