Tuesday, December 4, 2007

And the fine print said....

for stays less than thirty days. I would never had known I was in trouble if this woman I was talking to had not said " so what kind of visa did you get since you are staying longer than thirty days?" " Huuuh?" "Visa? " I was about to be an illegal alien. Chit. I needed to do something. So I had dinner. That usually solves everything. While eating I read my guide book and found this was a common problem among expats and Burmese citizens,(needing extended visa's) and all I needed to do was a " Visa run". Seemed simple enough. If you buy an expensive package deal it is. But the guide book said it could be done cheaper on your own, if you wanted a challenge. My challenge started with the sleeper ferry. This time; dramamine and a bunk all to myself, against the wall, opposite the window. Several other travelers were on board, one of which was doing the visa run thing. She had a package deal and warned me against the "on your own" thing. I waivered but was determined. When the boat docked on the mainland at 5 am (I was awake this time) the woman tried to get me to wait with her for the visa run mini van package deal thing, and I waivered, but grabbed a songathiew (a fancy word for a cattle truck with benches) into Chomphoun town. As I left she said " your going to have to wait for hours for a bus". I cringed. When I got to the Chumphoun bus station I had one of the many "conversations" I have when trying to get transport. " Bus to Ranong?" "Yes." "When?" "Many Many." "Next one?" "Soon." "What time?" " Very soon." "When?" "&*%$#*" " What time?" SIX and THREE." "Where?" "Over there." "By the bank?" "Over there." "By the tree?" "No six and THREE!" " Which side?" "It go this way." "Okay; Ticket?" " Bus" " Yes, ticket for bus?" " Yes, bus" "Ticket?" "Bus Bus." "Ticket on Bus?" "Yes." " Kow Phoun Ka." I started wondering why I took on this challenge. I still don't know for sure if I am going to catch the right bus. "Is this worth the money saved" I asked myself? I stand between the tree and the bank and sure enough the bus comes, I get on, and later while on the bus they ask me to buy the ticket. I get to Ranong and there, again, I begin to waiver. A woman at a travel agency calls me in and tells me," Visa very difficult, I have Visa you go Visa with me". I look down at the price and it is SO expensive. I grit my teeth and head out on the search for a crisp ten dollar bill. The Burmese border guards want only crisp brand new ten dollar bills. If they don't like the bill, you don't get a Visa, period. I wander around asking people for a bank. They cannot understand me, or me them. A school girl on a motorbike stops and listens in on the conversation and offers me a ride to the bank. I am wonder what a school aged girl knows about a bank. I get on behind her backpack and all and sure enough she drops me at the bank. The bank people act like they have never heard about this ten dollar thing, even though Ranong is the jumping off point for visa runs, but finally after several "conversations" they produce, and I pay for, a crisp ten dollar bill. It is only 9 am. I think "wow this is going well". I head to the day market to catch a red #3 songathiew. At the songathiew station there is this big Thai guy yelling at me, "Hello you, Hello". I waved him off and climbed on a songatheiw, proud of myself that I can get around on my own. Thankfully the big Thai guy knew better and stopped the songathiew guy and gave me several stamping motions with his hands and a questioning look. Ah I thought, Visa stamp. So I got off, bowed an apology, and waited with him for the right songathiew. THEN I headed for the Thai immigration office. There they would stamp me "out" of Thailand. But instead I got in line with a bunch of illegal immigrants. Thankfully I was still legal and I noticed their leg chains, so I switched lines and got stamped out of Thailand. Next I walked out of the office and down the street a mile then turned right to a pier full of longtail boats. They are called longtails because the propellers are 12 feet behind the boat on a long "tail". The only way these things can go backwards is for the boatman to swing this propeller (while it is spinning) up near your head and beside the boat. There are thirty or forty boats there, all swinging their propellers forwards and backwards, moving into the pier and away, picking up passengers and dropping them off. It is an absolute zoo. I have to walk over four or five boats that are bobbing and bumping with the waves to get to the one that will take me to Burma. Then I have to wait for the thing to fill up before it leaves. When it did, we made our way to an island just off Thailand's shore, there I got stamped "into" Burma. Next we traveled about 40 minutes across the bay (not one life jacket ont the boat) and landed on Burma's shore. I went to the immigration office, got stamped "out" of Burma and got back on the boat in less than 20 minutes. I got another longtail and waited until it filled up and then it headed back to Thailand. On the way it stopped at another island and I got stamped back into Thailand. When we docked back at the original pier, I had to walk back to the immigration office and got my "official" Visa papers. There I grabbed another songathiew back to the bus station, went through another "conversation" and one half hour later caught a bus to Khoa Sok National Park, my final destination. I arrived at Khoa Sok Park exactly 24 hours after starting the Visa run. Yeah. I can stay in Thailand another 30 days. At this point I don't care. I just want to go to bed. Before I got to bed I met Zofia. She is a card.


Jan said...

Visa, boats and buses, oh my....seems tame compared to Visa, longtails, and songathiew, oh-h-h-h my! You are one amazing woman Tracy! What is a challenge for you is the stuff that for me is fodder for a lifetime of nightmares!

Hopefully Khoa Sok will be a respite from the pace of the cities. Can't wait to hear more about Zofia,


Anonymous said...

Great Story Tracy, Patience has a whole new meaning...so glad you stuck to the process and came out tired but 'experienced'.
Miss you so much!
Love Kara

Anonymous said...

Hi Tracy,
Loved your blogs! You have so much patience & determination!!!! Don't know where you got the patience but I think I know where you got the determination! You will certainly be able to use the skills you have learned when you return to the classroom!
Like Kara, we miss you terribly! June seems like a long way away but will be here before we know it!
Keep enjoying!!
Love, Mom & Frank