There are some things in life which are painful and unnecessary but ultimately inevitable and mandatory. Once you’ve been lured to the paradise of Thailand and wish to extend your stay as so many tourists before you, you too will be forced to do a visa run. Depending on where you are, you may have to make the trek to Myanmar, Cambodia or Malaysia. Living on the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf in Thailand, we chose to go to the Malaysian border at Khuan Don. There are many steps we could have taken to make this smoother, but either way prepare yourself for a long, tiring drive and an interesting, motley crew of passengers.
1. Overstay your visit.
Like South Africa, there are many countries (check if you are eligible here) who can enter Thailand and get a 30 day tourist visa upon arrival. You don’t want to surpass these numbers of days as you will be fined 500 baht per day. We totally forgot that our visa was about to run out, so we had to extend it at the Immigration office in Nathon for 1900 baht. They only gave us an extra week. So a visa run was imminent.
2. Forget your passports.
This may seem obvious, but when you have to wake up at 4:30am to meet the group at the ferry at 5:30am and you’re rushing to take a day’s worth of food, sunscreen, entertainment etc, it may slip your mind. We raced to get to the ferry and just before we reached the pier in the darkness of morning, we realised that we’d forgotten the most important thing. Luckily our driver said we could just come again the following day.
3. Piss off the Immigration Officers.
They are the men deciding your fate and the length of your stay in the country. Even though you’re tired, smile and hope all is well with your passport. You will have to fill out a departure form on the Thai side, cross the line into Malaysia, get your entry stamp and then your departure stamp. Three minutes later you will walk back through the gate and re-enter Thailand and complete an arrival card. 12 hours of driving and about 3 hours on a ferry for four stamps.
1. Apply for a single or double entry visa BEFORE coming to Thailand.
As South Africans, this would have only cost us R300 (approx. 1000 baht) and saved us a lot of admin and driving. All we needed to do was courier our passports and a few more documents to the Thai Embassy in our country. If we gone this route, we would have received 60 days upon arrival and be able to extend our stay by 30 days on a visa run and not a measly 15 days. With a double entry, our visa run would have entitled us to an extra 60 days stay. Sadly our visa run to Malaysia meant a whole day’s worth of driving, only to allow us to stay 15 more days before doing it all over again.
2. Pray you don’t have passengers like ours.
One Russian woman on our mini-bus started drinking beer before the sun rose at 6am. She proceeded to pay our driver 500 baht on condition that he would stop whenever she asked to as opposed to the one scheduled stop. She continued to drink through the day and repeatedly asked him to stop for toilet breaks and at the liquor store. Even though we were behind schedule by an hour, her friends didn’t say anything and our driver sped along the highway like a bat out of hell trying to keep good time. She spoke when everyone else wanted to sleep and laughed constantly whilst everyone else feared missing the ferry. Another woman continually fought with her boyfriend in English good enough for all of us to understand and 10 hours into the journey made up with him and giggled like a school girl at his every word.
3. Come prepared for the ferry and mini-bus.
The aircon is pumping at very low temperatures. It may be the only instance in Thailand when you need a jersey or hoodie to keep warm. If the rain or scorching sun prevents you from sitting out on deck, you’ll need to move indoors. Ferry trips can be over an hour so come prepared for the cold. Unless you’re on a Seatran ferry (ferries in the best conditions), you don’t want to use these toilets. The look and smell of them is enough to make you wait.
If you only make the one stop on the schedule, you’ll become slightly ravenous during the mini-bus drive. Pack snacks and refreshments to tide you over until the lunch break. Once you reach the border, there’ll be plenty of snacks at the Border Bazaar.
The border bazaar.