Daily Archives: February 2, 2005

Attention, fellow fifth-world folks!

Most expats know the ‘pleasure’ of having to travel to one of Thailand’s borders periodically, just to spend a few minutes in the neighboring country, then walk back and cross the border back inside the Land of Smiles. This process, which is about as fun as a colonoscopy, is referred to as the “visa run”.

Most people consider one-month visa runs tedious and boring. However, there are a lucky few of us, who get to repeat it every two weeks!

I decided to describe one of these visa runs for the sake of the “two-week” folks who don’t yet know what’s in store for them. How to decide whether you are in this group? According to the guideleines of the Royal Thai Embassy Extraterrestial Grouping Organisation (RoTE-EGO), if your country’s emblem contains a red star/ hammer and sickle, or did in the recent past (say, in the last few hundred years :p ) or if your country’s currency is equal to/lower than the Thai Baht (or was, say in the last few hundred years) – congratulations! You are in! Welcome to the club.

The first thing you have to do is find the appropriate bordercrossings, as not all borders let Farang through. This should be relatively easy; just go to the nearest bus terminal at 6am and look for the small group of grim-faced Farangs waiting around like soaked birds. Then follow them. Try to pretend to be friendly and pry valuable information out of your travel companions; otherwise, you might find yourself in all sorts of unpleasant situations. For instance, you can stuff your Thai baht you-know-where, if you only find out at the Burmese border that the officials accept only US dollar bills.

When you get to the border, updated with all the latest info, get yourself ready for a tough ride – and no, I don’t mean the shaky songtaew.

The initially friendly officials (friendly because they didn’t look at your commie passport yet) will handle you a tiny slip of paper – really easy to fill out, just a few lines of non-intrusive questions. Don’t get lulled into safety! This little form is only for the privileged majority of Americans, Swiss, Canadian etc citizens. They flash the paper, get the stamp and are welcomed in LOS for another month. You, my friend, will get the special treatment. So, you can take that little piece of paper and stuff it you-know-where (if there is still some place left near the Thai money :p ).

The fun starts when the officer looks at your passport. “Oh, from … (insert your fifth-world country here). Here! Fill this out”. Upon saying this, he will give you a bunch of forms with all sorts of intrusive questions, such as what you will do in Thailand, your address there, a Thai reference’s name and address, the color of your underwear, etc. You will also need two passport-size pictures, (inside Thailand: 20 Bt, at the border: 200 Bt), two copies of the back of your passport, two copies of the latest stamp in your passport (inside Thailand, 50Satang each; at the border: 5Bt each – hey, at least you make use of all those stuffed-in Thai banknotes now!).

By the time you finish, the size of the stacks of paper piling up at your desk could be enough to give you a greencard in just about any other country – but this is a LOS experience.

You put the stack in front of the officer. He takes it to the back, along with your passport. You are almost done – you think. The few hours of detainment (I guess they are checking whether you are a commie insurgent, agitator or secret agent), will give you enough time to check the others passing by. You can muse about the strangeness of the world, as you watch fornicators, child-prostitue recruiters and paramilitaries walk by without a hitch, while you are sitting there like a Bangladeshi refugee waiting judgement to be passed upon you. Your sin: born in the wrong place. But you can condole yourself with the thought that it’s nothing personal. They treat your country this way, not you (if this works, lucky you!).

After a few hours, if this is your lucky day, you are granted permission – but first you have to flash the cash! Depending on your status, you have to show 10.000 or 20.000 Bt – cash only. This will be really difficult time for you if its not your usual style to carry hundreds of dollars cash into safe heavens like Burma. But if you are smart, (and read this blog!), you will have the dough, show it to them and you are good for another two weeks. Of course, being the courteous fellow that you are, you compensate the country with 1000Bt for the wonderful treatment.

Every good thing has to end once…
…and so has your visa runs. If you linger around one border for too long, the officers will be tired of your ugly commie face and will tell you outright that the only way for you at this border is OUT. In that case, you just gotta try your luck at the next border, until they will know you there too…

What happens when all the nearby borders are closed for you at the last day of your visa, and the next available border is more than 24 hours away? In that case, you will get to experience the thrill and excitement of being an illegal outlaw in Thailand. Can’t work, can’t study, can’t re-enter the country. If you are caught with an expired visa, incarceration, a hefty fine and repatriation are the expected treatments.
On the other hand, if you turn yourself in at the nearest immigration office, you only have to pay a small fortune to get a grace period of two weeks, which you can use to find another, yet unused bordercrossing and hope for the best.

Amazing Thailand, isn’t it.

