As South Africans, we tend to get irate when we see our poor fellow neighbours lurking about in the Kruger Park in an attempt to cross over into our borders. One can only sympathise with someone who is so desperate that they are prepared to spend some time “Jungle Booking” it with wild animals with the hopes of starting a new life.
I got to experience what it must feel like for your Zimbabwean gardener with the Engineering degree. As a traveller, a time comes where you love a country so much that you have to do a visa run to stay there legally. Tourist visas only last so long and eventually you’re forced to leave and come back so you can get a brand new visa. Thailand is one such country.
It is nice to enjoy those thirty days of free travel that comes with the automatic visa you get when you arrive. But Thailand has so much to offer that you inevitably want to stay longer. Visa runs have become such a part of many a traveller’s life in Thailand that whole cottage industries have sprung up offering services around it. These businesses take the hassle out of transport, accommodation and completing forms. Using such services you meet colourful characters.
Never before have I seen so many different nationalities thrown together with the same purpose. It’s like the Olympic games, but with a new visa as a prize. We were all bundled into a bus to begin the arduous journey: one Mexican, an American, a Brit, an Aussie, a whole group of Uzbek women, a Singaporean, three Japanese and some Filipinos … oh and an Italian.
It almost sounds like one of those bad blah, blah, blah walks into a bar jokes. As the bus ride was nine hours long you get to create stories around each person. The American looked like Johnny Bravo without hair; a real muscle head with a tiny voice. I marvelled at his ability to scoff a meal done in four shoves. So big was this man, that he found it more comfortable to lie in the aisle of the bus to sleep.
The Brit had the look of an English Football hooligan, complete with tribal tattoos and a shaved head. Nice guy. You know when you have a friend that always has a friend that has done what you’re talking about? He was that guy. I’ll readily admit that I have never met any people from Uzbekistan but all those women seemed to be following the same trends: their eyebrows looked like they had been drawn with a Koki by a three-year-old. They wore some of the most colourful and mismatched clothes I’ve ever seen.
Eventually, still half asleep, you reach the border. What follows is like an orchestrated sport. The border opens and you make a mad dash to customs to stamp out. Then you get on another bus and go into Laos. Then wait. Then get a Laos visa. Then another bus. Then off to the Thai embassy. Hand in form. Then to the hotel. Eat. Shuffle about. Sleep. Wake up next day back to the border. Wait. Back to the Thai border. New visa in passport. Stamp. Back on nine-hour bus. Home. It’s ridiculous the things we do for a good Pad Thai.