When it comes to traveling, Bjorn and I are super. Excuse me, I mean S.O.O.P.er — Seat Of Our Pants(er). Americans and Swedes are granted a 30-day visa automatically when they arrive in Thailand, a potential problem when one is planning to stay for 3 months. But we figured we would cross that bridge when we came to it, thinking it would probably involve just a simple trip to an embassy and some paperwork. Turns out that getting a visa extension is a long, laborious and confusing process in Thailand (even though the pictures on the website would have you believe otherwise.) We could pay a 500 baht fine for each day we stayed past our 30-day visa (but that involves a rather hefty sum, as you might imagine). As we talked to people about how to extend our stay, many pointed out that we should have applied for a 3-month visa before we came here (very helpful now, thanks.)
There was another option: Crossing the border into another country and then re-entering Thailand. However, simply crossing the border would only get us an extension of 15 days, meaning we would have to make these trips twice a month (at least). To get a visa for a longer stay, we would need to go to the Thai embassy in another country and apply for it. Of course, this option included but was not limited to: picking the right country (each one has a different visa arrangement with Thailand it seems), arranging for travel to and from that country, dealing with border procedures, finding transportation within said country, finding a hotel (because it can take days to get a visa), getting to the right consulate for the visa, properly filling out paperwork for the visa, buying food, avoiding getting kidnapped/sold into slavery and doing all this in a language we do not know.
So, we got a coyote.
A coyote on the up-and-up, of course. In fact, they have a Website: meesuktravel.com that advertises their visa run services. We chose to go to Laos (pronounced “lao” in Thailand) because it offered visas with longer stays. The agency provided transportation, shepherded you across the border, guided you at the consulate, arranged for a hotel, had agents who helped you fill in the proper paperwork, provided meals and offered tours (for an additional price.) Protection from human traffickers was not explicitly stated, but we figured there was safety in numbers as they take people across in groups.
I’m glad we went with a service, but this appreciation comes only in hindsight (doesn’t it always). Although this company was recommended to us by a friend, visions of being scammed and left in Laos and/or being sold into slavery danced in my head. Not helping matters was the choice of meeting place.
“So you go to Kayeffsee,” our friend said.
“Where’s that?” I asked, thinking she meant a business building or another part of Bangkok.
“You know, that place down the street, that restaurant that sells chicken.”
“You mean, KFC? Like, the fried-chicken place, KFC?!” I said incredulously.
Not only was that indeed the place, but the travel agency was not covert about its actions within the restaurant, also. They literally set up shop, with necessary visa documents on a table in one corner, and a payment table set up in another. The travel agents were quick and professional, which did reassure me, but still it was weird to see that sort of business conducted in a place that purports to do chicken right.
Around 9 p.m. our van departed. Pro tip: For maximum comfort, try to get the seats behind the driver. We, unfortunately, had picked seats in the second row, which proved to be the most uncomfortable ones of all (sigh). I slithered and oozed over Bjorn in our cramped seats, trying to find a position that wouldn’t leave me with rickety appendages, but it was no use. It was impossible to sleep. Even if it were possible, we had to get out of the van at every bathroom break (four in total). By 5 a.m. any prospects of even feigned sleep were gone. We had arrived at the border. Our adventure in Laos was beginning.
To read about our visa experience from Bjorn’s point of view, visit culturemutt.com or click here.