How I almost wasn’t let back into Thailand

When my 3 month tourist visa was about to expire I started preparing for my first visa run. Visa runs are a necessary evil and can be a lot of fun. Basically until you have a work permit or student visa secured you need to leave Thailand every 3 months by crossing the border into one of the neighbouring countries, applying for your visa at the Thai embassy and heading back into Thailand. In theory, sounds easy enough, right? Well let’s see I forgot to pack a few essentials which in retrospect I should have taken as a sign of things to come. Things I forgot to pack: my toothbrush and toothpaste, clean underwear and my camera. I mean how could I forget my camera when I knew I was going to visit a new country? No toothbrush or underwear are minor problems.

I was initially going to do my visa run with the help of an agency but he called me on the morning of the trip and told me that unfortunately he will no longer be able to take me. He said that I can collect my deposit and that the reason that he was no longer to help me was that his drivers have had problems in the past with bringing ‘black’ people to the border and not being able to have visas processed for them. Discrimination based on my skin colour? I  must say I am getting more than just a little tired of this. He advised me to do a visa run on my own to Malaysia as I wouldn’t have any problems at that particular border. So that’s what I did, I bought a second class sleeper train ticket from Bangkok to Hat Yai. The journey took 15 hours most of which was through the night but let me tell you it is not easy sleeping on a train. When I arrived in Hat Yai I bought a ticket for the minivan to Penang, Georgetown in Malaysia. The minivan left about one hour after I arrived in Hat Yai and so the four-hour journey to Malaysia began. By pure chance fellow friends from my TEFL class were also in Hat Yai and on the same minivan that was taking me to Malaysia.

Once I got to the Sadao border and got my passport ready to be processed and check out of Thailand. All nationalities except those from African countries get to queue as per normal. If you’re from an African country like me, you have to go to the office and get your passport stamped there. I did feel welcome this was the first thing I felt when entering the office. When the immigration officer eventually waltzed in he treated us all with thinly veiled disdain and contempt. The whole process took longer than it should have and I did not relish the thought that I was coming back this way to get into Thailand once I have my new visa. Once on the other side I had to get my passport stamped with a Malaysian tourist visa which went much quicker. Now I could finally relax a bit and just enjoy the ride. After the minivan dropped me at Banana Guesthouse where I would be staying for the next two days, I booked in, left my bag in the room and headed across the road to Banana Tours to start my visa application. The visa application took less than ten minutes and the agent said I would get my passport and visa the next day.

Food. That was all I could think of next as I haven’t had real food in 24 hours. I went to an Indian restaurant called Al Kapitan which came highly recommended. I ordered the mutton rogan josh with garlic naan but here’s the thing, the meal was just normal.  If you grew up eating curries and biryanis your whole life then any restaurant that offers these meals needs to be out of this world phenomenal and spectacular. I’m not saying the food wasn’t good but I’ve definitely had better from home. I went back the next day to give them another chance but was equally unimpressed with the tandoori chicken, again, not bad but for me just usual stuff that I eat back home. Oh, I forgot to mention I made a new friend on the minivan, a lady from Kenya, who shall now be called Kenya from this point onwards. We decided to share a room to save on costs and she seemed normal enough on the four-hour ride from Thailand to Malaysia. Once in our room though warning bells started going off like the fact that she uses the toilet without closing the bathroom door (even for number 2), she slept in the nude (luckily we had separate beds) and she gave me a blow-by-blow account of her miscarriage she had two weeks ago as well as intimate details about her sex life. Lady I do not know well you for you to divulge any of this. I could not wait for us to part ways.

The next day I decided to explore Georgetown, I bought a postcard and after finding the post office sent it off to my family. Georgetown is a shabby little town that reminded me a lot of home surprisingly enough. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to sightsee as much as I would have liked as I had to head back to collect my passport and new visa and get ready for the minivan back to the Thai border. Kenya kept mentioning that we needed to have either funds or proof of funds once we get to the border. I did not take her seriously as my agent did not advise me that this was a requirement so I tried not to worry too much about it, however there was an impending sense of dread growing in the pit of my stomach.

