Thailand Humiliates Long-stay Foreigners
Yesterday we travelled to Myanmar, which is another neighbouring military dictatorship. Our motivation was to try out the so called visa-run. We wanted to test and document it so that you don’t have to do it unless you really want to. All foreigners staying in Thailand are forced to travel every 1-3 months to the border, exit the country, and return with a new stamp in their passport. Immigration rules enforce this procedure, and the penalty of failing to do so is 500 baht/day (~ 11 €). Those who travel to Thailand for work, retirement, or for renting a wife are granted a 3-month stay between the visa-runs. Ordinary long-stay tourists usually have to do the trip every month. The Argentinian visa system gives an example of another extreme. There you can overstay as long as you wish. When you leave the country you just have to pay a US 15$ fine. All Argentinian visa officials encourage tourists to stay overtime and pay the fine instead of applying visas and permission. Here are our experiences, the first and the last, of the notorious Thailand visa-run trip.
Visa-run to Myanmar
We bought a visa-run package tour from a travel agency and paid 600 baht (~13 €) for a 10-hour van ride. The price was not bad but the trip was far from enjoyable. The van came to pick us up from our place at 08:30. It was 45 minutes late, and we had had to wait all the time outside. There were already seven other foreigners in the car with a similar aim: to get a stamp in their passport. The driver seemed to sense the frustration of the passengers. He was speeding as much as he could in the winding road and dodging other traffic making sudden brakes all the time. We were holding our seats in the rodeo. Santeri was feeling motion sickness, and Päivi’s head was banging between window and Santeri’s shoulder as she was snoozing. Everyone was silent except the radio that kept playing childish and irritating Thai pop with refrains like "ding dong-dong, thing-thang-thong".
The ride took a little bit over four hours. After Chiang Mai mountain views and pleasant-looking picnic areas were soon replaced with a flatter view, and little villages following one another. The city of Chiang Rai looked especially boring, even compared to the one of the worst ever cities we have visited: Bangkok. The destination itself, Mae Sae, was crowded with all kinds of street vendors scavenging for their share of the tourist influx.
The procedure in the immigration was simple. We got a stamp from Thai officials and then entered the Myanmar immigration office. There they ripped us off with obligatory "visa" to Myanmar costing US 10$ per person. According to the travel agency the fee should have been US 5$. We didn’t have two ten-dollar notes but just 100 dollars. Because the officials refused to give us any change we had to pay 500 baht instead. So we ended up paying 1.000 baht for the two of us which equals to US 28$. When we returned to the Thai immigration they checked very carefully that we had actually paid the Myanmar fee. Why were they so interested in it? Maybe because of corruption and making sure that they will surely get their share of the Myanmar bribes.
The whole play took one hour after which we went immediately back to the van for return trip. People were a little bit more talkative once the obligatory humiliation had been suffered. There were people from Ireland, Britain, and Australia, some working and others on holiday. One guy had made the trip already seven times every month and this was his last. Everybody was frustrated with the visa system but nobody wanted to complain. According to them, they were guests of Thailand who had to endure the whims of their host. Our interpretation was contrary: we are paying customers who receive constantly bad customer service. Thai officials have made us run from one counter to another because of their corruption, ignorance, brainless bureaucracy and despotism. The distance between these counters was long: this time a ten-hour van ride, earlier a 17-hour train ride to Bangkok immigration office, and before that a 3-day trip to Singapore and numerous bus rides in Chiang Mai.
An Inquiry To Thai Officials
We asked the top Thailand tourism and immigration officials about reasons for humiliating tourists, but received just one answer telling that the highest tourism authority had forwarded our letter to their PR department, and they should answer us soon. We were stunned. Is corruption and the humiliation of tourists with visa-runs really just a ’PR problem’ that requires a proper excuse?
Here is the letter we sent them:
Attn: To whom it may concern
DEAR SIR / MADAM ,
We are a married couple, freelance writers and full-time travellers. Our country of origin is Finland, European Union. In the past two years we have travelled around the world in South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. In August 2006 we arrived in Thailand, and got a 30-day entry permit at the border whereas in almost all other countries in the world the limit is 90 days. Later we tried to prolong our stay on the grounds of our writing work, but failed. During the process we experienced extraordinarily unprofessional service from Thai immigration and embassy officials. Here is what happened.
