Run for the Border

Kawthoung Travel Blog

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My alarm woke me up at a time no backpacker should ever have to see at the front-end of their day. I groggily dragged myself and my belongings out of the Phuket hostel I'd inhabited for less than 12 hours and waited for my minibus pick-up. I crammed in with the other 13 passengers--Indians, Irish, an American and Aussie, 4 drunk Frenchies and a couple question marks--and headed for the Myanmar border. We were on a visa run.

"Visa Run" is a part of every traveler and ex-pat's vocabulary in Thailand. And if you choose to stay in the country longer than your initially allotted 30 days, it becomes a part of your experience as well. Foreigners have two options for a visa extension and chance to avoid being booted out of the country with a weighty fee upon departure.
You can pay for extensions in 7-day increments. Or for 100 Baht less, you can hook up with a company that will bring you across the border and back in for another 30 days. I opted for the second option and chance to get a Burmese stamp in my passport.

The whole process is a bit silly, to be honest. Traveling 12 hours roundtrip to set foot in Myanmar for 15 minutes seems a bit excessive and unnecessary. But that's the way it works here. And the fact that you could do it every month for the rest of your life and never have to pay for the visa is amazing. So you go through the motions. You take your "Welcome to Myanmar" pictures. And then you say thank you when the Thai authorities graciously let you back into their country for another 30 days.

The six hour drive from Phuket to the border city of Ranong is not a pleasant one. For one, everyone is exhausted. Heads are bobbing. Necks contort. Every part of your body individually falls asleep in some painful way or another, but refuses to collectively do you the same favor. Nausea sets in as a result of the lead-footed driver and rough roads, the chocolate milk and 7-Eleven muffin you ate for breakfast or the wafting odor of alcohol and deodorant-free sweat on the Frenchman to your left. Bathroom breaks are few and far between and far from sparkling porcelain thrones when you do get one.

But you do it. And you survive. Cindy, my fellow American on the journey has lived in Thailand for the past five years and been through these steps once or twice before.
It was nice to have an experienced companion and someone to talk to. I followed her lead through passport control at the Thai departure gate, onto the boat that took us 20 minutes across the sea and into Myanmar, at the Burmese passport control that effectively stamped us into and out of the country in one fell swoop, and then back to Thailand for a new entry stamp.

When we'd all completed the process and ate our complementary lunch, I grabbed my backpack and let the bus drive back to Phuket without me. I was Bangkok-bound, so I went to stand where, I believed, the driver told me to stand. And waited for the taxi truck I was pretty sure would take me to the Ranong bus station. Then proceeded to effectively kill 6 hours curled up on a station bench, sleeping and reading, until my 8:30pm bus departed.

It's a shame my entire Myanmar experience takes place on about 50 meters of land and consists solely of a passport stamp and a bathroom straight out of a horror film that, five months ago, would have had me turning right back around and "holding it" for a little longer. But under the circumstance of experience under the belt and a slight sense of urgency, I said "What the hell," instead. And then there was the advice of our Thai guides, informing me I could buy cheap cigarettes, whisky and viagra (I believe "4 hours of boom-boom" was their exact description) here if I so desired. I'd say I'm ready to start writing the guidebook.
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photo by: Deats