Once we got to the Thai side of the border all hell broke loose, again all Africans were told to go to the office and yes they did want to see x amount of funds, 20 000 baht to be exact. I did not have this amount of money on me and to complicate matters even further I could not get an ATM bank slip nor would the ATM allow me to withdraw any money. A phone call to my bank back in South Africa did not to sooth my frayed nerves, the call centre agent assured me that my card is not blocked and that I should be able to withdraw cash. That is all good and well for him safely at work but I still could not access my money and I was starting to panic. I was shaking and near to tears and had visions of myself stranded at the border with no money, no visa and sleeping on the streets. Then our minivan driver came up to me and told me if I gave 2000 baht to the border officer they would let me enter Thailand. Me? Bribe a border officer? I don’t think so? I could almost see the headlines. SOUTH AFRICAN TOURIST THROWN INTO THAI PRISON FOR BRIBERY. Luckily my friends and Kenya borrowed me the money and still the official threatened to cancel my visa. Only by the grace of God was my passport stamped and I was allowed to re-enter Thailand. Never in my life was I made to feel like  criminal and never in my life was I treated as if I was less than the dirt on the bottom of the immigration officials shoe. It was a completely harrowing experience and it was hardly comforting to know that I was not singled out and that there were many other South Africans in the same predicament as me.

Due to the 2 hour delay at the border I missed the Hat Yai minivan back to Bangkok and decided to just spend the night in Hat Yai. I took the first minivan back to Bangkok the following morning. I am still in shock over what happened and sadly I will never ever feel the way about Thailand the way I did before all of this happened. What happened to the land of smiles?


Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn

Perhaps not as famous as Wat Phra Kaew with its emerald Buddha or Wat Pho with its giant reclining Buddha but it is no less imposing. Situated along the Chao Praya river, from afar it looks like an old water stained temple but close up you can see thousands of pieces of mosaic set into stonework of the temple. Two flights of stairs takes you to the top of the temple which gives you a few of the river and the Grand Palace on the other side of the river. Only on my way back down did I realise how high I climbed and how steep the stairs, and for someone not usually afraid of heights it was a dizzy descent.

DSCF6055 How to get there: From Saphan Taksin BTS skytrain station you can walk over to Sathorn Pier, take the Chao Praya Express boat which costs about 15 baht, get off at Tha Tien Pier and from there you need to take another ferry to get to the other side of the river which costs 3 baht. Entrance fee 100 Baht.

Phuket town and Patong beach

So when I needed to extend my visa by another 30 days I could not think of  better place than Phuket but after the 5 hour bus ride I was starting to wonder if it was worth all the trouble. At the Phuket bus station I caught a songtaew to Phuket town and found a place to stay for my 3 days in Phuket.

There is this great street in Phuket Town, Talang Road, filled with amazing little restaurants and coffee shops that offers both Thai and western food. Off Talang Road is a little road called Soi Rommanee (soi literally means side street) has a distinctly European feel to it.  A short walk from Talang Road brings you to the buses that takes one to the nearby beaches. Unfortunately I did not have enough time to see more than one and only managed to make it to Patong beach. Once upon a time, a long time ago Patong beach resembled Thailand, now it is a tourist town on steroids and you have to get there super early to get a decent picture of the beach. By the time I got there it was over run with umbrellas and roasted tanned flesh in speedos. There were longtail boats offering tours to surrounding islands, which is what I probably should have done.



Also isn’t it great when you run into people from your own country when travelling. These lovely ladies below heard me say something in Afrikaans and a friendly chat ensued all the way to the beach.


School is in session

I’m currently staying in a place called Phanom which is an hour away from Surat Thani and 2 hours away from Phuket. There is not much to do here though, it is just one long main road in what seems like the middle of nowhere. I am surrounded by mountain and jungle but at least the mornings are cool and there is always a breeze. The people are so kind and helpful and go out of their way to make sure I am comfortable. I live in a little bungalow not far from the school where I teach and the lady who owns the bunglalows makes the meanest omelette and tuna salad. The only thing that I wish this little place had was public transport. There are no tuk-tuks or song-taews and not even a place to rent a scooter or car which means my movements are pretty limited.

So I started this week and was extremely apprehensive. I mean me, teaching high school kids. What is the world coming to? Thai kids are naughty, friendly and very respectful of teachers. They will wai and lower/make themselves smaller when they walk past a teacher. I was shocked though at the level of English but I suppose living in a more rural and not touristy area the need for speaking English is not as great. I am enjoying it more than I thought I would even though at the end of the school day I am exhausted. I get to school at 7.30 and wait for the school assembly and everyone has to stand up when they sing the national anthem whilst raising the flag. I currently only have 2 classes a day which leaves me with plenty of time to prepare lessons. I’m done at about 15.30 and school finishes at 16.00 with another assembly. I am also nowrunning the English club with a small group of students who want to improve their conversational skills.

