Bangkok Visa Run From Hell!
Visa runs seem so unnecessary, having to go all the way to the border, exit Thailand, cross in to a neighbouring country and then come all the way back again. It's a bureaucratic madness where the only purpose seems to be passing through Immigration on the Thai side where your passport is swiped and so checks can be done to see if you've been a bad boy and are a wanted man. I've never liked doing them but this latest run was the worst yet.
I fly back to Australia often enough that that often doubles as my visa run. It takes no longer to fly to Sydney than it does to go from Bangkok to Cambodia and back in a cramped minivan with a crazy driver. The company I have gone with a number of times uses minivans so when I heard about a company with a big bus I thought I'd give it a go.
The company's website <name removed – Stick> paints a very positive picture of the visa run service, going as far to say that the visa run will be fun because there's no queuing at the border and no early start. Instead of getting up well before the crack of dawn, this company's bus departs late morning. They do not use the border crossing in Cambodia that other companies do, Poi Pet, but a smaller crossing. The other company I have used makes you meet at 4:30 AM and you have to queue at the border which coming back in to the country can take time. Still, you're usually back in Bangkok before 2 AM so the whole trip is about 9 hours – and you get a decent breakfast at a hotel buffet and a chance to buy some cheap grog duty free.
The website is full of information about the service including movies being shown on the bus and lunch served. A very nice picture is painted of the service. Unfortunately what is written on the website and what is delivered are two very different things.
The bus made its way very slowly through Bangkok and passed by Khao San Road an hour after leaving Sukhumvit. It wasn't until 11AM that the bus was clear of Bangkok and we were heading west. Houston, we have a problem, Cambodia is east of Bangkok, not west!
6 hours after leaving Bangkok, having travelled along highways, back roads and twisty mountain roads where at times we though it would not make it up the steel hill we finally arrive at an outpost in the middle of nowhere. Welcome to the border with Burma!
There is almost nothing where we are. On one side of the road there's a temple on a hill and a few small buildings, smaller than a house but bigger than a garden tool shed with signs like Customs House. On the other side is a few small old wooden buildings including one shop selling basic general goods and a small restaurant down a grass bank. 50 metres further along the road is the boundary where there's a barrier preventing traffic passing and small buildings on either side of the road, one for people leaving Thailand and the other for people entering.
There is no traffic at all, no vehicles and no people. We're in the middle of nowhere and I cannot understand why there is a border outpost here.
Everyone is told to get off the bus and then we're left to our own devices. We're not told anything else.
For the next 2 hours we mill around talking amongst ourselves, the crowd splintering by ethnic group. It had been quiet on the bus but now people are talking amongst themselves. Filipinos make up half the passengers and they sit in a couple of large groups on seats under the awning of the small shop. Western males break off in to groups that seem segregated by age, old guys on one side of the road, middle aged guys on the other and younger guys walking across to a temple. The other Asians seem to stick to themselves.
There was no explanation as to what was happening, how long it was going to take or what we were supposed to do. Were we supposed to present ourselves to Immigration? No-one said anything.
There was a street-style restaurant that you had to walk down a bank to get to and some of us went there. The food was hardly appetising.
While we were milling around not really knowing what we should do and whether we had time to explore the area or order a meal, the Thai guides were at the Immigration outpost. It was most unusual, this outpost at the bottom of a mountain road with almost no traffic in the middle of nowhere. The last town if you could call it that that we had passed through was probably 45 minutes away and even then it was only a few houses and a primitive gas station. I think 3, maybe 4 cars passed by the whole time we were there, which was in the vicinity of 2 hours.
Eventually the guides came running, yes running, back towards the bus just as it was starting to get dark and told us all to get back on the bus which had turned around. When the bus started moving and slowly making its way back up the mountain road, heading back the way we had come the guides started handing back our passports. We all checked our visa stamp and there was confusion. Some people had received the wrong stamp so the bus had to go back and the guides had to get that sorted out. It was dark by the time the bus turned around again and resumed the journey back to Bangkok.
We stopped once on the way to the border and once on the way back, each time at a gas station. There was no chance to buy real food and we had to settle for processed junk. After we had stopped at a gas station somewhere in Kanchanaburi or Nakhon Pathom province everyone was all tired, some of us were hungry and we just wanted to get back to the familiarity and comfort of Bangkok. You could feel the tension on the bus and how everyone was really unhappy. The driver seemed to take this as an excuse to speed and he gunned it along some roads. I guess he wanted to get home to his family too.
We eventually got back to Bangkok at 10PM, more than 12 hours after we'd left.
This visa run was a disaster. None of us were seen by Immigration and the whole thing was a pointless exercise. The guides were hopeless. If the visa run company had wanted to offer a REAL service, they could have put 40 dummies in the bus, driven to the border, arranged all of the stamps in our passports and brought the passports back to Bangkok for us to collect the next morning. An English guy I got chatting with suggested that and what an excellent idea it would be. That would be offering a service.
This visa run is a joke. Many claims the company makes on its website are lies. The website states that it goes to Cambodia but we went to Burma. It says the service will take about 9 hours but it was well over 12. It says there is a free lunch but there was no food provided. The guides are clueless and we were never seen by an Immigration officer nor photographed as you are at the airport or the border point with Cambodia.
In future I'll stick to flying to Australia twice a year and taking a couple of trips in the region the other two times each year. No more visa run hell for me!
Sounds like a total nightmare and I have heard a plenty of reports about bad visa runs over the years.