The Visa Run

I am Lucas Rosa, a graduate of Wheaton College and I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Watson Fellowship. As a Watson Fellow, I am one of a very select 40 people in the country to be on a funded yearlong adventure abroad, one where I will explore a topic and project that I am passionate about. My Project “Mixed Martial Arts: A Philosophical Perspective” aims to look at MMA from an intellectual perspective. I will explore the ways this discipline factors into cultures, the misconceptions about it, and how people garner meaning from it. This is my blog; entry number seven.

What is a Visa Run?

A Visa run, often also referred to as a border run, can be a key part of any extended travel experience in a country.  Most countries simply do not let you stay in their country for as long as you would like. They occur because some countries (such as Thailand) do not allow you to always necessarily renew or apply for a visa within the country, which can interfere with plans for an extended stay. This makes it necessary to travel to a neighboring nation to cross the border for a few minutes, before re-entering, to get your stay in the country extended.

At the request of the ownership here at Rawai Muay Thai, I have been asked to outline a visa run from Khuk Kak, Thailand to Myanmar, as I have just experienced it. This entry will have all the information needed as well as some small personal anecdotes!! This specific blog can hopefully act as a useful tool for all future Rawai guests; a summarized version of the trip can be seen if you scroll toward the bottom. 

How to Tell if you need to do a Visa Run…

The simplest way to stay in any country is to plan in advance. By applying for a Thai visa  prior to travel, you can usually get a visa that lasts many months.

Unfortunately while planning for my trip from USA, I had no idea when I would be moving on from my first Watson country of Cambodia and going to Rawai Muay Thai. Additionally a visa application was impossible to do from Cambodia because the mailing system there can be unfortunately extremely slow and sometimes inefficient.

If you are like me, then you may find yourself in a position where you want an extended stay but perhaps could not or did not plan in advance. Depending on your nationality, upon flying into the country of Thailand you will most likely be automatically granted a one-month tourist visa. Past that you can easily get the visa extended for a month at an immigration van in Khao Lak on any given Wednesday or take a taxi drive to the immigration center in Phang Nga.

immigration van
This is the immigration van in Khao Lak (Photo Credit: Diana Campillo)

Your passport stamp will likely read at that point: “Holder must leave the Kingdom within the date specified herein, offenders will be persecuted.” That will just tell you how long you are allowed to stay in Thailand. It is extremely important to pay attention to visa dates and go early rather than late, otherwise you could end up violating Thai law… which is generally not a great idea.

Outside of some special circumstance, staying past those first two months can only be done by making the aforementioned “Visa Run”. The Visa Run will usually result in a one month admittance stamp, one which you can later get extended again; so overall it buys you another potential two months residing in Thailand.

Step One: Khuk Kak to Takua Pa

The odyssey of the visa run starts with a very ordinary challenge, waking up early, at around 5 or 6 am. Be sure to have a fully charged phone, clothes with many trusted pockets, lots of water, and even a small backpack if needed. You are aiming to be waiting on the main road outside of Rawai by about 6 am to 6:30 am to be picked up by a blue pickup van headed to Takua Pa. It is important to plan your alarm clock accordingly…You could also just get insomnia like I did and stay up through the night, but its not recommended.

Be sure you know how you are getting to the main road in advance (even if its just walking), as it can remain very dark in the early morning and may not be a good idea to just leave one’s moto-bike on the side of the road. I bicycled over through a silent and eerie few roads down to the main road and left my bicycle with someone I trusted.

However you get onto the main road, it is important to remember to be on the correct side of the road. One direction leads more toward Phuket which is not where you are desiring to end up. Your desired destination is the Takua Pa bus station. You will wait on the side of the road opposite to the Rawai sign, looking as touristy as possible and anxiously waiting for the smaller transportation to stop. Do not get into any suspicious empty vans or cars; at best they will likely try to overcharge you.

 

 

For me the open small truck/van came at about 6:50, though I was told a much larger bus would have stopped at around 7:15 as well. The small van I was on was full of elderly residents, many of whom the driver respected so much she refused to charge them any baht (Thai currency). The ride costs 50 baht, may make a stop at a hospital, and ultimately will take about 20 minutes. If you are like me, and look overtly non-Thai (its the blonde hair) you may get some stares.

Step Two: Takua Pa to Ranong

Once at the Takua Pa bus station there will be plenty of street food vendors. Feel free to grab a quick bite but do make it quick. When I went there the large bus arrived within ten minutes. This large bus will pull up toward an orange-colored building that you will wait in front of. The bus will be heading to Ranong, which is the Thai coastal city that borders Myanmar. Do not be afraid to double check by asking the surrounding citizens or Thai officials around you.

