Visa Runs

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I went through one of the grand traditions of Thailand tourism the other day, the "Visa Run". Thailand grants citizens of basically anywhere a 30 day visa free period, which can be renewed simply by walking out of the country into wone of their neighbours (i.e. Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia), then turning around and walking back in again. As Cambodia is the closest to Bangkok, I jumped a 6am (urk) bus heading out that way, arriving in the nearest town, Aranya Prathet, then hopped on a motorcycle taxi to the market clustered around the border itself.

Now there's a strange thing with Cambodian visas, and that's that you can pay US$20 (appx. 700 Thai baht) or 1000 Thai baht (the fees were set back in the 90s, during the Asian economic crisis, and the fees were equal then) - I had fun with this back in 2006, you may recall. It's gone down hill now though, as someone's let the Thais in on the act as well. First my motorcycle taxi driver tried to deliver me to the Cambodian consulate, not the border, where there was an "official" Thai representative who would be happy to get my visa for me, for only 1000 baht. Apparently it was no longer possible to pay in $US... Disregarding him, and directing my driver to take me to the damn border, we continued on our way, eventually getting dropped at the market. Immediately I'm surrounded by people making stamping motions with their hands chanting "Visa, visa, you want visa? Where you go? You go Cambodia? Want visa?". This is new - last time around it was only the Cambodian officials that tried this scam, but there are more on this side now. Insisting that I have a visa already, I push through the crowd and clear Thai customs with considerably less hassle than last time (mainly because, this time around, I haven't overstayed my visa by 30 days... Obviously this smooths the proceedings).

Of course, as soon as I hit the Cambodian visa office, it's clear that things haven't been cleaned up here. There's someone standing there to help me fill out the visa form, lending me a pen and all. He then instructs me that I must pay in Thai baht - while standing under a sign that clearly states, in English, that tourist visas are US$20... Pushing past him to the official at the window, I'm told that of course I can pay in $US... but that I must also pay a 200 baht "fee". When I refuse, the fee becomes 100 baht. I offer 20. He looks offended, then asks if I'm heading back to Thailand that day (as so many border crossers are visa runners). After an affirmative answer, I'm told that, for this, I must pay 1000 baht, as otherwise no money is going to the villagers, hotels, markets, restaurants etc. Rinse and repeat the previous steps w/regards to dollars and fees. The eventual result is that he refuses my paltry bribe (I guess that's some sort of honour, only accepting reasonable bribes) and accepts my application.

Now last time I did more or less the same thing, and they punished me by taking 45 minutes to process the visa, while others were through in 5. This time I made myself useful by explaining things to other tourists as they turned up; strangely, my visa was processed immediately after the first such tourist turned up and I was on my way.

Phimai, Thailand

Anyhow, I had sometimes been doing things other than hanging out in Bangkok and amusing myself with corrupt border officials. We spent a few days out in Ubon Ratchatani and I did some temple hopping on the way back, dropping in on Nang Rong, near Phanom Rung, and Phimai, with Prasat Hin Phimai. Both of these are pre-Angkorian Khmer style temples, beautifully restored. To top it off, I visited Ayuthaya, which is so convenient to Bangkok that I'm surprised I haven't done it before. Ayuthaya was once the Thai capital, and has a large number of semi-restored temples there as well.

Sangkhlaburi, Thailand

I've also taken a short trip up to the Sangkhlaburi, near the Three Pagodas Pass with Myanmar, via Kanchunaburi. Not a lot going on up there, but it's a pleasant spot to relax, enjoy the scenery, wander around and swim in the lake. Heavy fog makes for some interesting photos in the early morning.

Finally, we've just spent a few more days visiting the beaches near Hua Hin - finally getting a bit of sun and sand! Hoping to spend a little more time doing that before we head off to Jordan - which is just over a week away now! Look for more from us soon.