Border Run

Lest you all think my life is just one big bowl of never-ending cherries… I present the Thai visa extension policy. When you get a visa on arrival upon landing in Thailand it is good for 30 days. Today was day 31 and thus I had overstayed my visa. I wasn’t worried though because according to my trusty Lonely Planet they allow you to stay one extra day for free and as long as you cross a border you can re-enter and get another 30-day visa no problem.

This morning I boarded the Visa Run van for the all day round-trip to Myanmar. It was a brutal day. A Visa Run from Phuket costs 1800 baht ($50) and requires you catch a van at around 6am for the drive to Ranong. Once you arrive in Ranong you wait in the slow-moving queue for Thai immigration to give you a departure stamp. This is when my van load learned that the one-day overstay policy had been changed. About half of us were one day over and each of us had to pay 500 baht.

This would have been irritating enough under normal circumstances, but since most of us actually could not get out of the country earlier because of the residual affects of the airport closures it was an added insult.
Once you have paid your fines and gotten your departure stamp you are herded into a shoddy long tail boat for the ride across the bay to Burma/Myanmar. From the boat you walk a short distance to the immigration office through a tunnel of hawkers peddling fried unidentifiable food items, cigarettes and Viagra. From what I could tell the local economy seems to thrive almost solely on Viagra sales.

Then it is back on the boat for the loud and somewhat frightening return trip to Thailand. From here you stand in the arrival queue for another good long time. This line is where we all learned that as of December 1 the rules for visa extensions were changed - apparently a frequent occurrence, if not a well-publicized one. I got my passport back with my new visa good through Dec. 22, only 15 days and a full two weeks shy of my planned departure date. The new regulations say that if you cross at a land boarder you only get 15-day extensions, if you arrive by airplane, you get 30.

The entire visa stamping, boat trip process takes about three hours. Three very hot hours and the result is a horribly smelly return bus trip. Right about here I coined the phrase Kristen Annoyed, and this is the state I remained in for the rest of the day.

One of my dearest friends, Kristen, is famous for telling it exactly as she sees it. While this can be hard for some, I find it immeasurably entertaining. When Kristen is perturbed she let's you know. No matter if the offending culprit is a rogue sprig of cilantro in her otherwise lovely dinner or a someone who genuinely wrongs her, Kristen's disdain is evenly doled out.

One of my favorite Kristen-ism resulted after I innocently asked if she might like to spend a day with me at Water World, a Denver water park. The look of utter shock and horror on her face, which then dissolved into pity for a sad soul like me, was startling. Once she had overcome her initial horror she looked at me straight faced and said "Rachel, I do not want to bathe with those people." Those people being anyone outside of immediate family and one or two men she could think of. I had never really thought about a day at a water park as bathing with 'them' but once she said it... well come on, it is resonating with you right now too, admit it.

And so there I was trapped in a travel van with eight men who smelled more like farm animals than people, most of whom had purchased little blue pills in Myanmar and all of whom bitched loudly the entire way home about the new visa regulations and I was Kristen annoyed for the next six hours.

My annoyance peaked when the bus driver dropped me off not at my hotel where he had picked me up, but on the highway a full kilometer up a mountain, across six lances of speeding traffic, and through a torrential downpour away from my accommodations. A mad dash and a trash bag saved my computer from certain destruction but my mood could not be salvaged that easily.

The good news here, if there is any, is that I was vacillating over heading north to check out Chang Mai and crossing into Cambodia and Laos or just renting a beach house down south for the month. Since I now will have to cross a boarder at least one more time, looks like I’ll be heading north. It is always easier when fate makes decisions for you.

All in all the process is a real nuisance. Given the beating the Thai tourist industry has taken over the last few years what with political unrest and natural disasters you would think the government would work to promote travel, not make it this much harder, more expensive and stressful. Alas, no.... and so sometime before the 22nd I will get to do this all over again, and since I now think I am staying in Thailand through Jan 13, I may even get to do it twice! Viagra anyone?


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