Our plan was to spend a year in Thailand writing a book about Golden Triangle. Later we discovered that Thailand’s visa regulations do not acknowledge this kind of activity and we should work for or found a Thai company to get a working visa. In order to learn this we had to visit Chiang Mai immigration office three times, travel from Chiang Mai to Singapore Thai Embassy, and finally travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok immigration office. The visa regulations proved to be so complex and obscure that even government officials were seemingly afraid of giving advice. Instead, they quoted the cryptic laws, made us run around asking the same questions time and again, and gave us every time different instructions.
We have two options: 1) exit the country every month for a so called visa-run, or 2) travel to the neighbouring countries and try our luck with local Thai Embassies so many times that we would finally get the visa granted. Let us consider a bit more thoroughly what these options would mean to us.
In the first case we would have to travel to the border to get a 30-day entry permit every month. This permit, according to some officials, can be renewed three times in half a year’s time. According to some other officials visa-runs can be performed as many times as we wish without any problems, and according to yet other officials they are totally illegal. No matter which answer we choose to trust, the whole idea of visa-runs is ridiculous. The only reason we could figure out for government to promote such an activity is corruption.
In the second case, the advice was to get a two-month, multiple entry tourist visa from a Thai embassy in some nearby country. We did this once in Singapore and found it as frustrating as a visa-run trip. Moreover, we were at the mercy of arrogant embassy officials. We had asked about our visa and sent all our documents beforehand, and we got a confirmation that a working visa would be granted. But when we arrived in Singapore, the official changed her mind claiming that our books are ”rubbish". This rude comment from Ms. Shima Han and her manager Ms. Phrintra Sucharitakul was quite striking. Finally the Immigration Office Manager in Bangkok was kind enough to explain us the whole visa procedure, frankly and straightforwardly. It was the same answer we had received earlier from numerous tourists and expatriates who are in the same situation, and read from various Internet forums: Visa laws, applicants’ activities, merits, and the money brought into the country do not matter. It is the language skills, the mood of the official dealing with the case, and sheer luck that dictate the results of a visa application.
Thailand seems to favour a short-sighted business model with visas; take-the-money-and-run. Visitors are granted only short-time entry permits to support visa-run businesses. Yet there are two privileged groups: retired people of over 50 years of age, and men supporting Thai families. In both cases visa applicants are often elderly, Western men travelling to Thailand for having sex. Or visiting their second, “secret” Thai families also known as rented wives while the official family is waiting at home.
To understand the visa policy thoroughly we would like to know:
1.What kind of training do you give to your embassy officials to qualify them in literary analysis?
2.Visa regulations force people to make monthly visa-runs, which is a big business. Why is that endorsed?
3.Why foreigners have to use trial and error method, face despotism, and receive unsystematic service from immigration officials?
4.How can Thailand’s tourism ever be sustainable, when most of the foreigners get sick of daily encounters with repulsive pedophiles?
5.Why the visa regulations are made so cryptic and complicated?
6.Why do Thailand prefer sex tourists to normal people in visa regulations on both legislative and national level?
We feel sorry to bring these questions up as we have otherwise enjoyed our stay in Thailand greatly. It has been easier to take care of everyday life, for example renting a flat and opening a bank account, compared to any other country in the world. The atmosphere is easy-going, and most people are very polite and respectful. However, the visa regulations form an obstacle to normal tourism, far greater than current martial law and military dictatorship. Visa regulations force us to reconsider our options: shall we pursue the original book idea or leave Thailand and share our experiences.
We look forward to receiving your answer. Thank you in advance.
We wish you peace and harmony,
Post MortemIf you wonder why all this happens maybe some statistics will help you to understand. Tourism forms 5% of GDP of Thailand making it significant, and long-stay foreign residents also contribute heavily to GDP. The reality is that many long-stay tourist are sex tourists, and around 30% of all prostitutes are children (800.000 out of all 2.800.000 prostitutes, see Wikipedia). The immigration law is welcoming those supporting a Thai wife, Thai family or Thai child. So many Western men, most married in their home countries, come to Thailand for having a second family. Or to adopt children for sex slaves. The age of consent is 15, and even younger children are not really protected as they are an asset to Thailand’s blooming sex tourism industry.
You can influence on Thailand’s visa regulations by writing to Thailand authorities. When they receive more similar letters they are more likely to change their minds and realize the financial losses, the bad reputation, and the shame they impose on the tourism industry of Thailand.
If you plan to travel to Thailand maybe you should consider some other country instead. In most of them you can stay 90 days without humiliation and they do not prefer sex tourists. Those who visit Thailand approve pedophilia and visa-runs.
Peace and harmony,
Päivi & Santeri
Country: Thailand, Country: Myanmar