Listed outside almost any travel agency in Thailand, right there along with all the island travel destinations in the south and jungle destinations in the north, you’re likely to see an option for “Visa Run.”
The way it works when traveling to Thailand, for people of most nationalities, is that you get a free 30-day visa upon entry. Of course, it’s possible to apply for a longer visa before coming, but this requires money/forms/a trip to the nearest embassy or consulate… In short it’s a hassle, and getting the 30-day visa couldn’t be easier.
But for those who decide to become employed in Thailand, or simply decide to stay longer because it’s warm and beautiful and whatnot, an exit and reentry is necessary before those 30 days are up, or it’ll be Overstay Fine central. And at this point, if you’ve decided that maybe it does make sense to apply for a visa that allows you to stay for longer than a month, a full-blown Visa Run is probably the option for you (or in this case, me).
Because we’re located just north of Malaysia, the consulate on the northern Malaysian island of Penang made the most sense for my visa run. A 2.5 hour minibus ride to the larger Thai town of Hat Yai (after which our rickshaw failed to drop us at the correct bus station, so our second bus company sent someone to fetch us for free!) followed by a 6-or-so hour minibus ride across the border found us in front of Banana Penang. If you ever find yourself visa running in Penang, look them up. Not only did we have a large double room with A/C (and a shared bathroom) for RM40 (just over $10) a night, we decided to save ourselves a hectic trip to the visa office and have them sort out the whole thing for another RM40.
As a result, we had the whole of Wednesday to frolic around Penang, starting in the UNESCO World Heritage area of George Town (where we were staying) and ending in Batu Ferringhi (a nice beachy area to the northwest). George Town is known for its beautiful, well-preserved architecture and interesting blend of cultures. In some ways it made me feel like we were back in China again, but it also boasted a Little India area and had a certain Thai element thrown in as well.
we found the coastline and got the bright idea to walk to batu ferringhi, not realizing it was 15 km away (in our defense there was no scale on the map). we thought it was a good photo op, and asked an old chinese man to take a photo of us. he made it clear that he’d never used a digital camera before, but i think this picture was a good first attempt.good job old man! xie xie!
batu ferringhi is known as the popular tourist beach, but as you can see we had the beach pretty much to ourselves! and aside from watersporters we had the ocean entirely to ourselves, probably because it was so polluted but it still felt good!
We went for a great Indian meal that night in George Town with Scott, a fellow American who runs a natural, organic food shop in Koh Samui whom we’d agreed to help transport some inventory across the border the next day in exchange for our passage. Afterwards Wayne and I were eager to get a taste of Penang’s nightlife, but perhaps on account of it’s being Wednesday, the scene was a bit dead. So we ended up having a pretty tame evening, which left us in good shape in the morning to get our things together, pick up my visa, and get on the road with no hitches. The trip was very short and sweet; a simple in and our procedure, but we’ll definitely be getting back to Malaysia at some point and I wouldn’t be surprised if that included another stop at Penang.
We met back up with Scott, hauled all 13 bags and boxes of salt and clay and fruit and rice cookers and whatnot on the train (alright… so maybe I, as the “weak girl” just saved seats and guarded stuff), and headed back to Hat Yai. We stayed the night there and got on the minibus to Thung Song in the morning. Couldn’t have been easier!
So as for life news, other than getting my visa and starting my job a week from tomorrow, I have an exciting update: Wayne and I have finally got a house! After being driven around fruitlessly by Mel-the-secretary a few times, it turns out we just had to turn to Kung and Yak, the unstoppable brother-sister duo and our soon-to-be-former-roommates, who not only realized the townhouse just a few down from theirs was available; Yak managed to get the owner to drop the monthly price from 4000 Baht ($133) to… wait for it… 1000 Baht. $33! Apparently the owner thinks that teachers help people, so he wants to help out the teachers and is going to kind of look at it as us “taking care of his house.”
It has three bedrooms, two baths (with farang toilets! Hooray!), kitchen, living/dining space, back terrace area, balcony off the master bedroom, and (very importantly) space out front where we can finally try out our green thumbs. Of course, it is in a state of disarray at the moment, but it just needs a thorough cleaning to be livable and then I think it’ll be a fun project for us… we’ve been told we can paint as we please and essentially do with it what we like. I’ll have pictures and a video together soon :).
Oh, and Happy Easter to my friends and family who are far away! Normally this is a time for togetherness so I’m missing everyone just a little bit more than usual today. Hope you enjoy your egg hunts and hams!