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Published: November 6th 2012
Nai Harn beach
Not photoshopped, only brightened slightly to counteract my camera's crappy lens.
From October 11th-31st we had our fall vacation from school. This wasn't that exciting seeing as how we had only been working for 6 weeks, most of which were not even a full 5 days due to illness/bike problems/student testing/some other bizarre Thai event. Not to mention we had only received one paycheck to date, so we weren't exactly swimming in vacation savings. Nevertheless, we still managed to get some exploring/relaxation time. In addition to the Vegetarian Festival ceremonies, we went to the Phuket Aquarium, Nai Harn Beach, Ao Yon waterfall, Phuket Butterfly Garden and Insect World, and the very secluded Banana Beach. We are beginning to discover the less touristy, more local hangouts around the island and the list keeps growing. We have had a great time getting lost, and thus finding cool spots that you won't see in any of the Lonely Planet books. Our fun was, however, put to an abrupt end when we realized it was that dreaded time again: THE VISA RUN.
For those of you who have never been to Southeast Asia (or maybe even outside the country), a visa run is pretty simple to explain. You literally flee to the nearest bordering country
before your visa expires so you don't get fined, then you turn around and re-enter the original country, sometimes within the same day. Let me explain further why this is our least favorite thing to do.
When you enter The Kingdom of Thailand without a visa, they give you one on arrival. If you fly in you are granted 30 days within the country; if you come by boat, train, bus, car, bike, or foot you are only allowed 14. We flew in, so the first 30 days were free. When it was time to do our first visa run, as you may remember, we went down to Penang, Malaysia, about 12 hours south of Phuket. What I excluded from the story, because it was only a minor pain at the time, was that we were not able to get the intended visa. In order to apply for a work permit in Thailand (as well as open a bank account), you must be approved for the Non-immigrant Business visa, or more lovingly, the "non-B". This is what we sought on the first trip to Malaysia, but as we were lacking the necessary documents from our schools, we had to
The whole pier smells like rotting fish, garbage, and gasonline/oil sludge.
settle for the 60-day tourist visa. Still better than 14! Now think back to my blog from the beginning of our break when I mentioned the frustration of communicating about paperwork and legal documents with our Thai faculty. You got it? So imagine how this scenario feels....
On Thursday, October 25th, literally the day before
our visa expired, we finally managed to gather all the required letters and papers from our teachers to get a non-B visa. In a rush to get out of Thailand for fear of getting fined, we booked a Friday trip to the nearest border- the channel crossing at Ranong. Why not just pop up to Myanmar (formerly Burma) for a day? Easy right? Horribly, miserably wrong. Despite the information on the company website, comformation from the consultant on the phone, AND reassurement from the minibus driver, you CANNOT in fact obtain a non-B visa at the Myanmar/Thailand border. So after a 12 hour roundtrip- minibus, immigration, ferry, border control, ferry, re-entry, minibus- to the world's smelliest port and back, we managed to gain a whopping 14 day visa-on-arrival. Talk about disappointment. To make matters worse we had 5 days of vacation left and, oh,
the Thai consulate in Penang is only open Monday-Friday. We were going to have to do back-to-back visa runs. Feeling jipped by all the visa run companies so far, we decided to handle the trip ourselves. Saturday was recovery/research day and Sunday was go-time.
We woke up at 6 am, drove to the bus station, booked tickets to Hat Yai, and got on a minibus by 8 am. The trip to Hat Yai (near the southern border of Thailand) is approximately 8 hours, not bad if the driver didn't manage to squeeze 16 people onto a 13-seater: an extra in the backseat, one on a stool in the aisle, and an extra riding shotgun in front. Really safe. But we made it, unloaded, then hopped right on the next minibus to drive the remaining 6 hours down to Penang. We arrived at 11 pm Malaysian time. Fortunately, we had found a very wonderful host on couchsurfing, and he picked us up, took us to a food court, then brought us home to shower and sleep. Monday morning we filled out the non-B application and left our passports and a good chunk of money with the Thai consulate. We rented
Ao Yon waterfall
In all it's (tiny) glory
a motorbike and found our way around the island a bit. On Tuesday afternoon, we picked up our passports to find inside a nice shiny sticker saying "Non-immigrant B visa"; we got approved!!! What a relief. We went out with our host for a relaxing celebratory evening, before trying to catch a wink of sleep. We were on the earliest bus out of Penang on Wednesday (5 am), and thankfully the return trip only took 10 hours-as opposed to the 14 hours there. We returned home and passed out cold.
Thursday was the opening of school, so you can imagine we were wiped. Luckily we understand that kids don't take a 2-day week following vacation seriously, so we played games, watched movies, and colored. This week is a little easier after a weekend, but our sleep schedules are still off. It's all worth it to have the visa problem sorted out!
I WILL write another blog in ONE week, promise. And in case you were curious, the couchsurfers are still flowing in by the house-full. Total to date since Sept 9th: 39! We will be staying around the world for free by the time we leave
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