When you arrive in Thailand you can receive a Tourist Visa upon entry that’s good for a month. Unfortunately, if you’re here for longer than a month, you must physically leave the country first, even if you immediately come back in. You can do this up to two times, for a total Tourist Visa stay of 3 months, and then you have to leave the country for 6 months. So there are a lot of companies here who orchestrate “Visa runs” to Malaysia, Singapore, and the most common route, Burma. You hop in a van, drive for 6 hours to the Burma border, go through Immigration, and then get right back in the van for the drive back.
My Visa run was a total disaster. First we had to leave at 6:30am, which means I had to get up at 6, which if you know me, is not a pretty thing. On my first attempt I was a bit too leisurely about my arrival (15 minutes late at the MOST), so the van left without me. The next day (on the day my Visa expired and I was about to become an illegal alien) I made it, and was stuffed into an older van that seated 11. Thankfully there were only 11 of us, so everyone could really stretch out and get comfortable. I was seated in the middle seat, with no arm rests, for 6 hours. I couldn’t really see anything out the windows, and the driver drove like a maniac, so the whole time I had to hold onto the seat in front of me for dear life. My traveling partners were not exactly talkative — in fact, I don’t think anyone said one word the whole trip. SIX HOURS. And no one was willing to trade seats for even PART of the trip, even though I stupidly let some random girl take the front seat even though she was behind me, because I didn’t want to be a dick. See mom? It never pays to be chivalrous.
When we got to the border, we went through immigration to leave Thailand, got our passports stamped, and got back on the van. Then some totally random guy came around, collected our passports, and disappeared. I probably should have asked him if he was at all affiliated with immigration, this trip, or the government in any way. The van took us to a nearby dock, where we boarded a motor boat and set off into the sea. After a half hour we arrived at another dock by a sign that said Myanmar, Burma. How did I know that name? Oh that’s right, that’s where all the violence in Asia has been focused on in the news. Excellent! Now I’m trapped in the most violent part of a country I’ve never heard of without a passport, and don’t know any of the apparently deaf mutes I’m traveling with. Who wants to have unprotected sex? Is it ok if I smoke a joint here? Whose gun is this?
Another walk through another immigration office for more stamps. Again, no English anywhere — just pointing, signing papers, and stamping. I took pictures every once in a while so some day they could hopefully follow the trail of pictures to where I was buried and return my remains to my mother. Along with a box of porn.
On the boat trip back two guys burst onto the boat wearing ski masks, which is a GREAT way to make the American tourists feel welcome. It turns out this is how they deal with the heat… with ski masks. It seems counter-intuitive, but I guess it keeps the sun off their faces, with the added bonus of terrifying the westerners. The passport guy thankfully returned and gave us our stamped passports on the boat, and then proceeded to offer me tabs of Cialis at a highly discounted rate. When I declined this great offer, he assumed I must not know what Cialis was for, and since he didn’t speak English it made sense to actually ACT OUT AN ERECTION with his finger on the fly of his pants. I thanked him for the impromptu sex show but politely declined.
After the boat ride and another quick van trip we were back at the first immigration office getting stamped back into Thailand. And at this point I realized that no one was planning on giving up their seats for the return ride, as purses, shirts, and bottles of water had all been carefully staged in the car. There was no way I was doing another 6 hours without windows, so I asked the driver of the new, spiffy van parked next to us if he had room for me on the ride back to Phuket. For another 400 baht, we had a deal. I made sure the original driver knew of the plan, and like a parking lot drug deal, the exchange was made.
The ride back was much nicer — people on the new happy van were friendly and talkative, the A/C was strong, and I had a big window seat. We arrived in Patong at 7pm, and rather than take a cab back to Chalong where I live, I stayed in Patong for a massage and some dinner to decompress from the 12-hour nightmare. As I sat at dinner leisurely reading the email on my iPhone I saw a frantic email from Cori asking where I was. The driver of my car had been waiting for me in Burma for an hour, and finally had to leave without me. Apparently someone saw me get on the back of a moped driven by a monk, and we had taken off in Burma.
Ummm… what the fuck?
I emailed back saying that I was actually back at home, massaged and well-fed. And while the idea of a monk-driven road trip on the back of a moped through the streets of Myanmar sounds compelling, it’s probably not something I would have done.
Unless the monk was Wentworth Miller.