Mae Sai Visa run and then back to Bangkok

26 03 2010

Before entering Thailand from Laos we had heard that we might only get a fifteen day visa exception into Thailand, which would be too short for us, but the Lonely Planet book told us thirty days so we didn’t worry.  When we were at the border we discovered that the 30 day visa is only granted when you fly into Thailand so we only got fifteen days.

That meant that our visa would expire before we fly to Hong Kong and the fine for overstaying your visa is 500 baht per day ($16).  To escape the fine we needed to make a visa run.  A visa run is to go to a neighboring country, only for a few minutes, and then back to Thailand to get extra fifteen days.  The cheapest option is to go to Burma (Myanmar) (Laos $30 and Cambodia $20) where you can get a day permit for $10 or 500 baht, which is very strange since $10 is actually 330 baht ?!?!

For our visa run we drove up to Mae Sai, a small border town by the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet.  The Golden Triangle used to be the world’s biggest opium producer but that has all been cleaned up – at least on the Thai side.  The four hour drive up to Mae Sai was painless and once in Mae Sai we just walked through the Thai immigration office to get stamped out and into the Burma immigration office where we paid the fee got our Burma passport stamp and walked back into Thailand with a new fifteen day visa.  The whole process took about ten minutes and was as simple as could be.

After getting our stamp we drove back to Chang Mai to take the ten hour sleeper bus to Bangkok.  We are only staying the day in Bangkok before talking another sleeper bus down to Chumpon and from Chumpon we take the boat back to Ko Phangan where we intend to load the batteries before taking on China – The Middle Kingdom.  I have a few topics I want to address while on the beach so stay tuned :)

Phu Quoc island – Vietnam

14 02 2010

Yesterday we made it to Long Beach on Phu Quoc island in Vietnam.  We took a bus from Sihanoukville through the Vietnamese border at Xa Xia.  We had gotten our Vietnamese visas back in Bangkok so we had an easy time getting through the border control.  One tip for future travelers, we noticed that getting the Vietnamese visa in Cambodia was about $15 cheaper than in Thailand ($60 vs. $43 I think) so if you want to save a bit of money wait until you are in Cambodia. 

On the border we changed from our VIP bus into a mini bus and drove on to Ha Tien where we changed into a small boat that took us out to the island.  The trip was supposed to take five and half hour but ended up taking over eight hours without any stops to eat so we were pretty hungry when we got here as you can imagine.  You can find the updated route map on the right hand side of the website or just here.

The first impression of Vietnam is that everything seems more professional than in Cambodia, the restaurants seem very nice and our bungalow is nice as well so we have no complaints so far.  The money is funny since 16,000 Dong equal $1 US so we are pretty rich down here, just went to the ATM to take our 2,000,000 Dong :)  The actual notes look nice, they are made of plastic and are washable so they are very clean, which was not the case in Cambodia where you could hardly read some of the lower dominated notes.

We were very happy to see that the internet seemed to work perfectly, we could access WordPress, Facebook and any website that we tried.  I will therefore not be forced to blog through email until we enter China :)

We have been a bit under the weather the last two days so we haven’t been up to too much adventure lately.  It is nothing serious, just a minor inconvenience – it could be something we ate or something that is going around but we should be back on our feet tomorrow.

Crossing the Thai-Cambodian border

3 02 2010

After all the stories we had read about the scams people get them selves involved in our border crossing into Cambodia and the ride to Siem Reap was quite unimpressive.  We just walked through, negotiated on a price for the taxi to Siem Reap and off we went.  Maybe it went so well because we were well prepared and knew what to do.  For those that want to make the same trip I’ll start from the beginning in Bangkok.  Other might want to skip this section.