(Side note: America, the country often labelled as one having a paranoid foreign policy, was quite welcoming to this ex-commie writer. Yours truly still holds a valid multiple-entry US visa that was given for ten years, no questions asked. Like I said, the world is strange. )

Thai Stamps – 762

760. The 50th Anniversary of the relationship between Thailand and Argentina

Design: (left) Illustrates a tango dance, which originated in Argentina. (right) Illustrates a classical Thai “klong Yao” dance.

Buying a mobile phone

The other day I thought it was about time to buy myself a new mobile phone. Actually, it would be my first phone. For about five years now I have been using a Siemens mobile supplied by my school. It had done me proud, though the last six months it had been extremely unreliable. Lately it had developed this anti-social habit of turning itself off everytime someone rang. I had already changed the battery but now it looked like it could be something else.

Contrary to popular belief, mobile phones are not that cheap here compared to Western countries. Buying spare parts and paying for repairs on a Siemens phone also wasn’t worth doing for too long. In the end I decided it was better just to buy a cheap new mobile phone. After all, I have had mine for many years and some people I know buy a new phone every year. So, on Thursday night, I drove off to Central City Bang Na to find myself a mobile phone. It turned out harder than expected.

Judging by the large number of phone shops at Central, you could say that just about everyone in Thailand has a mobile phone these days. In MBK Center in Bangkok there are literally hundreds and hundreds of small mobile phone shops. Everyone is buying them. Even samlor and tuk tuk drivers seem to have enough money. From the shops I looked in at Central, the cheapest were around 3000 baht. However, if you buy second hand you can get a lot cheaper. Good ones seemed to start at around 5000 baht so that is the price I aimed at.

I spent about an hour walking around the different shops and, as usual, I ended up going back to the shop I first started at. The brandname I chose was Nokia. This is mainly because everyone seems to have one and you would then presume that it would be easy to have repairs done. I told the shop assistant which model I wanted and then prepared my money. It wasn’t that simple.

I am not sure about other countries, but here they give you a free sim card with your mobile phone. In theory, you can use this same card in different phones so that you can always keep your own number. I could have kept my sim card from the Siemens phone, but, apart from the fact that it wasn’t mine, it was also now quite expensive. Rental was 500 baht per month and calls were 5 baht per minute. There used to be a promotion but that only lasted for two years.

Anyway, for a foreigner to get a Sim card you have to jump through some hoops. Not surprisingly I suppose. I had to show my work permit and passport and also give them a letter from my school. Obviously I didn’t have all of these with me at the time. So, I had to get everything together and then go back again on Sunday.

Back at the shop things went more smoothly this time. The only slight hiccup was that they neglected to mention that I should have a passport photo as well. But another shop assistant came to the rescue and took a picture of me and said he would print it out later.

They then asked me which network I wanted to use for the sim card. More decisions to make. I hadn’t really given this one much thought. In the end I made the decision based on the kind of promotions they were offering. I went for GSM Advance which was asking for 250 baht monthly rental and 3 baht per minute. There were also offering the first 50 minutes per month free. This is the main reason I wanted to get a new sim card and not stick with the old one. The final decision I had to make before they gave me the phone was to pick a phone number from a short list of numbers. That wasn’t too hard.

For tourists and people staying here short term, you don’t really have to get this proper sim card. I know some people who brought their own mobile phones from abroad or bought one here. They then bought a “rechargeable” sim card from places like 7-eleven. They also needed to get their phone “unlocked” in order to use it in Thailand. But, apparently this is quite cheap and can easily be done in MBK Center. For me, it just made more sense to get a proper sim card.

[i]Paknam Weather report: Dry days and nights with a refreshing wind. Minimum temperature 26 Celsius and maximum 32 Celsius. The other night it was hot and humid with a temperature of 31 Celsius at 9 p.m.[/i]

Monk is a man

I’ve been coming to Thailand for about 4 years. I’m married to a Thai woman from a small village near Tak. However, when I met her she was going to Rajabat University in Lampang. Whenever, we would go out for a ride she would insist on locking the car even though nothing was in the car and the car itself really wasn’t worth stealing. I come from Michigan in the USA and although crime is a problem in America I have never really been in the habit of locking my car every time I stop while shopping or going to work or attending school. After a few months with my wife in Thailand I got in the habit of always locking her car wherever we went. One day we drove up to Tak and went to a Thai temple to ask for a blessing for our marriage from the monk in her village. The temple grounds were surrounded by a tall stone fence and we had to drive through a gate to gain access to the Monks living quarters. When I got out of the car I deliberately did not lock it. My thinking was a Monk being a holy man would certainly not steal anything. As I started to walk away from the car my wife gave me a stern look and reminded me to lock the car. When I started to protest that a monk wouldn’t steal she replied in her infinite wisdom, “Honey, a monk is still a man.”