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3 Countries In One Day

  • Written by PooYai Lee
  • July 31st, 2002
  • 12 min read


3 Countries In One Hour


Well, 3 countries in one hour; almost!!!!!! It's a long story, but here goes. I left on a flight to Chiang Rai on Friday. Chiang Rai is about an hour south of the famous golden triangle. (about 1000 miles north of Bangkok ). This area is infamous for growing opium and drug smuggling between Thailand, Burma, and Laos.

To start, I had a mission here. My visa was up in about 5 days, and in order to get it extended to be able to stay in Thailand for another thirty days I had to go to another country, get my passport stamped at both borders, and then return. If course, I also wanted to see these border towns too.

Another variable I want to mention before I get into the details is the fact that I have begun and now almost finished a novel by Steven Leather called the Solitary Man. It is about a man who breaks out of prison in Bangkok and then goes to the golden triangle to meet a drug lord in Burma to get a new passport. It was simply unbelievable how what I read each day somehow paralleled my journey.

To begin, I had last years 3 trips to Thailand under my belt here, so I knew that border crossings often close early, so I began my day bright and early. After exploring the city of Chiang rai the first day we then rented a car at the hotel the next day at 11 am. (believe me, that's very early for me). I drove north an hour to the golden triangle and then explored that area, hitting the opium museum and a temple with another large golden Buddha inside. Then to the top of the mountain for some great pictures and viewing of Burma on the left and Laos on the right. But wait, I'm having all this fun, but I still need to get my 30 day extension, and it's already 2 PM. And by the way, I'm travelling with a Thai companion, so my guess is everything will go as smooth as silk. Nothing could have been more from the truth.

Now my first decision is do I go to Burma or Laos for my 30 day extension. Since I had already been to Burma last year, I decided Laos would be more fun. The Burma border immigration entrance we're told is 30 minutes east in the city of Mae sai and the Laos border city is a little less than one hour north west in the city of Chiang Kong. About one hour later I arrive at the Laos border before 3 PM only to find out it's Saturday and although the border is open on the weekend, visas are issued only on weekdays. So I did make it on time, but I forgot what day of the week it was and I was unaware that you could not get an immediate visa at the border on weekends. Therefore, I'll have to come back Monday if I want to accomplish my goal of getting my visa extended for another 30 days. I was fine with this, since there was lot's to see in the area.

However, an immigration guy tells us that the Burma border is open today in Mae sai till 6 PM and if we hurried we could take care of everything today. Why not get it all out of the way today I decide, so I drive back through the golden triangle to Mae sai, arriving early with 20 minutes to spare. However, would you believe that there was a shooting at this border last night, so even though the Thailand side is open, Burma has its gates locked. Therefore, no getting into Burma this weekend I am told. But assuming of course can often be wrong. I did get into Burma the next day, but not how I expected to get in or out at all.

So back I went to the infamous triangle, and we booked in at the golden imperial triangle resort. The next morning I took a couple of hour walk through the area and discovered a company on the river selling a 5 star hotel with a casino only a 10 minute boat ride away in Burma at a ridiculously reduced rate; and although they don't stamp passports we're told; they simple hold your passport at immigration till you leave. So since we had nothing more exciting to do, and also since my friend had never been to a casino before ( they are not allowed in Thailand), off we went. So we check out of our hotel and drive a half mile east to this boat to take us to the paradise resort in Burma. Immigration takes my passport and holds it till I leave I am told.

Now here I am in Burma spending most of my day reading my book, and in the book he has just escaped from the Bangkok jail and is heading to the golden triangle to get a boat to cross to Burma. He is warned continually to have eyes in back of his head, because once in Burma you never know what can happen to you.

So again, here I am in Burma, with the main border in Mae sai closed to everyone, and I'm exploring the resort when a man warns me not to leave the complex because it is very dangerous out there. But I figured he meant it was dangerous for Thai people, so I kept on going. The resort is owned by all Thais, but it is in Burma, and thus with all the conflict going on, I find out later, that it is considered a possible place to be attacked. But what am I to fear, I'm a farang from America. I walk about a mile alongside little bamboo and straw huts which I assume are owned by the workers there. They are expanding the resort, so there are hundreds of workers there. I reach the last home, and in front of me is only jungle. I walk about 100 yards into the jungle, and then I realize as I turn around that all I can see in any direction is trees and bushes. Mind you now, 3 hours earlier I was reading about my escapees trip into Burma to this drug lords camp and when he got there he found 2 bodies impaled on swords; one was still alive. Also, as he came closer to the drug lord's camp a dozen people surrounded him without them being aware of it till they were right on top of him.

