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?