Yesterday I re-entered Thailand on a Non-Immigrant B Visa (YAY!). Finally, the visa shenanigans are over (for now).
As I have previously mentioned, I was required to go to Penang, Malaysia to apply for the long-term visa, as the school had prepared the work permit paperwork specifically for that embassy. I hadn’t heard great things about Penang, but I went into it with an open mind.
The most common way for teachers here to go on the visa run to Penang is to go by bus through a company that takes care of the transportation, one night in a hotel, and three meals- all for around $125USD. I wanted to fly into Penang and do it on my own, but the cost of the visa company ended up being more attractive than the alternative. The visa itself was an extra $80 USD, and now that I’m on a Thai salary… well, I’ve got to save where I can.
I had spoken with some teachers at the school about the best company to go through. We got to talking about the bus ride down, and they started talking about horror stories.
“A guy in our bus had to slap the driver awake on more than one occasion!”
“Our bus driver was racing with another bus!”
“Did you hear about the bus that crashed and killed 4 people?”
“Seriously, Sarah, just put a blindfold on and try to fall asleep.”
The bus drivers have a horrible reputation for reckless driving. I decided I would choose a seat near the back, pop my headphones in, and try to sleep. The trip left Phuket at 9pm and had an estimated arrival time at the hotel in Penang of 8am(ish).
When the bus showed up, I realized it was less ‘bus’ and more ‘van.’ The van had three rows of three seats. I was the last to be picked up, so I had to sit in the front row, middle seat. There wasn’t any room for my backpack except for beneath my feet. There wasn’t much room between my seat and the center console, so I settled in for the 10 hour bus ride with my legs crossed on top of my backpack.
The driver didn’t waste any time living up to his reputation. Just watching him speed through the roads that I normally drive on made my stomach a little sick. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
I didn’t end up getting much sleep because a) the foot room situation, b) the driver and c) we stopped every 2 hours for 15 minutes so that people could get out. There wasn’t an aisle in the van, so anyone who had to get out was climbing on top of one another to reach the exit. Did I mention there weren’t any seat belts?
We made it to the border by 4:45am, and everyone was pretty groggy. The border didn’t open until 5, and it took about an hour for everyone to get through. There were about 20 vans full of people on visa runs, and they all arrived at the same time. I was one of the last people to make it through immigration, because the guy in front of me was causing some problems. He had overstayed his tourist visa by 3 weeks, and he had to pay a fine of 500baht ($15 USD) per day- so about $280. I actually got a huge laugh out of watching the whole situation unfold. Possibly one of the worst things you can do in public in Thailand is lose your cool. Upon hearing the fine that this guy had to pay, he slammed his fists on the glass and started screaming , “What the F#*$!!! How can you even do that! Why is this happening to me?! You all are f#*!@($ racists! I don’t have that money to pay you!”
I don’t know what happened from there. He didn’t get to cross the border, though.
After the border, we got into a new bus with a Malaysian driver. It was 6am, and he was blasting Indian music for the 2 and 1/2 hr drive to the hotel. He seemed to be a more cautious driver, though, and I somehow ended up in a deep sleep for the rest of the drive.
When we got to the hotel, they had everyone turn in the paperwork for the embassy. I have to say, this is the major perk of going with a company. They go to the embassy and do the dirty work while you sit back and do whatever you want. My hotel room was really cute! It had a TV with a lot of English channels, so I was able to relax and watch some TV. Unfortunately, the news of the San Bernardino shooting was on every channel. I felt sick about the news. I turned off the TV and decided to go wander the city. After hearing about the 355th mass shooting in the United States this year, I found myself in a Muslim country worrying about my friends and family back in the States. I’m not trying to start a debate. Just sayin’.
