It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Thailand for a month, but in a city like Bangkok where the frenetic pace means you feel like you’ve lived a week for every day, I shouldn’t be so surprised.
If you are a tourist planning on travelling to Thailand, and you are from one of the countries listed on arrival at an international airport, you are given a 30 day visa exemption stamp at no cost.
When we first got to Bangkok, 30 days seemed like ages, and we thought we would definitely leave before our stamp was up. Like all of the best laid plans, things change, and as families members flew in to have fun in Bangkok (rather than have us fly out to see them) our 30 days got eaten up pretty quickly.
So we were faced with having to leave Thailand and re-enter, to continue our travel adventures. Because of the time of year, flights were suddenly getting very expensive. We also didn’t realize that each visa exemption can be extended once at immigration for an additional 30 days for THB1900/$52USD (which would have been a way easier option AND cheaper than our adventure – but then I wouldn’t have this cool story).
So what do you do if you’re an idiot, and at midnight on the 1st of January you realize you’ve actually overstayed your Thai visa exemption by one day?
Lots of traveller boofheads (many of them Australian) come to Thailand thinking that it is a country where pretty much anything goes. And while the locals may be happy to hire you a motorcycle (with no training), sell you buckets full of Hong Thong Whiskey and Cola or send you off to shows where a surprising number of items can emerge from a human woman’s vagina, you definitely want to be respectful to immigration and other figures of authority.
We found out that there were visa run services called (inventively) Thai Visa Service.
It was one of those Thailand moments where you just think – “I’m just going to go with it” as we piled into an unmarked mini-van in the pitch black at 5am, and drove to the Cambodian border.
I slept most of the way there, hopping out at a couple of bathroom breaks and when the driver got petrol.
The actual border crossing itself was another surreal experience. My fine for overstaying was THB500 ($14USD), and once I had paid and had my passport stamped I walked through a tin roofed shed and WHAMBAMTHANKYOUMAM I was in the town of Ban Laem, next to Cambodia, which was literally like a dusty truck stop with people from everywhere buying roadside snacks and doing the same thing as we were.
Thai Visa Services obviously has lots of these buses coming through a day, a man asked us if we were with the “Filipino group” (there were 4 Filipino guys on our bus) and said “give me your passports, walk over that bridge and sit over there”.
Now…ordinarily… I’m not in the habit of just handing over my passport to random guys in foreign countries, but this guy had a STACK of passports sitting on the table, and when I crossed the bridge and officially was in Cambodia, I saw the rest of our unfazed group waiting patiently. Sometimes you just have to roll with the Thailand punches.
Twenty minutes later, after an interesting chat with a German guy who worked for the company/ran the company (I couldn’t tell) we paid our TBH2400 ($66USD), had our Cambodian visa’s, and walked the 30 steps back to Thailand through immigration.
Not one official asked us any questions (only: look, look, stamp, nod), and the whole process felt very much like a business transaction as if I was a cow, being herded one way, and then another. There were no metal detectors, I don’t think there was anyone not wearing a kind of shoe that wasn’t a flip flop, and my interaction with officials was about 30 seconds a piece.
We boarded the bus and were deposited back at the Tesco parking lot by On Nut BTS station at 5pm. 12 hours door to door, and thank you for the additional 30 days Thailand.
Overall the experience was neat and tidy, and mildly felt like a whirlwind.
If you’re better organized than me, there are less painful ways to do it, but now I know there is a whole border town in Cambodia thriving on silly tourists like me.