Myanmar Visa Run
When you enter Thailand on a tourist visa, no matter if you have a extended 6months visa or not, you are required to leave the Kingdom every two months to keep your visa valid. Work visa and retirement visa are different but tourist visa hold this stipulation, should you over stay visa you could be fined and banned from the country for a certain period of time. You can purchase an extra month at the immigration office for 1900฿ a person, we had already paid for extended 6 months visa which cost us a bit and we didn’t want to spend anymore if we could avoid it. Nor did we want to be fined or banished so we had to do a visa run to neighboring Myanmar to extend our visa.
First thing you need is to find brand new crisp US $10 bills, Myanmar requires that you pay for you visa with pristine US money. The Myanmar immigration office will not accept any other bill, no fives, no ones, they will not change a twenty; you must have a $10 bill for each person. Seriously! You can by a $10 bill from a vendor at the pier and will pay a hefty exchange rate but there is nothing you can do about it, banks do not carry the currency required we asked. Typically the illegal exchange of currency, which happens in the corner of the 7-11 parking lot, will cost you 500฿ unless you can talk then down to 450฿, which we did. This means that you pay about $15 for a US$10 bill and you better check to make sure they are in perfect condition, no tears, no spots, no marks, no folds…perfectly pristine. We discovered this the hard way. Your bills will be given to you in individual plastics sheets, don’t get them wet or fold them in your pocket because they will be rejected.
Second thing is you need two copies of your passport that are required for the immigration for both Thailand and Myanmar. We brought our own copies with us but you can purchase copies at the same place you get your bills or several other copy places around the pier. Once you are armed with your copies and your $10 bill arrangements for your boat ride can be secured. It typically will cost about 100฿ per person each way. There was no discount for Francesca on this ride, if there was then they just charged us more, 600฿ round trip on a slow boat taxi. There are plenty of people trying to sell you passage across the sea so its not hard to find someone to take you.
Once your transportation is secure you stamp out of Thailand at the immigration office on the Saphan Pla Pier and board your boat for your Andaman Sea journey. There are several stops you make along the way, the first is a boarder control station located in the canal before you make it out to sea. All boats must stop. There is not organized docking system, the boats ram each other as they approach the dock, squeezing in anywhere they can. Then the captain hops along the bows of the tied together boats making his way to the office with the copies of the passports. Once cleared you head toward an island where there is a military presence, your boat may or may not stop here and it may or may not get searched, just depends who is on board and who is working. Typically boats full of foreigners will be waved on and those containing locals will be boarded, that’s because they are looking for smuggled goods between the borders and locals are more likely to be conducting across border business. After that its smooth or rough sailing, depending on the weather across the Andaman Sea to the Myanmar Marine boarder control site, also located on an island, here your passports are collected by the captain and taken in for examination. Once the captain is back on the boat it is a short ride to the dock where the immigration office is located.
After the boat docks the passengers get off, there is usually a guide that will greet you and escort you to the office. We didn’t know until later that the greeter is a guide that will show you around the city and works for tips, its not like you need a guide in Kawthuang unless your someone who like to be guided around. If there is no guide the captain or crew will walk with you to the immigration office, probably because you haven’t paid him for the ride as of yet. If you arrive to the office to early or at break time you will have to wait until the one guy who knows how to use the computer shows up, so we would advise you don’t arrive to the office to early and be prepared to be patient if the officer is on a coffee run. At the office you hand over your passports, your second photocopy, and your $10 bill where it is examined throughly. We did not notice but one of our bills had a spot on it which posed a bit of a problem, they didn’t want to accept it. Our boat captain, who worked for the guy we got the $10 bill from, spoke with the office then ran off to somewhere came back and request 50฿ from us to pay some merchant to come in an tell the immigration officer that he would bring a new bill to cover our payment. The officer took our photos and stamped our passports. Since we were not staying in Kawthung we were free to head back to Thailand. If you stay over night they keep your passport until you leave the country.
With our passports in hand we made our way back to the boat for our journey back to Thailand. The return is the same process in reverse with the three stops. The fastest this around trip journey takes place is about three hours if there is no waiting in lines or hiccups along the way. Once back on the main land of Thailand you get your stamp at the same office you stamped out of, we were granted another two months in the Kingdom due to our visa. However you could receive only a 15 days stamp should you not have a prearranged visa. Thailand border crossing rules change rather regularly so entry to the country may vary depending on the laws at the time. We did our visa run in four hours from door to door of our home, it was all rather painless. Had we known about the US$10 bill situation for Myanmar’s visa we would have had a stack of $10 bill on hand.
When you have been in Thailand for months and your child is questioned about what she would like to eat today and her response is “pizza.” You do your best to accommodate her cravings, especially since she has basically lived on chicken and rice, soup, yogurt, and peanut butter and jelly. Daniel and I knew of three places we could go to get pizza, however we did not know if any of them were good. One was a pizza, pasta food chain that is located in the shopping center where we get our western grocery (like coffee, peanut butter & jelly). We opted not to do the chain restaurant. Another one was a short ride down the street but we wanted to get a few miles on the bike in before we ate so that one was knocked of the list. The last one we knew of we had seen a few times as we rode to the pier. We did not know if they would be open nor how tasty it would be but we decided to give it a try.
Original Thai pizza was the place’s tag line. Lucky for us, the sign had english under the Thai names of the pizza. There were the “Thai speciality pizzas” that had topping such as crab, tuna, seafood, and spicy shrimp; a couple veggie options including spinach and cheese or frozen mix veggies (peas, carrots, corn); or the classics ham and cheese, vienna sausage, meat combo and a Hawaiian. We played it safe, ordered one Hawaiian and one ham and cheese, XLs, which means 8inch not the monstrous sizes like in the States. We sat at a table and waited, we could see them constructing each one and placing them in what looked like a large rice cooker. I glanced at Daniel and said, “this is definitely going to be a interesting pizza experience, I think their steaming them.” The ham and cheese came out first with a handful of ketchup packets, Francesca was so excited, we plated us each a piece and I hid the ketchup so she wouldn’t ask for it.
