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stop-bullying

Toronto

No this is not going to be a story about a visit to Taco Bell in Thailand or the state of US/Mexican immigration policies.

After I arrived in Thailand I noticed that the visa stamp in my passport had two dates, the date of my arrival and April 19th.  This second date was the date my visa expired.  As soon as I noticed it I remembered Charlie and I discussing it in 2006 when we spent a month in Thailand but at that time we knew it wasn't an issue for us since we were taking trips to Cambodia and Malaysia while we were there. I had no such plans to travel outside the country this time so I would have to make arrangements to leave periodically or face a 500 baht (currently about $17CDN) fine for each day I stay past the expiry date.

With a lot of conflicting information on the internet I was reluctant to try this on my own so I found a company in Bangkok that specialized in so called "visa runs".   For 2000 baht ($70CDN) they would take care of transportation to the Thailand/Cambodia border, lunch and all immigration fees which I'm sure included compensating the immigration officials to ensure that the paperwork was processed in a timely efficient manner.

The visa run service left before the first flight could get me to Bangkok and returned after the last daily flight out so I was forced to stay in Bangkok for two days.   Since I would be on a bus for most of the time there was no point in Juy coming along so we decided it was better for her to remain in Ban Phai.

So this past Saturday Juy's brother Puy drove me to the airport in Khon Kaen and in a few hours I was checking in to the hotel in Bangkok. The hotel was rather inexpensive so I wasn't expecting a lot but the reviews were fairly positive.  The temperature in the hallway as the bellhop led me to the room was stifling which did not give me much confidence. I could only hope the air conditioner in the room was in good working order.  He opened the door and I was led into a room that was barely big enough for the bed a desk and the TV...and no window.  Oh, well.  I wasn't going to be spending too much time in the room anyway so it wasn't too big a deal and the air conditioner did work.

When I was planning this 3 month trip to Thailand I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to miss the most but when i got to Bangkok I learned what that was - hamburgers. There is absolutely no place in Ban Phai to get a hamburger. I can't even find ground beef to make my own. It was about 35C when I arrived in Bangkok but armed with a bottle of water I headed out into the heat on my quest to find a hamburger of some kind.

As I made my way around I found a number of Italian restaurants and one that even offered a fusion of Thai and Italian cuisine.  Something I may have to try another time but for now I was still searching for a hamburger.  After about 20 minutes of wandering around I rounded a corner, I looked down the road and there in the distance I saw it...McDonalds.  My quest was nearly at an end.

In a few minutes I was standing at the counter looking at the menu.  In addition to the usual Big Mac and cheeseburgers there was also a samurai pork burger but that's not what I was here for.  I really wanted a Quarter Pounder but they didn't have that so I had to settle on the Big Mac combo. The person who took my order asked if I wanted large instead of medium and I figured, why not, I've come this far. It's a good thing I didn't go for the super size because although the fries were the usual large we have in Canada the drink had to have been about 1L.  I remember wondering if the super size drink requires assistance to get it to your table.

After my hamburger fix I continued my walkabout.  The heat was starting to get to me so I took a shortcut down a side street to go back to the hotel.  As I walked down the street I heard a familiar sound...the sound of a Formula One car.  I followed the sound and discovered it was emanating from a local bar that had the qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix on ESPN via satellite. Being a formula One fan I've missed watching the races live as I always try to do at home but the hotel in Ban Phai doesn;t have a sports channel.  Instead I've been downloading the recorded race broadcasts but it's not the same as it can take several days to download and by then I know the outcome.  To be able to watch even the qualifying live would be great so I sat down at the bar and enjoyed a few drinks while I watched the qualifying and chatted with two other Formula One fans, one from Australia and the other a New Zealand PhD student from Oman.

After the qualifying I had a couple more drinks with my fellow Formula One fans before heading back to the room to get a good night's sleep.

The next morning I took a taxi to the cafe I was told to meet at and I checked in with the owner of the visa run service.  They were extremely well organized and had all the papers for both Thai and Cambodian immigration for us to fill out.  After I filled out the forms, which they kept along with our passports, I waited for the bus to arrive.

When it was ready to get on the bus we were led out of the cafe and down the street to where the bus would pick us up.  To someone else watching this procession it must have looked like some bizarre class trip for some remedial school.

We boarded the bus at 9:30am and we were on our way.  The bus was not the most comfortable but most importantly it was air conditioned. Around 11:30 we stopped just long enough for everyone to have a washroom break and for the organizers to pick up our lunch at a local restaurant. The washroom was about what you'd expect at a truck stop but in Thailand that also means no sit down toilet.  That's OK, I can wait.

After about 20 minutes we were back on the bus and continued on our way as we ate our lunch. I spent much of the remainder of our journey to the border talking with an expat from the UK named Ross who had recently begun working as a teacher in Bangkok. Much of our conversation was spent comparing life in Thailand, England and Canada.

Another couple of hours and we arrived at the border.  The staff were clearly well practiced and as we lined up on the Thai side of the crossing we were handed our passports with the forms we had filled out earlier that were required by Thai immigration. After clearing Thai immigration our passports were collected once again as they took care of Cambodian immigration for us.

While the staff handled Cambodian immigration we were free to explore the border town on the other side of a short bridge lined with people begging for money. I was warned not to give anything or I would be swarmed by other beggars.  The border town was not actually in Cambodia so all we were able to explore were the stores selling cigarettes, alcohol, etc.  Five minutes of the Cambodian and I was back on the Thai side waiting for my passport.

After my passport had been processed by Cambodian immigration I lined up to return to Thailand with my remaining Thai immigration forms.  Ten minutes later and I was back in Thailand with another 15 day visa.  While I waited for everyone else to clear immigration and begin our trip home I made my way to the washroom.  Again, no sit down toilet.  That's still OK, I can wait.

The return trip was more or less the reverse of the trip out.  Unfortunately the rest stop was the same one as the trip out so still no sit down toilet.  That's not OK, it's getting uncomfortable.

We made it back to Bangkok a bit after than the planned 6:30pm arrival but not too later. After we exchanged numbers I said good-bye to my new friend Ross and jumped in a cab to head back to the hotel...and a sit down toilet.

As the adage goes, the chances of something going wrong are directly proportional to the urgency with which you have to go to the washroom. OK, maybe the adage doesn't go that way but it should.

On the way to the hotel my taxi got stuck in a traffic jam caused by of all things, a tree leaning across the road against the elevated train platform.  We finally cleared the tree and we were able to move along quicker but I slowly realized the driver could not find the hotel even though I had given him the card from the hotel which had a map on it.  When we were in the vicinity of the hotel I paid the driver and got out.  It was faster for me to walk the rest of the way than wait for him to find it.

A very urgent walk to the hotel and I made it back to the room and a sit down toilet.

This morning I checkout early from the hotel and had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel cafe before getting a taxi to the airport.  For anyone who has not experienced Bangkok in rush hour I would like to describe it as organized chaos but it's closer to chaotic mayhem. The motorbikes seem to outnumber the cars 2:1 and half the cars are taxis trying to hustle as many fares as they can. The concept of defensive driving has never been more essential.

The approach to the airport was down to one lane as the police watched us slowly go by.  A group of about 10-15 soldiers were also standing by mostly reading the newspaper or checking their text messages. I assume the police and military presence was a response to last week's crisis.

After the harrowing taxi ride, my flight to Khon Kaen was pleasantly routine.  I arrived as planned, Juy met me at the gate as planned and Puy drove us back to Ban Phai as planned.

It was good to get back to the familiarity of Ban Phai.