Maesai - Absolute North Thailand
Maesai is the last town on the northern tip of Thailand. The thriving gem trading center sets opposite the Burmese town of Tachilek. A bridge, which opens and closes at the whim of the Burmese government, spans a narrow waterway called the Sai River.
Maesai-Tachilek bridge separates two cultures that are so vastly different, yet so seemingly dependent on each other. Millions of carats of ruby rough flow across the porous border, finding their way into the market in Maesai. This is Monghsu ruby, of lower quality than the gems of Mogok, but the volume is much greater.
Walking the gem market is an eye-opening experience. Those black cherry colored pebbles piled in mounds on weathered wooden tables are rubies. Millions of dollars of yet to be heat-treated rough is right the in the open, being haggled over by millionaires and would-be millionaires.
You can buy rough or you can buy finished gems or you can buy beautiful fakes. For the rough to be worth cutting, it needs to be heat treated. We recommend that you abstain unless are truly an expert. Then be extraordinarily careful to avoid switches during the heating and cutting processes.
Maesai does have some unique handicrafts. Probably the most uniquely appealing are the Burmese puppets. Quality ranges from very poor to quite good. Shop accordingly and bargain like crazy. You can occasionally find antique puppets, but be sure you know the difference.
Other Burmese antiques are occasionally available at inflated prices. But the Burmese antique rush has been going on for decades.
Getting to Maesai is easiest by bus. But you will still have a short seelor ride or long walk from the Maesai station to the town center and bridge area. Minivans will be more expensive, but will drop you at the last intersection nearest the bridge.
Maesai has a wide range of accommodations. The Wangthong Hotel is probably the best, but many of the guest houses along the river (take the road beside the bridge) are extremely pleasant and affordable.
Maesai is a market town and caters to gem and merchandise dealers coming from Bangkok and Chantaburi. Several venues of different types of nightlife are scattered around the river side.