Visa Run To Myanmar (the country formerly known as Burma)
Jun 29, 2005
|"You'll be long-termers," we were told, by many a volunteer upon our arrival in Khao Lak. "No one stays for just the two weeks they say they will."
And we didn't. And we began to say the same lines ourselves to each new volunteer that joined the small community as the days progressed into weeks and the weeks into months. The work feels good, the friends amazing, and Khao Lak is a difficult place to leave.
As a result of people staying well beyond their intended departure date, "visa runs" become inevitable (and a common term in the Khao Lak community vocabulary). The Thai government issues foreigners a 30 day visa, and if one wishes to stay beyond that 30 days, you simply have to cross the border, go no further than the immigration office to get your departure stamp and re-entry stamp, and you're good to go for another 30. Bureaucratic silliness.
The most traveled "visa run" from Khao Lak is to the Burmese border town of Ranong, a 3 hour drive from Khao Lak, until the fun starts with the longtail boats.
With four of us (Jon, MJ, Hila, Jeff) scrunched into the backseat of a small sedan, Neeshan driving and Sanchia putting her navigational skills to the test, we set out for what we had been told was a "brutal" (yet necessary) adventure. (The necessity simply lies in not wanting to be charged the 200 baht ($5) per day penalty for each day you stay beyond your visa expiry date... they won't throw you in jail, nor will you be deported. They just want their money).
Our day was anything but brutal, however. It was a generally pain-free drive (despite the lack of personal space in the back seat), and from there we found ourselves in grimey Ranong. Not a pleasant town in the slightest, but our adventures in Central America had hardened our senses to smells and grunge and general upleasantries.
Half of our travel companions had already weathered this journey before, so we were really along for the ride, and simply followed their lead. After "hiring" a young boy to take us to the boat dock, we boarded the rickety longtail with a bit of caution (Sanchia with a bit more than the rest of us). For about $2 each, our driver took us where we needed to go, and back, in general safety. The immigration outposts were situated along the river, mere wooden shacks that looked as though the slightest breath of wind would send them tumbling into the polluted waters below. We made several stops at these riverside shacks, some on the Thai side, and the others as we entered the waters of Myanmar(Burma). A boat full of unsuspecting farang, we were given no troubles. Until we set our feet onto Myanmar soil.
There were several young "entrepeneurs" to greet us at the dock, eager to show us where the immigration office was, in case we couldn't read the 5by5 foot sign only inches from our eyes. We were stamped into Burma (after handing over two crisp $5 bills to add to the immigration officer's impressive stack). Part of one's duty when doing a visa run, is to purchase the two cases of cigarettes and one bottle of whisky that one is allowed to take back across the Thai border. Even if you don't smoke, or drink, there are plenty of eager souls in Khao Lak to pass on the goods to. Our entrepreneurial Burmese teenagers led us directly where we needed to go (we accepted their guidance solely out of fear for what would happen if we denied it). The streets of this Myanmar border town were frantic, dirty, and full of the madness that only a frequented border town can possess. Whisky was bought, as were 80 baht ($2) cases (24 packs) of cigarettes for our smoker friends. The men of our bunch were offered "boom boom," and "ladies" of course, and our "guides" did all they could to try and get us to purchase illegal drugs, pretty much directly beneath the governmental anti-drug sign on the water's edge.
It was a whirlwind 10 minutes in Burma. One should never judge a country by its bordertown. So I will never say I personally experienced anything about the country or its people. A Burmese stamp in our passports is all we have.