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The Orange building to the right is where the bus will ordinarily pull up in Takua Pa.

Your experience may end up being different here depending on when you go, but the bus was pretty empty to start. Before the bus starts moving they will collect 150 baht from each person as payment for the bus ticket essentially. The ride to Ranong starts very open and cool but will take many stops as it continues to move along its route and pick up more people. The bus ends up crowded cramped and hot and it is a long journey; this is where having a phone or book to distract yourself helps.

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The Bus to Ranong which becomes increasingly more crowded with time.

With each sip of water, I was thanking my past self for bringing a bottle; that bus had rapidly gone from a nice relaxing air-conditioned ride to a vehicular vestibule of muggy crowdedness. Strangely I saw nearly no tourists along the way. This part of the trip may take 3 or 4 hours.

Step Three: Ranong to Pier/Immigration Center

The bus trip will be long and if you’re like me, you will be itching to get up and move around by this point.

After stepping off the bus I was asked by many “Visa run??” as this is a fairly common process for many people residing in Thailand impermanently. My ultra pale skin and blonde hair likely gave that fact away as well. Again it is not necessarily bad to try to look touristy on this trip, it might help people realize where you are trying to go.

I took up the first offer: doing so may have cost me some money/baht though, as admittedly I was likely overcharged a bit. The damage in price was not exorbitantly so. The man took me on his moped and quickly rushed me over to his taxi pickup truck. From there I sat in the car with him and conversed as much as possible through he communication barrier, while passing rolling hills and shrines to honor past kings of Thailand. After approximately 10 minutes I arrived at a Pier (the Koh Son Pier) that had a small immigration center and something called the “Grand Andaman Ferry Service.” Once here the driver will likely tell you he or she is going to wait for you until you are back from your visa process. You may want to set a price in advance, something I simply forgot to do.

Step Four: Immigration Center to Myanmar via Ferry

Once in the immigration center you will likely see more tourists such as yourself. I happened to talk to several Dutch people while I was there. The immigration officials there will ask you to fill out both a departure and entry card for Thailand. When I was initially asked to do this it confused me heavily until I realized I would be technically doing both (leaving and entering Thailand) very shortly.

From there they will take your passport for a moment in order to copy it and attach a few ferry boat tickets to the copy. Do not panic when they take your passport they only have it for a minute, I was rather adamant about them returning quickly with it and the Thai officials and surrounding tourists found my distress somewhat amusing. Generally as a rule I don’t like handing my passport over to others and letting it leave my sight.

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This is what the ferry ticket looks like stapled to the copy of the  passport

The Grand Andaman Ferry Service  is located right down the pier once you exit the immigration center. Many will be heading that way as well so you just follow the small crowd. Among the tickets, departure cards, passport, and passport copy, you will have a lot to carry; keep track of it all. A small ferry building next to the boat will also check your passport and tickets. From there you wait a few minutes and head on the boat.

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Inside the Ferry services small building.

The view from the boat is simply incredible, the waters look gorgeous and what appears to be a lighthouse or watchtower adds to the coastal view. While on the small boat you’ll be required to wear a life-jacket. Don’t worry, you will not get wet at all unless you lean over a tad to look at the ocean as I did.

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The small boats that will bring you across to Myanmar.

Finally I arrived at a small coastal pier ran by the Grand Andaman services. I believe it is actually quite impossible to enter the rest of Myanmar through this pier; its only reason for existing is the express purpose of the visa runs, which makes the process very guided and systematic. Though there may be a chance that some tourists you are with are there to enjoy the Grand Andaman hotel on the island.

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Step Five: Myanmar back to Thai Immigration Center

Once at the pier you will enter the one small building there, it essentially acts as a de facto immigration center. In the building they will take your passport briefly to stamp it with both an entry of Myanmar stamp and a departure stamp. Once that is done you will pay 950 Baht. This payment will cover the boat ride as well, and should be the only payment made at any of the immigration centers.

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The small pier at Myanmar, with the building in the back right.

Once that is done you will wait approximately 20 minutes. There is really nothing to do on the port, besides look at the potted plants or the ocean. From there the process is the same, you will get back in the boat as directed, put on a life jacket, and go back toward the Thai immigration center .

