The dreaded visa run
You have to wonder who came up with the now much used term ‘visa run’. The term suggests a metaphor: run, as in a ‘quick run across the border and back’. The word ‘run’ generally implies a fast action. In reality, these words present a different figure of speech – irony. There is nothing fast about the trip at all.
There are several companies that make their living by carting busloads of Farangs across the border and back in order to get a stamp in their passport, so that they can legally stay a while longer in the Land of Smiles. The ‘lucky’ ones only have to go to the border; in this case, the closest to Samui is Malaysia. Others, who require a new visa, have to endure a 15-hour trip to Penang in order for the Thai embassy to insert a sparkly new visa in their passports.
Few people want to stay in a dodgy dive of a guest house in Penang, so they upgrade from the standard visa run package to a basic, but at least respectable establishment. Add this expense, as well as spending money for the two days, the cost to the booking agent, and you are looking at about 5000B – a small price to pay for the privilege of spending a while longer in Paradise.
On D-day, you get up early, (or don’t go to bed at all, in the hope that you can sleep your way through most of the trip) and begin the process of ‘hurry up and wait’. Your minibus arrives sometime before the sun comes up, to transport you and other weary-looking passengers to the pier in Nathon. The ferry eventually pulls away from the dock two hours after you were collected from home. The ferry ride is the least painful part of trip, so tricks you into thinking that this will be a breeze. ‘What is all the fuss about’, you smugly think to yourself, ‘This isn’t so bad!’ Then things go swiftly downhill from here. The rest of the journey becomes a blur of changing from busses to mini-busses, with toilet stops at bathrooms that require you to hold your breath, and hope that you can manoeuvre yourself over the Eastern toilet, without stepping in something too unpleasant to mention, or peeing on your own feet. (Mastering the art of using an Eastern toilet requires a write-up all of its own and if there is some secret trick I have yet to discover, please share this information.) Arriving in Penang around 7:30 pm, looking as haggard and awful as you do in your passport photo, the only solace is two days of delicious food that Penang is famous for. Explore the ever-so-colonial Georgetown, buy something bling bling and colourful in little India, and stock up on coconut chocolate at Beryl’s Chocolate Boutique, before enduring the same painful trip in reverse order.
So what is the answer? Well you can grin and bear it, leave for good, or pay in a little and make a trip of it. There are many special offers including 3 or 4 day trips to other Asian countries. Maybe a little exploration or family outing is in order for my next one. I have promised my daughter a trip to Disneyland in Hong Kong, or maybe Laos or Vietnam would be a nice break. For those whose turn is nearing to do the visa crawl, remember that moans and gripes aside, enduring the painful process is worth every boring minute, in order to be able to stay a while longer in the beautiful and intriguing Kingdom of Thailand.