Delightful Samui – Without Any Passport Control
Phuong, my Viet girlfriend, wants to visit me on Samui. <Whoa, what's Norah gonna think?! – Stick> I book her on an all-Bangkok-Airways-flight. It's not the cheapest option. But they promise to help her changing airplanes and getting the Thai entry stamp in Bangkok. Of course, also checking her luggage through from Vietnam to Samui is easy if you stick with one airline. She has little experience with air travel, especially with paperwork, visas and changing aircraft.
One horribly rainy evening she arrives at the woodsy Disneyland Samui airport. We run to the pickup taxi I've hired, but get soaked in the first second. Through streets that look like uncontrolled rivers, we float back to Chaweng Beach; I can convince the driver not to drop us off at the main road, but to venture a bit into the soi to my bungalow resort. Lucky: As we have to walk to the bungalow, the downpour is being switched off. Phuong looks pleased with the place I found for us, even though in the black night she cannot see that it has a good sea view.
"Are you hungry, Phuong?"
"Want to take a walk on the beach?"
"Why, it is black now."
— BUNGALOW ON CHAWENG —
We are drenched, we need to take off, and after about a day or two of reunion games I might as well turn on the mobile phone again. And jingling, there is a message. Phuong's brother writes in: "Phuong, call me quick."
She calls him back, and her face gets paler by the minute. She ends the connection: "Hans, my brother received phone call from Thai consulate in Ho-Chi-Minh! They say, I am in Thailand without visa! I must go back to Vietnam quick, or I they put me into prison in Thailand!!" She looks horrified.
"Show me your passport!"
I open her passport. Out falls the Thai immigration card. The arrival part is still there, and the departure card is not attached to her passport. Nowhere is something written, like her name or passport number. It's empty! In her passport I find the 60-day-Thai visa she had to buy in Vietnam. But I cannot find an entry stamp!
"Phuong, what is this? Did you have no passport control when you entered Thailand?"
"No… yes… I don't know!"
"I thought Bangkok Airways would help you with immigration in Bangkok?"
"Yes, they just take me and make me walk very fast to somewhere else. Then by car. Then I go inside airplane to Samui, then I meet you in Samui!"
Courtesy of speedy Bangkok Airways ground staff, Phuong entered Thailand without any passport control and thus without an entry stamp. And interesting: The Thai consulate in Saigon knew of the scandal immediately and called her family.
I tell her we have to go to the Samui immigration office fast and try to straighten things out. On my own visa extension earlier I felt that Samui immigration officials seem relatively relaxed.
"Why", she says, "no need to talk to police now. Better enjoy holiday now and wait until I fly out!"
"NO! We have to correct your status as soon as possible. What if you get checked by police here and have no entry stamp?!"
After weeks in Samui uniform – flip-flops, shorts and T-Shirt -, I have to grab long trousers, shirt and leather shoes. I fish for my passport and collect her passport, her boarding card and return ticket.
Now she will see more of Samui than she dreamed of.
— IMMIGRATION OFFICE IN NATHON —
On this official trip, we even wear helmets – who knows. In the blasting midday heat, we steer the rented Honda Dream onto the ring road, pass the hill along Tesco Lotus, enter the long dull boring straight stretch from Bophut through Mae Nam, climb the steep hill just before Nathon, roll through Samui's only town, exit on the other side and turn right after a total of about 35 steaming kilometers. There is the Samui immigration office.
Now how to introduce us to the officer? I try it like this: "So sorry, my wife arrived from Vietnam without an entry stamp." They look honestly shocked. One reason is the missing entry stamp, I guess. The other thing that baffles Thais is that she looks perfectly Thai – but she is not Thai, and she does not speak Thai. No Thai ever gets around that.
They flip through her passport and the empty immigration card. Of course they want to see my passport too, but that is ok.
A phone call, then they say: "We know of this case. But we are not the right place for you. You have to see customs at Samui airport. Please go there right now." At least, nobody is jailed by now, the problem seems to be solvable. They let her go around more even though she is in the country without a valid entry stamp.
Outside the office we sit on a bank in the shade. Should we drive to Samui airport right now? That's almost all the way back to Chaweng beach – the long hot ride to Nathon's immigration office was in vain. Or should we first sip an iced coffee and enjoy good Thai food at Nathon's Sunset Restaurant?
While we ponder our options, the officer steps out to us: "Please go to the customs office at the airport *now*! They wait for you!"
— CUSTOMS AT SAMUI AIRPORT —
Ok, ok. With Phuong not having correct papers, I feel at their mercy. We steer the rented Honda Dream back onto the ring road, float through Nathon, cross the hill again – this direction with a great sea view -, roar along the long dull boring straight stretch through Mae Nam until Bophut; shortly after Bophut, we don't continue inland back over to Chaweng, instead stay near the coast for another few kilometers up to the airstrip.
Samui Airport gets only few airplanes from outside. It takes us a while to discover the counter for international arrivals. One fat arrogant Thai officer sits there half asleep. I have to sing my awkward song again: "So sorry, my wife arrived from Vietnam without an entry stamp. Can we get the entry stamp now?"
This wakes him up. Immediately we are led into a building and into a tiny interrogation box with a noisy air conditioner. It seems they expected us. The box quickly fills with three officials. Over his uniform trousers, the most senior guy wears only a muscle shirt – but it's black and silken.
They check Phuong's passport and check my passport. They ask where we stay, and unfortunately I have to name one of the cheaper resorts (we have the most expensive bungalow there, extra large and with sea view, but I don't know how to mention that). A long talk between the officials ensues. The tone and the attitude towards us is quite reasonable. It feels like everybody wants to bring this affair to a peaceful end.
The customs officers bring a Bangkok Airways clerk in her colorful Hawaiian shirt to the interview shack. They talk into her with admonishing voices, and she looks guilty. They only words I understand are "fon tok" (rain) and "stickeh" (sticker). They point to their chests.
There was this torrential downpour on the night of Phuong's arrival, but how would that affect her entry business? About the sticker, I guess as an international transfer passenger, Phuong should have gotten an ICQ sticker to her shirt: Then airport people could easily identify her as a person who needs passport control even in the domestic travel area. Phuong herself of course had happily ignored all those necessities and simply floated into Thailand as smooth as possible.
They check her boarding card again, then one man walks off with her passport and immigration card. He comes back with her passport – now she has the correct entry stamp, stamped with the day of her actual arrival. The departure form is filled out and tagged to her passport. Everything is in good order now – we are nodded goodbye.
Just four kilometers back to the bungalow, where we message her family that all problems are sorted out. She is not in prison, but about to go out for a romantic beach dinner! I ask her: "Did you ever get an ICQ sticker on your shirt? Did somebody ask you to report to customs in Bangkok or Samui?" She can't remember, but that doesn't mean much.
What the heck – now she has 58 days to enjoy delightful Samui with me.
"Would you like Italian or Thai for dinner?"
Very pleased to hear it was solved with a minimum of fuss.
Hope she chose Italian, by the way.