Step Six: Thai Immigration Center to Ranong

Once back at the pier you walk over to the Thai Immigration Center, where they will simply take your departure card and stamp your passport. This process should be fairly quick.

I stayed there slightly longer than normal to ask the Thai officials specifics on the land border immigration rules. There is a rule plastering the sides of the desks at the immigration center stating the new land border rules enacted in 2016. You are not allowed to enter Thailand through a  land or water border more than twice in a year making it hard to do this visa run more than a couple times. For me the visa run might be a onetime option seeing as I passed into Thailand through a land border once already to renew my Cambodian visa months before flying into Phuket. The rules do state it as a “calendar year” though which may save me as we recently entered a new year.

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Visa rules have been becoming stricter recently as tourism to Thailand continues to grow.

The point is that Thai immigration law has been getting more complicated and it is always good to stay up to date and informed before making such a trip; you do not want to end up stuck at the border.

Next, the taxi driver who waited for me brought me back in a rush, as the bus back to Ranong left at 2 pm. We made it back with a few minutes to spare and he charged me 400 baht after some slight negotiating.

Step 7: Ranong back to Takua Pa

The Ranong station, which is outdoors, strangely has wifi somehow. Additionally it has plug ports in the building columns so it is a good place to charge your phone for the rest of the trip back. The ride back is long and somewhat cramped so you may want music or headphones to distract you.

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As seen by the added Snapchat filter, the area indeed has Wi-Fi.

I myself, simply overslept, found the trip back somewhat tedious and at times nauseating. The bus stops a lot, so if you have a problem with car sickness, you may experience slight trouble. The ride back again costs another 150 baht and is around four hours long.

Step 8: Takua Pa to Rawai Muay Thai

You do not use the same small blue trucks to get back to Rawai as you did to leave the main street. Instead there will be a larger bus taking residents back to Phuket, but also stopping near Khao Lak on the way.

I bought a bus ticket for 50 baht and waited. Unfortunately I would have to wait a little longer as the original bus had mechanical issues. I do not know if this is a regular occurrence but it is something to be aware of. The new bus arrived approximately half an hour later.

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The bus leaving Takua Pa station.

I simply made sure to ask the drivers if they could stop in front of Rawai Muay Thai, and sat close to the front of the bus so they would not forget. The big bus made many small stops, often to just let only one or two people off. The bus went very slow and maybe took about 40 minutes to get back to the spot near Rawai. The sky was transforming into a melted blur of pink, orange, and red as I got off the bus.

One Last Roadblock

This last part is largely anecdotal and not particularly informative.

I was absolutely starving as I got back to my bicycle and went out to quickly get some chicken from the Thai vendors at the outdoor market before the sun went down.

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The Pork and chicken I often get at markets being cooked.

I did that fine, but unfortunately afterward when I stopped at the ATM my bicycle’s steering suddenly disconnected from the front wheel. My bicycle was no longer working so I had to walk it back along with the food I was carrying. It was rather dangerous being that it was now night and the cars were whizzing by. I normally never go out on a bicycle at night, but the plan had been to be back before the sunset…the mechanical failure obviously prevented that.

I had been up for 27 hours straight due to insomnia and was extremely hungry. And now I was walking my bicycle back in darkness. Luckily one of the Muay Thai trainers I train most with at Rawai, Dam, saw me and picked me up in his truck. It put a helpful end to a long day, it goes to show how nice and helpful this community at Rawai really is.

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Dam, the trainer, luckily came and picked me up in his truck.

Summary

Estimated Time: 12-14 hours

Estimated Total Cost: Between 1,800 and 2,000 baht

Steps: Wake up at 5 am or 6 am to walk or bike to the main road outside of Rawai Muay Thai. Wait outside on the main road, on the sidewalk, opposite to the Rawai sign. A little before 7 am you will be picked up by a van (50 baht and 20 minutes) to go to Takua Pa bus station. Once there eat a little if you choose and quickly take the long bus ride to Ranong (150 baht and four hours) . Once in Ranong go to the Andaman Ferry services pier, fill out departure/arrival cards and receive ferry tickets at the Thai immigration center. Take a boat ferry to Myanmar, get Myanmar stamps and pay 950 baht. Boat back and return to Thai immigration to get stamped for a one month stay in Thailand. Taxi back to Ranong bus station (400 baht for taxi-potentially overcharged). Then take a long ride back to Takua Pa (150 baht and 4 hours). Take a bus from Takua Pa back to the street outside of Rawai (50 baht and maybe 40 minutes).

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