The pizza looked pretty good, I had watched them apply a red sauce when assembling the pies, the crust was about and inch thick, the cheese was nicely melted. Once it cooled a bit we took our first bite, umm… is that ketchup and sweet mayo? Yes it is, the red sauce was not marinara but a thin layer of ketchup, covered with ham, topped with a miracle whip type dressing and covered in cheese. Daniel oddly enjoyed the Thai style dressing on his pizza, he said it reminded him of a ranch dressing on his pizza. I however passed on the ham and cheese and waited for the Hawaiian to come out. Luckily, they did not add the mayo concoction to the Hawaiian, perhaps because it is already sweet due to the pineapple. This one was much better in my opinion, they could have left off the ketchup but it was applied so lightly you didn’t notice it to much. As for Francesca she ate a couple pieces and most of the pineapple from the top of the Hawaiian. I’m good if we avoid pizza while in Asia, however I have a feeling we’ll be trying another spot at some point since my hubby and daughter crave a pizza pie every now and again.
Ranong Hospital Emergency Room Visit
One of the greatest fears when traveling, especially without insurance, is an accident that requires a visit to the hospital. We had one of these ‘Oh Shit! What do we do?’ moments when were we sitting down for dinner. Daniel had been preparing a delicious dinner and was almost done while Francesca and I were sitting down at the kitchen table. We had stacked two plastic chairs to give Francesca the required hight needed to reach the table, something done all around the country for small dinners. I was watching her grab for something on the table, she must have been on the edge of the seat when it slipped out from under her and she slammed her chin on the table and began to scream. She ran over to me, blood gushing out of her mouth. She had split her lip open, I held her and cleaned up the blood. Looked at Daniel and said we have to go to the hospital.
Daniel looked at me and said, “Are you sure its that bad?” Me: “Yes! She is going to need stitches.” Daniel replied, “You really think so, let me see.” With blood dripping from her mouth it was a bit hard to see but he believed me. We got dressed, grabbed some money; all the Bahts we had, a few hundred dollars in US cash, and my credit cards just incase. We had no idea how much it was going to cost. We gather her blanket and stuffed horse, Sheianna, and ran outside to catch a songthaew to Ranong Hospital just a couple miles down the street. We were dropped off in front of the hospital and made our way to the emergency room. The emergency entrance was desolate, not like the emergency in America, there was no one at the desk and we could see a few nurses having a meeting at a back table. It took them a few minutes to notice us and then a few more to find someone that could speak enough english to help.
We explained what happened and they took Francesca weight and temperature, asked the same basic questions that they do at any hospital and had us wait our turn. There was one person a head of us that they were helping and one on a gurney. They admitted us in the back, no division of rooms, just a wide open space with a few gurneys along a wall, some kid toys in the corner chairs to sit in while you waited. Once it was our turn the Doctor called us over and took a look at Francesca’s lip, told us she would need one suture. She wrote up her diagnosis in both English and Thai, filled out a prescription for us to fill and had us take Francesca to a bed as they prepared the equipment. Our little girl was so brave and curious about what was going on but she did not have any idea what was about to happen, we told her when we were done we could go have ice cream and that made her happy.
Once the nurse and doctor were ready, Francesca had to lay down on the gurney. Daniel and I held her down, Daniel had her head and I restrained her arms. The doctor tried to numb her lip but was having a very difficult time since Francesca would keep her tongue in her mouth. We kept telling her to open her mouth and keep your tongue inside but to a two year old that just doesn’t happen. After a few attempts the doctor looked at us and said she may have to do it with out numbing her, we tried to convey that to our brave little girl but we’re not so sure she understood what that really meant. Then the doctor went for it, piercing her lip with the hooked needle on one side then attempting to push it through the other side. Francesca was making it so difficult for the doctor, wiggling, crying, trying to swallow and play with the needle with her tongue. Finally the needle was through both sides, the doctor went to tie of the thread but cut the excess before securing a knot and the thread slipped through and out her lip. They had to start the whole process over, this time it was much worst for all of us.
Pour little Suggies was hysterical this time around. She was using all her force to push up and away, bridging with the best of them. We kept telling her how brave and strong she was, that she just needs to concentrate on our voice and stay still and it soon would be all over. Once the suture was complete and we thanked the doctor for her help she sent us over to pick up the prescription and pay for the procedure. We made our way through the open air hospital, that had no AC in the public areas to a large waiting room area. We found the windows where we were to drop of the script and pay, I handover the prescription while Daniel went to pay our bill. When all was said and done the trip to the emergency room with prescriptions cost us a whopping 837฿, about $27.
We had to return to the hospital about a week later to make sure her lip was healing correctly. The suture had dissolved a few days after they had been put in. We rode our bikes to the hospital, waited for the nurses to check us out. We were sent to a doctor that could speak English, bypassing a large room of people wait their turn. The doctor took a look at her lip, asked us a couple questions, said everything looked good and sent us on the way. There was no charge for the check up visit. Including the wait, because we show up at the end of lunch hour, we were at the hospital for about hour, tops. What more could you ask for in a small hospital in southern Thailand? We were kind of glad we didn’t have insurance coverage because it probably would have been more of a hassle then it was worth, $27 for an emergency room visit would never happen in the US. It cost more than that just to have you name filled out on the admission form.