With these wonderful thoughts on my mind, even though it was still morning, I decided to turn around and head back to my room. I'd walked almost 2 miles already; it was enough exercising for the day. But as I turned around, 5 or 10 tiny Thais or Burmese with machetes in their hands were on top of me. I was truly scared loveless! (-: but I used my Thai knowledge, gave them all a wai and a big smile and showed them a magic trick, and they all waied and smiled back to me and started laughing. (a wai by the way is what is used instead of a handshake. You simply put your hands together in front of your chest and bow)

By now I was disoriented, and my new sword bearing friends I think knew it, so they started swinging their machetes, but luckily it was at the bushes and not at me; they were cutting me a clear path back to the resort. It wasn't the same way I came in, but once I was out of the jungle and could see the resort again, I gave my big smile and another wai, and I decided to jog back instead of my previous strolling. I think for my future walks I'll stay out of the jungle unless I have a guide with me.

I leave the resort in Burma a little after noon, and as I leave I see the immigration guy stamp my passport before he gives it back to me. (no big deal I assume) (-: I am in Thailand less than 10 minutes later. There's no traffic, and in less than 45 minutes I assume I'll be in Laos. (wrong again) I head to Laos now to get my extension, only to find out at the border that all border visas have been cancelled since January 1st, and that I'd have to wait at the border another 24 to 48 hours while they sent someone to Bangkok and back to get me a visa first. Why they didn't tell me this on Saturday, I'll never know. However, another man in immigration insists that the Burmese border at Mae sai has reopened, and that there I did not need a visa to go in to Burma like you do for Laos. So off we drive another hour and a half back through the golden triangle into Mae sai. As I suspected, the border there is still closed; but the immigration officer there tells me that I can get my extension in change saen, only 10 minutes from the golden triangle. He says that since the paradise resort in Burma stamped my passport, all I needed now was for the Thai side in change saen to stamp my passport, but he could not do it in Mae sai. He said I had to go back to change saen to complete this transaction.

By now I feel I'm on a wild goose chase, so I insist he calls change saen immigration and makes sure we can get this all done today. He calls, and while he does so I take his picture and write down his name. I leave with a big smile and a wai, thinking I'm gonna come back and retaliate if I'm going on another wild goose chase. An hour later in change saen immigration the officer there explains to me that the Burmese immigration officer had made a mistake and should not have stamped my passport at all. My Thai friend went bananas on them, and finally they tell us that it can still be completed today, but it would cost us 1000 baht ($25.00) and that we'd have to hurry. I had no problem with this. We basically had to start all over from scratch.

It's 5 PM now, and what the immigration officer explains to us is that we have to redo everything from the beginning, since the Burmese immigration never should have stamped the passport at all in the first place. First he has to stamp my passport , then a boat would take us across the river to Burma and they'd stamp us there, and then we'd come back to him, and as long as we got back before 6 PM he'd have my 30 day extension for me.

We gave him 500 baht and the boat driver 500 baht, and off we were on the next leg of our journey. After a 30 minute drive upstream, we arrived back at the immigration office in front of the paradise resort that incorrectly stamped me in the 1st place. He apologised for the mistake, gave me the correct stamp this time I hoped, and we jogged back to the boat. We only had 25 minutes to get back and it took us 30 minutes to get here. The boat driver spoke no English, but told my Thai friend not to worry, we had plenty of time, and he could go a lot faster going back.

Now back to my book. As my Bangkok escapee came to Burma, he crossed the river to Burma at exactly the same spot I was crossing; only he waited till it was completely dark. In the book a log hit their boat and capsized it, leaving them all to swim to the shore. Now I realized that it wasn't dark yet, although the sun was disappearing quickly, and that certainly this would not happen to us. But after my experience in the jungle, I would have given odds as he rushed and sped downstream that we were soon to be in the water too. Logs were all over the place, but somehow he managed to dodge every one of them. And since we were now with the current, it only took 15 minutes to arrive back at change saen immigration. He completed the paperwork and pointed out to me where it said I was now welcome to stay here till august 20th. Mission accomplished, and it was only 5 minutes before 6. I had done it with a full 5 minutes to spare.

From here it was all smooth sailing; well almost. At the airport we find out all flights to Bangkok are sold out. But wait, we can go standby. We did finally get on, and as it turned out after all standbys were put on, there was not one vacant seat on the plane. And when we returned the car I had had it for 2 days and 7 hours, but they only charged me for 2 days. I figured they must have found out about the wild goose chase we had just been on, and now they wanted to make it up to us. Either that, or maybe this was just my lucky day!!!!

Wait, I almost forgot my virgin today, even though there were already probably 10 new experiences I'd had in the past 3 days. This time it was at the airport. Here I am exhausted, only to find the escalators broken, and a very large stairway to climb in front of me. Thus, I must begin my trek up this long escalator. But since I guess this was my lucky day, as I approached the 1st step the escalator began moving. I figured they must have just fixed it. But sure enough, as I was leaving, it was broken again. But as I approached the down escalator it went on again, and then I realized that I had stepped on something that activated the escalator. ( another Thai way to save money) electricity is expensive here, so they do everything they can to save it. And since this was a small airport, this escalator was not used frequently, so this electricity saving device had been added. Anyway, I had never seen this before in America, or for that matter anywhere else in the world. What about you? Have you ever seen this before? Anyway, just another great idea for all you entrepreneurs out there. I love stealing ideas from other countries and bringing them elsewhere!

Stickman says:

Sounds like you had an adventure.