The scams that we had read about before hand were:

  • Visa scam – offering to speed up take care of the visa application for you at ridicules prices
  • Consulate scam – same as above
  • Visa border control scam – border police asking for bribes or they will not process your application anytime soon
  • Money changing scam – say that you need to change into Cambodian Real and giving you horrible rates
  • Guesthouse commission scam – taxis delivering you to a guesthouse for a commission.  The owners getting angry if you don’t stay

Before we came to Bangkok we had already applied for a visa to Cambodia online.  It did cost $25 instead of the regular $20 but the process was smooth and would save us some hassle later on.  Since we had to wait for our visa into Vietnam until 15:00 we decided to take the 16:30 bus from Bangkok to the Thai border town Aranyaprathet since the hotel would be a lot less there than in Bangkok (300 Baht instead of 800 Baht).  We got the skytrain from the Vietnamese embassy to Mohchit station (40 Baht), moto taxi from the sky train station to the close by northern bus station (40 Baht) and a ticket to to Aranyaprathet first class (207 Baht) at booth 30 inside the station.  The bus ride to Aranyaprathet was about four hours and we arrived about 20:30 at the Aranyaprathet bus station.  We took a tuktuk to a hotel we had selected (80 Baht) but that was full so the tuktuk driver suggested The Market Hotel and we agreed.  The Market Hotel was very nice, clean and quite cozy.

We had arranged for our tuktuk driver to pick us up at 08:00 in the morning and take us to the border.  The lady that drove us the night before picked us up but after a 5 minute drive she jumped off and a colleague jumped on.  We weren’t too happy since we kind of trusted the lady but what the heck, I guess there was nothing we could do…  After about 5 minutes of driving the drive wanted to turn left when the sign for the border said straight.  I suspected that he wanted to try the consulate scam where they try to sell you a Cambodian visa for up to twice the price.  I told him I already had a visa and we wanted to go straight to the border.  He complied and drove us as far as he could go and we had to walk the rest.

We saw the signs where to go and followed the Thais that were also crossing.  First we had to fill out health check forms to see if we were healthy enough to enter Cambodia.  None of the Thais had to fill those out so it was a slight annoyance but again, what the heck.  We filled out the forms and were allowed to continue.  After that it became a bit unclear where to go as we skipped the visa application process.  We were soon picked up by a guy that seemed very helpful but we knew right away that he wanted to get us into the “free” bus to the bus/taxi terminal in the middle of nowhere.  He guided us along the long road towards the visa check point.  Along this road were several casinos where the Thais try their luck.  According to our self proclaimed guide, the Cambodians would never gamble – they are too poor.

At the visa check point we filled out another form with more or less the same question we had already answered, both in the health check and on the online visa application.  As we arrived we met some African guys that were having problems getting through but the place was not busy and we were through in 5 minutes.  After the check point our “guide” reappeared and told us that we had to get into the bus that would take us to the bus/taxi terminal.  When he saw that we were resisting a bit he raised his voice and said that the bus was leaving and we had to get in now!  As we were the only foreigners around I told him quietly that we could do what ever we liked, we would just come back later as there were lines of busses there and I was sure that we were not missing out.

Then we walked a bit and were offered a non-union taxi for $35 and we went to check it out.  There were a lot of police men and tourist police men around and some of the seemed annoyed that this guy had us on his hook but we followed anyway.  We negotiated a price of $30 for a taxi for just the two of us the whole way to Siem Reap and all the way to our guest house, paid on arrival.

So off we went and the ride to Siem Reap was un-eventful.  The road was wide and smooth, a really enjoyable ride.  We stopped once to fill the metan-gas tank of the Toyota Camry we were driving, once the driver stopped to pee and once he stopped in front of a sales booth and said he had to use the toilette.  A woman came out and said they wanted to clean the car so we had to go out.  She had all sorts of cool drinks for sale but we had water so we were fine.  Of course no one cleaned the car and the driver came as soon as he saw that we weren’t buying anything  …they have to try, don’t they?  In Siem Reap we had picked out a guesthouse from the Lonely Planet book and told the driver to head there.  He made some phone calls and then stopped at another guesthouse where we were told that our guesthouse was out of business and we should check out theirs.  We told them we weren’t interested and named another one and the drive took us there immediately.  We paid our driver a little tip plus the $30 agreed upon.

We walked around town and with the help of a tuktuk driver we found a likable guesthouse that had a double fan room for the right price ($7 per night).  Tomorrow we plan to start exploring the magnificent temples here including Angkor Wat, the biggest religious building in the world.

We really like the Cambodians so far, even if they are trying to trick us they are polite, soft and gentle.  When they see that we have had enough they leave us alone or do as we wish so it is all good, they are just like the rest of us – just trying to make a living :)

Next post will be less practical and more fun, I promise!


