Warning – A long post. 😛
Thailand, the favourite destination for most of us, exempts requirement of short term tourist visa for most western countries citizens and for several Asian countries as long as they stay only for 30 days.
On the other end of the scale there are a whole lot of people from countries who have to compulsorily get a visa prior to entering Thailand.
In the middle are some countries like India where generally you are expected to get a visa up front but on certain conditions you may get VOA (visa on arrival) at the port of entry.
The ports of entry are several airports, sea ports and also overland borders. I will list them separately.
Waiting to board.
During my first backpacking trip to Thailand I had taken a visa from India itself and went by train from Malaysia. There were no hiccups. The train stops at Padang Besar, the border station. Everyone goes to the immigration centre for exiting Malaysia first and then entering Thailand to get the necessary stampings on the passport.
For my second trip to Thailand with my family, we did not have the time to get visa upfront. We initially thought of going by train from KL to Thailand assuming entry visa would be given to us on arrival. A quick look at the list of checkpoints told me that Padang Besar is NOT one of them where you could get your visa stamped !
So the next best and cheapest option was to travel by bus! A little before dawn, we arrived at a place called Bukit Kayu Hitam before the checkpoint. The Bus driver collected all our passports and took it away. For once I thought he was probably going to get us the visas (high hopes). He returned with the passports and immigration forms for all of us duly typed! (Talk of customer delight) 🙂
Next stop was the border. First we pass thru the Malaysian immigration. It is a breeze.
We boarded the bus again to be taken to Thai side of the border. The checkpoint called Sadoa Immigration was about a kilometer I guess. Once we got off, we realized that every one in our bus either already had a visa stamped or did not need one. We were the only one to go for VOA.
The minute we got off the bus we were confronted by a person.
He asked “Indians? Visa on arrival?”
“Follow me.” he said.
He took us to a small building at the back of the counters. He had taken our passports and started filling up some forms. We were quite surprised. WOW. What a great welcome. 😀 However, such nice feelings don’t last long. The time was about 7:00 A.M. He then said “pay me 1000 Bahts (official fees) for each person for the visa and 2500 Bahts for services”.
That was our first taste of corruption in Thailand.
“Services?” V asked.
“Yes” he said. “I will get you visa immediately and that too out of turn”.
We began to understand the racket. V was about to lose his cool “No thanks, we will manage ourselves”. After all we knew the procedure well enough having read the various sites and forums including Thai official immigration web site.
The lady at the counter asked us to fill up the forms and to provide the photocopies of the tickets, foreign currencies and the passports. We did not have the photocopies and requested her politely to use the photocopier at the office. She curtly replied that it was not working. “You go out to the market and get it done”.
V went out in search of photocopier machine. At 7 the market was not yet open. Can you imagine V was literally in Thailand markets scouring the lanes for a photocopy shop, without any visa????
No luck. All shops open at 10.00 AM.
In the meanwhile the bus driver had come to ask us if it was going to be delayed. After all, the whole bus was waiting for us. We had no answer. He spoke to the lady also & said he would wait for some more time. God bless him.
Then we realized that the tout was the only option, and now, he flatly refused to help us !! No amount of coaxing would work. Later he said, he was deeply hurt(!) that we did not use his services the first time. 😀 He nailed it by saying Indians don’t mind paying for an out of queue service then why were we making a fuss !! How true he was!
Was he taunting at we Indians for corruption??
It was already 8:00 AM when V returned the second time empty handed and said “no shops are open, you have to help us with photocopies”. As luck would have it, her supervisor, a senior official, had just arrived and asked her what was the issue. I said she wanted the photocopies of some of our documents.
He exclaimed “Photocopies!”. He had a quickfire chat with lady. In a second she got up, collected our passports and tickets (not the forex as photocopy is not needed). She miraculously switched on the hitherto broken photocopier !!! Took the photocopies. Filled up the forms on our behalf, signed and gave it to her supervisor.
The supervisor took flat 2 minutes to get the whole thing done. We thanked him profusely.
When we reached the bus it was already 8:15 AM. The bus driver was cribbing about getting delayed. We thanked him as well for waiting for us.
He said something to his colleague; the tone told me that he was talking about us saying something derisive. Well we don’t care, do we? Thailand is still my favorite destination.
I later learnt that VOA (Visa on Arrival) process works better at airports.
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