Here are some pictures of my students. I asked some of them what they wanted to be when they grow up. The one boy told me he is going to be a woman when he grows up. The acceptance and tolerance of such statements is astounding.

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Day one: Hua Hin, Thailand

I was not bowled over by most of what I saw in Bangkok so was more than ready to head off to Hua Hin, a beach resort town. After a very bumpy 3 hours later I was ready to pack my bags and go home. Arriving in Hua Hin things did not look too promising but after checking in and being taken to the mall I started to feel better. A mall of all places seemed to provide me with a sense of familiarity. I hate malls. Yet here I am comforted by its cool interior. A quick trip to the bank and Tesco store which is like a Pick n Pay and I was all set with renewed vigour. This was not to be the highlight of my day though.

Upon arriving at The Centennial, where I will be staying this month whilst doing my TEFL course, I got to speaking to the some of the girls from the November class and they gave the December class (my class) some helpful tips on what to expect. They also agreed to take us out the evening as one of the girls boyfriend is lead singer in a blues band and she also sings occasionally. It was eventually nine of us in total who first went for supper at this amazing Indian restaurant called S&S Indian Restaurant in 94 Soi, Hua Hin, Thailand. As I am still missing home I opted for the butter chicken which was just what I needed. After that we headed downtown to a place called Cantaloupe Island, a restaurant/bar/jazz, blues and late night music venue. The band was excellent, the company great and this was a great introduction to nightlife in Hua Hin.

I think I am going to like my month in Hua Hin, every moment of the day seems to be filled with something. Tomorrow I’ve got a Muay Thai session to look forward to as well as celebrating the Kings birthday a national holiday.

Bangkok: First impressions

I did not have any expectations for Bangkok as I have never travelled to South East Asia before. The only thing that I knew I had to expect was humidity which is the first thing you feel when you exit Bangkok International Airport. It takes a couple of minutes to adjust to the intensity of if but luckily most places have aircon.

Bangkok is a cacophony of sounds. A place where all senses are engaged simultaneously. Even for a born city dweller it can be overwhelming. Here urban and rural, modern and ancient, old and new all live seamlessly side by side, perfectly juxtaposed.

If you are on a motorbike or scooter you own the road. Red lights mean nothing. Then there are the tuk-tuks (3-wheeled taxis) – watch out for these guys. They do not always take you where you want them to. Already fell for the ‘temple is closed scam and gem shop scam’. Basically they tell you the temple is closed but will take you to another temple instead. Once inside they take you to gem shops and suite making shop in the hopes that you’ll buy something and earn them a lovely commission. I am not a shopper nor rich so all he really did was waste petrol. I did get to go to monk village though and got to see a giant standing golden Buddha so all was not lost. I also did manage to go the Grand Palace the following day which unfortunately was hot and full but I managed to get a few decent pictures.

The street food all look great but for a Muslim person this does not mean much if it is not halaal. Finding a place that serves halaal food is not easy, not impossible either. If you find a mosque then there will surely be Muslim people making halaal food. So do not despair. Fresh fruit already peeled and sliced can be bought ready-made – served in a small plastic bag and with a kebab skewer.

Walking around at night is safe even for females. Not once did I feel unsafe even though some roads were quite dark with very few street lights. There are so many massage places that I am surprised that I have not yet had one. One hour Thai massages are 350 Baht (ZAR 100) so it is on my to do list.

My time is Bangkok was too short so I should give it another chance. My first impression is that it is too loud, smelly, busy but I didn’t get to see all of it so I will have to go back.

I will do a Bangkok in pictures post during the week once I have had time to go through all my photos.


They say change is as good as a holiday

‘They’ clearly don’t know what they talking about. A holiday is as good as a holiday. I decided I wanted a mini vacation before leaving for Thailand and this was probably one of the best decisions I made this year. I happen to be one of those people who struggles to do nothing for very long. I’m always busy doing something or planning something. It can get exhausting. To read more about my little holiday visit my BFF’s blog by clicking here.

This much needed and deserved time off made me realise that I need to take things more slowly. I need to stop cramming every second of my life with something to do. It’s ok to take it easy now and then. I don’t need to do it all or all the time. This urgency I feel to utilise my time wisely isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes one needs to lie on the beach, listen to the waves, soak up the sun and read a good book. Even though I realised I am way too much of a city girl, ‘roughing’ it in the middle of nowhere with the beach all to ourselves was just what I needed to recharge.

Here are some holiday snaps – Enjoy!