Jul 11, 2012
There comes a point for everyone hoping to spend a significant period of time in this delightful country that they need to do a visa run. Tom and I have multiple entry visas so only needed to ‘cross the border’ with another country to get our stamps! We were a little bit sceptical about the whole process, it seemed a little too easy and therefore we wondered if it was really sticking to the rules, however as we have discovered there is whole overt ‘visa run’ industry very much alive and kicking and is entirely following the rules.
At 5:30 am we are waiting for our pickup to the ferry port. It didn’t arrive. We called the company, wondering if 5:50 am was OK to call a Thai person. Luckily it was and our pickup arrived at 6 am after being sent to a different part of the island. Not a great start we thought. Driving in the dark at break neck speed (not sure why?) we arrived at a bus depot, not the ferry port. Had a short discussion with the cashier about how I wasn’t going to give them my one and only invoice for a return journey at the first stop, otherwise how would I prove to anyone else I require a bus or ferry ticket? Moving on we were then unexpectedly put in the back of a songthaw and trundled along to Raja ferry port, a long way from where we were!
Tom thought the ferry ride should be 45 minutes to Donsak on the mainland; it’s an hour and a half! But it was rather lovely actually, as it was so early (a 7 am departure) there were mainly Thai people travelling and it was a lovely clam crossing. As we arrived near Donsak port we were spoilt with incredible views of small island mounds and giant Buddha’s and then the pièce de résistance we saw some movement in the water; and two dolphins jumped up, one chasing a fish! What a spectacular marine show, you couldn’t have asked for a more natural delight if you were paying for it! Eventually I had to pull Tom away from these amazing creatures as we had another leg of the journey to negotiate.
Stage 3 or was it 4? The ‘luxury’ bus ride to Had Yai. ‘luxury’ buses in Asia never quite do what they say on the tin, as I discovered whilst attempting to use the ‘fully functioning’ toilet which had a broken lock, broken seat, no light, no toilet roll and a bucket of water squeezed into a space it didn’t fit which not surprising attacked me whilst we were taking a bend! I didn’t use the toilet again!
Had Yai is a funny one. It is on the FCO (Foreign Commonwealth Office) do not travel list, however we had to weigh up our choices and felt it would still be better to go to Had Yai than to travel on the poor roads to the Burmese border or spend over £150 each on return flights to Kuala Lumpur. Everyone is different though and many people on visa runs to the border take the same risk as us.
Immediately as you arrive in Had Yai it does have a different feel about it, being close to the border with Malaysia it has a significant Muslim population. You can also experience more Malaysian influences in the food and the fusion and choice between Thai and Malaysian food is wonderful!
We were told by the lady we booked our bus tickets with that there is an abundance of taxi drivers waiting to drive us from the bus station in Had Yai to the Malaysian border and it will cost us 400-500 baht, but there wasn’t and it doesn’t cost that! We searched for a taxi but we only found two people who would drive us for over 1000 baht, so we opted for the very convenient minibus costing 57 baht each way!
We were headed to the Thai border called Danok (past the border town of Sadao), so we went from Donsak on the mainland to Danok on the border! It took around an hour from Had Yai and it was a pleasantly smooth drive. All in all it took us a total of 11 hours to reach the border and grab a quick ice-cream from KFC which was bizarrely located in the customs area of the border or more commonly known to people as ‘no man’s land!’
As this is our first ever visa run, we were worried we might get the Spanish Inquisition of where, when and how long? But it was ridiculously easy and all of the immigration officers looked particularly bored. Before we knew it we were stamped out of Thailand, took a taxi in a circle into and out of Malaysia and were stamped back into to Thailand before you could even say ‘visa run’. I particularly enjoyed the part where our taxi driver took our passports off us and just handed them to the Malaysian immigration officers and they didn’t even look at us! I couldn’t see this happening in the UK, could you imagine?
We stayed in Had Yai for the night at the Tune Hotel, part of the Air Asia brand, it was exactly what you would expect of a budget airline but in hotel format; no little extras, but everything you actually need and very clean and comfortable; great beds and a superb shower! Not surprisingly I didn’t take to Had Yai at all, it had no character or charm for me and the area around the hotel was a home for some of the fattest rats I have ever seen! Saying that, it didn’t put our weary bodies off eating locally. We found a great place and convinced ourselves the very prominent squeaking we heard in the establishment was just geckos!! The food was fantastic and cheap and neither of us was poisoned, so I really rate it.
Back in Thailand and back on the road at 10:30 am we were looking forward to heading home to our lovely island paradise, unforgivably counting our chickens our bus broke down! We were sat at the side of the road for almost two hours waiting for the world’s smallest minibus to take us all to the ferry port in Donsak.
We decided for very good reason we didn’t want to do the traditional visa run from Koh Samui, where an utterly crazed man drives at the speed of light without breaking for man or beast to the Malaysian border and back to Koh Samui all in one day. We have heard terrible stories about this and I would recommend if you don’t have to do it like that don’t!
We were so pleased to arrive safely back to our lovely little bungalow and our happy island life. It wasn’t a terrible experience and it served its purpose, but it was long and we hope to travel up to Bangkok and fly somewhere next time!
I would really love to engage with other people who have had similar travel experiences, and let’s face it, who hasn’t whilst travelling in South East Asia?!
Visa runs are a pretty economic way of exiting and re-entering the country, here’s a breakdown of our costs:
780 baht each return from Koh Samui to Had Yai (including transfers and ferries)
228 baht return minibus to the Malaysian border at Danok (57 baht per person each way)
780 baht 1 night Tune Hotel Had Yai
60 Baht Tuk Tuk to hotel
60 Baht Tuk from hotel to bus station
600 baht food and drink
Total for two people = 3288 baht -which is around £67 or 85 Euro (July 2012)