So I got to the Border. My motorcycle driver literally dumped me on the corner of an unpaved road and waved vaguely at some low concrete buildings surrounded by backpackers. He said that’s where I should go.
My friends have done this. It can’t be hard. In and out in under an hour. Stamp out of Thailand. Wander on the other side, grab lunch maybe, stamp back in. Simple and quick.
I got in line. And waited for an hour. The line barely moved and was flooded with Australians and New Zealanders, who clutched their passports and bulky paperwork like someone might snatched it from them. I think I saw myself, six months ago, in that crowd. We inched along, smaller groups of guided tours being counted by their hot and frustrated guides every 5 minutes. Where they might disappear to out of the 4 foot wide outdoor corridor we were in, I do not know. The guides continued to count and sigh and swat at flies.
By the time we got inside to the immigration desks, an hour of sweating and waiting had convinced me I was probably A) at the wrong immigration. B) There was going to be some exorbitant unforeseen fee. C) The immigration agents were going to tell me I had overstayed. D) I had the wrong visa and was about to be stuck at immigration overnight. E) They would sense my anxiety and refuse to believe I wasn’t a crook, I was going to be detained and question. Without an interpreter. Do Thais believe in violence if you’re a suspected criminal?
I started muttering prayers under my breath and wiggling my toes between counting my breaths, convinced this would be another disaster.
I got to the head of the line. Handed over my passport. Stopped breathing. Was stamped out in 90 seconds flat and waved through.
Nevermind. Easy peasy.
By this time it was 2:20 pm. I needed food, and would have loved a glass of chilled wine.
I walked up to the Cambodian Immigration Checkpoint, after refusing an offer of “visa, very fast” if I paid $33, $16 or at least just waited in this side room right here with five seedy characters. Thankfully, the officer at the Cambodian checkpoint spoke a bit of English. As I understood, they didnt need to see me unless I planned to stay in Cambodia. I was free to wander or re-enter Thailand.
I walked by five booths, no one sold food, cold water or anything less than a liter of Vodka. Nevermind. And no, I don’t feel like buying a carton of cigarettes.
Walking the half-block back to Passport Control, I found some fruit. Perfect! Unfortunately, the fruit cost about 50 cents. I had 25 cents or the equivalent of a 50 dollar bill. I tried to stop the woman from slicing up the pineapple. She didn’t stop, and gave it to me for the money I could offer her – half-price.
I got to the line. It stretched for what would be about 2 city blocks. The line did not move, was outside in an unshaded courtyard and it was hot. I arrived at 2:30 pm. By 3 pm I had moved less than 10 feet. It wasn’t until 4:30 pm, when my bus left from Thailand and I continued to bake in no-man’s land, that I fully understood what was causing the holdup.
You see. Thai tour guides are allowed to cut the queue with their group, usher them around ahead of the line so that they can charge extra for the trips and tourists love Thailand. Why Immigration agreed to this, I don’t know – possibly they get some bribe money. I do know that this occurs atbevery border crossing and you can’t avoid the practical. I don’t love this system, but I know this is how it works. In fact if you came with someone to help with your visa run, you would have the same privelege.
Foe some reason on Saturday, there was a huge number of travelers and the line wasnt moving at all. And then the Scammers Descended. For 500 baht (about 26 USD), tourists were asked to hand over their passports with the assurance of crossing over in under an hour. Once the man had collected passports and money from about ten travelers, he would process all of the paperwork or get stamps for them as a tour group. Then he rounded them up and marched them past the immigration officers as a touring group, happy to enter The Land of Smiles and be out of line. The stamps were authentic, nothing illegal per se’ occurred, just slimy.
Meanwhile. I stood in line from 2:30 pm until after 7 pm. No bathroom breaks. One large bottle of water, a juice can and a cup of taken noodle soup from the one foodstand inside the border-crossing pen.
I couldn’t bring myself to pay into the system that kept me in that hot and tedious line. I couldn’t bring myself to pay into the system that keeps countries like Cambodia and Thailand in the Developing status, never crossing into Developed.
What would you have done? Would you have paid and crossed?
Just a reminder that Thailand is worth the Effort