3 02 2010

Later today we are going over the Cambodian border.  We have read a lot of stories from people going this way.  It seems like there are a lot of scams to be aware of and dirty border guards as well.  I haven’t seen that it is dangerous, more that there are a lot of scams where the people are trying to trick you out of our money by over paying for the Visa in several ways or tricking you into exchanging money with a ridiculous rate or setting you into a guesthouse where the drivers get paid for delivering the guests and everyone gets angry when you, the paid for guest, don’t want to stay at that particular guesthouse.

We decided to go on our own to the Thai border town of Aranyaprathet and go by our selves to the border.  I’ll post later how that goes.  We are quite excited after reading all the stories and we better get going….

Different Bangkok

2 02 2010

We experienced a very different Bangkok than last time around.  Last time we were in the old city, which is both dirty and filled with cheap stores and markets and at the same time magnificent with her temples and the Great Palace.  Now we stayed close to Siam square where all the fancy malls and expensive hotels are located.  You could see the growth everywhere, new office buildings being built and traffic everywhere you look and people shopping, shopping, shopping.

It was much easier to see how big the city really is than in the old town, which felt like a little cozy village after a few days – not a neighborhood in a city of 6 million people.  The traffic at Siam Square at rush hour was endless and people everywhere.  To accommodate all this or keep up with the rapid growth the Thais build a pretty impressive Skytrain on top of the regular traffic which fitted perfectly.  The Skytrain has two tracks so far and is fantastic to use.  They do also have an underground in some parts of the city and a lot of busses that are very hard to figure out when you don’t read Thai.

We went to Lumphini Park, a public park close by, and lounged for a few hours.  The park had a lake that was filled with some sort of swimming dragons that were about one and a half meter in length and tortoises and fish.  In the afternoon the park started to fill up with runners and ladies doing aerobics and Tai Tsi that was open to everyone.  Twice during the day they stared playing the national anthem and everyone stopped what ever they were doing and just stood straight to show respect.  This happened as well when we went to the movies, before the movie started everyone stood up and they played a movie showing the king’s life under the national anthem.

When we were in one of the malls we started hearing intense screaming coming from the other side of the mall.  Curious we ran to the other and and saw hundreds of young girls trying to see a group of guys on a stage below.  Supposedly it was one of the hot boy bands in Thailand and you can just imagine the noise when hundreds of young girls between fourteen and twenty scream of excitement over those guys.  We were just surprised that the glass in the shopping windows didn’t shatter.

We were happy that we decided to stay in a different neighborhood and were able so see the diversity of the city, at least to some extent.  We will probably stay either in Chinatown or close to Khao San road when we come back after our journey through Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos – but who knows?

Back in Bangkok

31 01 2010

We are now back in Bangkok getting ready to go to Cambodia.  We applied online for the Cambodian visa but need to go to the Vietnamese embassy to acquire the Vietnamese visa.  Hopefully we can get that tomorrow and head off to Siam Reap in Cambodia on Tuesday – Wednesday at the latest.

IMG_4932 Ronald McDonald looks a bit different here

From Krabi we went with the bus to Ranong.  Ranong is on the Burmese border and we were hoping that we could go over to Burma for a couple of days but Pon, our travel agent in Ranong, told us that there is nothing to see in Burma – at least not close to this border.  There are two nice islands out of Ranong where we could have rented a bungalow on the cheap and snorkeled and sunbathed but we decide to take the night bus to Bangkok after one night in Ranong.

On offer were four categories of busses: 24 seat VIP bus, 32 seat VIP bus, 38 seat 1st class bus and 2nd class bus.  2nd class bus didn’t have any toilette but the others all had toilettes, air conditioning and a stewardess on board.  The only difference was the width of the seats.  the 24 seat VIP had seats like a business class airplane seats.  The 1st class had just regular seats and the 32 seat VIP was somewhere between.  Since it was over eight hours bus ride we decided to take the 32 seat VIP bus, which was quite nice but next we’ll probably just make do with 1st class.  At least while we are not thicker then we are now :)

As I wrote before, we have been under-blinged during the first part of the trip.  This has felt uncomfortable and people have been looking at us like we just landed in Thailand.  Finally we have made the minimum of two bracelets each, I have two on my wrist plus one necklace and Elínborg has one on the wrist and another one on her ankle.  Now we can finally blend into the seasoned farángs (foreigners) in Thailand.

IMG_4955 All blinged up