I woke up and saw that people were grabbing their belongings and preparing to exit the bus. Someone looked at me and said, “Bangkok.” I picked myself up off the floor and shook my travel companion awake. Wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I stepped out into the dark morning hours of the station. We had taken the bus to Bangkok from Ranong, Thailand where we had to go to renew our VISAs.
The process of renewing a 15-day Thai tourist VISA in theory sounds simple enough and is a very common thing to do when traveling in Thailand. Whether it’s Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia or Laos, one only has to be stamped out of Thailand, in and out of one of the suggested countries, and stamped back in. There is no 24-hour wait or fee (besides in Burma where you have to pay 10 USD to enter the country) and you can immediately return to Thailand to be issued with a new VISA.
The border crossing in Ranong requires you to take a boat across the Malacca Strait into Myanmar. This is a popular checkpoint because it is the closet from the touristy islands in the Gulf of Thailand and to the infamous Phuket. You can choose to do this on your own (which of course we did) or you can pay a travel company to set everything up for you. The companies will include all travel expenses, border crossing charges, and usually meals.
So what was cheaper?
Well, we actually spent $10 extra doing everything ourselves. However, it took about an hour less of time than when I went, 2 weeks later, with a travel company. Mostly because when you go with the other tourists you have longer lines to wait in and more people to wait on. If you go by yourself, you can get to the border early before the many “VISA run” buses come through.
After taking the boat to Myanmar and back, we got in line for reentering Thailand. The Official stamped my passport and I went to wait for my travel companion. I noticed that he was taking longer than I had and that something was wronged. Todd walked over to me shrugging his shoulders and biting his lip.
“What ‘s wrong?” I asked.
“They won’t let me in because I’m wearing a sleeveless shirt.”
We had noticed the sign when being stamped out of Thailand but did not give it much attention due to the numerous tourists who were wearing bathing suits, short skirts, etc.
This is a picture of the sign I found on the Internet. I wish there was a complete one but you can get the idea here.
I like the last one,
“Wearing any kind of sandal, except, sandal is part of their culture.”
I guess you could argue for any kind of sandal!
Without saying anything to my companion, I ran over to the man who had taken us across the border on his boat and explained the situation. From there, he turned around to his friend, said something in Thai, and the friend preceded to take off his jacket and then handed it to me. I will never stop being amazed at the kindness of strangers.
I ran back, gave the jacket to Todd, and he got back in line. The official stamped him back into Thailand. We found the jacket lender, thanked him, and made our way back to the bus station.
The stress from obtaining our new VISAs and having to go through the hoopla for the first time was exhausting. Before the dress-code issue, we had gotten off the bus too early, gone to the wrong building, and missed breakfast. However, our bickering and woulda-coulda-shoudas were quickly resolved once we found a food stall market.
I cannot stress enough the importance of food stall markets. Smoothies, noodles, chicken, dim sum, and other unidentifiable things are in endless supply. And everyone wants YOU to try them. In the end, I found a place with some sort of spicy noodles in a bag. Absolutely delicious.
We walked a few more blocks and made it to the bus station. When we discovered the bus to Bangkok was sold out, we took the lessons learned from Mongolian transport. Remember? Fit everything and everyone you possibly can onto/into every vehicle? We asked if we could sit on the floor of the bus. Of course! We shared the floor in the back of the bus with a Thai couple and somehow found sleep.
And that’s how we made it to Bangkok.