I went into Penang with a few goals. Don’t die on the bus ride there, secure a B visa, and eat my body weight in Indian food. The hotel I was staying at was about a 5 minute walk from Little India, and so I went to check it out. I found a little Indian vegetarian place to eat lunch, and my experience was hilarious. They had a bunch of different “thalis” on the menu, which I learned are a bunch of different dishes served in little bowls around a plate of rice. I had no idea what I was doing. I knew that the place was vegetarian, so I couldn’t go wrong and order any crazy mystery meat. I ended up ordering “the MAHARAJA” because, well, come on guys, who wouldn’t order the MAHARAJA?! It was the only dish on the menu that was spelled in all capital letters, and was the most expensive- coming in at a whopping $3USD.
I was the only foreigner in the place, and so I thought everyone was staring at me because I was a foreigner. I looked at everyone else’s plates, and they had dumped out the mini bowls, and were eating everything with their hands. I was sitting in the middle of the restaurant eating the MAHARAJA from each individual bowl with a spoon. I caught some people staring at me, and I started laughing with them. One of them said, “It’s okay, girl! You have the freedom to eat however you want!”
I’ll never forget that.
I had a nice time looking through the traditional Indian shops of Little India, but the heat of the city was absolutely unbearable. I went back to my hotel and fell asleep for 4 hours. When I woke up, I set out for round 2 of Indian food.
I made it about a block from the hotel when a short and round Indian woman with a warm smile asked me if I was hungry. She was quite a character. I didn’t really look at the menu, because she convinced me that she could make a really good red curry chicken. She wasn’t kidding. She brought me out some cheesy garlic naan and papadum to go with it all. It’s safe to say that it was the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten. I know I said that about the food in Kuala Lumpur, but this was so much more. She fed me until I had to beg her to take the food away.
Ok, ok, I need to stop rambling about Indian food now.
Thursday was the only full day I got to spend in Penang, and I think I spent it well. I woke up at 7am on Friday to a call from the front desk, saying that check out is at 8 and the passports would be there soon. We all piled back into the bus and were back on the road. Indian music and all.
The trip back home was miserable. I hate to be a whiner about it, but it was bad. This weekend is a holiday weekend for the king’s birthday, and we hit some really bad traffic. Going through immigration back into Thailand was hell. We spent an extra hour at the Thai border because we had arrived 5 minutes after a massive tour bus, and also because we had a Turkish man in our group. They pulled him aside and did who knows what with him, just because Turkey is on a list of suspicious countries. We all had to put 200 baht (~$6USD) in our passports to bribe the immigration officers. It wasn’t even by choice. The driver of our van basically didn’t let us get out of the van without doing it. He said that it would cause major problems if we didn’t. Gotta love Thailand.
When we got back into the Thai van, a Swedish girl asked me to trade seats because she felt sick. I didn’t have a problem with it, and gladly switched seats with her. I was filled with instant regret. Not only was the seat in the back of the bus, but it was right next 2 Russian dudes that wouldn’t stop talking. The one who was sitting directly next to me was 50 shades of repulsive. I didn’t care to ask his name, so I’ll just refer to him as Vladimir.
Vladimir was the most obnoxious person I think I’ve ever seen in public. There were 9 exhausted passengers in the bus, and he was talking louder than I talk to a classroom of 30 kindergartners during heavy construction. When his friend didn’t want to talk to him anymore, he made phone calls. He took his shoes and socks off and rested his feet on the headrest of the poor lady in front of him. He elbowed me so many times that I started to anticipate the next one. I quickly understood why the Swedish girl wanted to move up front. Every time we stopped for a rest break, he went into the 7/11 and came out with handfuls of junk food. Not chips and candy, but 7/11 “hot meals.” Keep in mind this is SE Asia. He hobbled into the bus with mincemeat sandwiches, shrimp burgers, and pork meatballs. Remember Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka? Vladimir was the Russian version of that kid. I really wanted to discreetly take a picture of him for the blog, but didn’t dare look in his direction with all of the nasty burps he was letting out.
Sheesh. I hate to be so negative about the whole thing, but the trip back was seriously miserable.
Needless to say, I was overjoyed to arrive back at my apartment. Now I have a three day weekend, and all I want to do is sleep. That trip was exhausting. I realized that I really only saved about $40 by doing the bus trip. If I ever have to do another Thai visa run, I am going by plane!!!