Whether you’re a long-term expat, or a backpacker who simply wants to stay a little longer, eventually everyone has to do a Chiang Mai visa run.
The most common visa run is from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai in Myanmar. The trip takes around five hours each way, but if you just want to walk across the border, get stamped, and walk back, this is the quickest way to do it.
Most people who arrive into Thailand by air will be given a 30 day visa. I arrived into Thailand on the 13th of October. A few days before my visa expired I went to a local travel agent to arrange for a visa run. The trip would cost me 600 baht for the return trip in a minivan, plus 500 baht for my new visa which is around $37 in total.
No problem. I booked my ticket for the next day, and at 7.30am I jumped in the van with 11 other miserable people. I was lucky enough to snag the middle seat directly behind the driver which gave me the best amount of leg room.
Unfortunately it also gave me the best view of my upcoming death. The driver had no regard for the road rules and I cringed as he zigzagged from side to side. He seemed to enjoy passing on blind corners, and it was almost as if he was playing chicken with the other cars. It got to the stage where I was about to offer to drive, and eventually I closed my eyes and turned on my ipod as watching the road was giving me a tension headache.
Thailand changed the visa rules awhile ago, and many countries who could receive a 30-day visa by land now only get 15-days, which is really 14 days since the visa run takes a whole day.
Then a few weeks ago the Thai government announced that those from select countries are now again eligible for 30 days if entering the country by land. These countries are: the US, UK, Germany, France, Japan, Canada and Italy.
Why these countries? Simple. These are the seven wealthiest developed nations on earth. Tiny New Zealand will never be one of the wealthiest countries in the world with its small population, and to be honest it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that Thailand is so obvious about its priorities. But hey-not my country. Obviously the Thai government can make whatever rules it likes and we can either put up with it or leave.
Eventually we reached the border, the driver pulled over, and told us that he’d wait for us for exactly one hour. No problem. There was almost no line, and I strolled up to the counter and handed over my passport.
‘You overstay. 1000 baht.’ The Thai girl announced.
I froze, I could literally feel the blood draining from my face.
‘What do you mean? I arrived on the 13th, it’s the 13th now!’
’30 days’ She smirked at me. ‘You should have left on the 11th.’
Shit. October had 31 days.
‘Don’t I get one day free?’ I asked, trying to negotiate.
‘Only at the airport.’ She could barely contain her glee, and I was confused. So much for the Thai hospitality.
It was 100% my fault. I made a common mistake and confused 30-days with one month. You’d be surprised how many people do it. But the awful attitude of the border officer added insult to injury. She was just plain mean and didn’t try to hide the fact that she was happy that I had to pay.
I wanted to argue but realized I wouldn’t get anywhere and grudgingly handed over the 1000 baht. I was lucky I had bought extra money with me, as I usually leave the majority of my cash at home since I’m notorious for losing my belongings.
Earlier this year a Swiss girl named Tscherina Janisch accidentally overstayed her visa by three days and apparently ‘refused to pay the fine’. It’s more likely that she ran out of money and didn’t have it on her, or butted heads with one of the incredibly rude border officers.
After her frantic mother hadn’t heard from her for a week she was finally informed that her daughter had been arrested after reportedly attempting to steal a camera at immigration. So this scared, 22-year old girl gets pulled into immigration and the first thing she does is try to steal a camera? Yup. Sure.
I call bullshit.
Tscherina’s mother had to pay 130,000 baht for her bail (around $4400). The scariest part is that the Thai immigration officers never contacted the Swiss embassy as they’re legally meant to do. After her mother posted on various social media and travel boards, the Thai media managed to track her down. Who knows how long Tscherina would have spent in jail if this hadn’t happened. She must have been terrified.
After initially denying the theft, Tscherina ended up pleading guilty (this way the Thai police save face and she can get the hell out of the country, but I still don’t believe she did it) and was given a suspended sentence of seven months and fined 6,000 baht.
The lesson here is not to mess with Thai immigration because they can and will make life very difficult. They have no problem with framing foreigners, and the police see us as walking wallets.
In two days I need to do another visa run and you can be sure I’ve got the correct date this time. Next time I’ll be flying in!