Fifteen minutes in Burma


One of the peculiarities of the visa system in Thailand is that while you get a free 30 day tourist visa when you arrive (provided you are from the right country of course), the only way you can renew it is if you leave the country and re-enter again. You can do this up to 3 times after which you have to leave the country for a period.

Being Thailand, a highly efficient service industry has sprung up around getting falang (or foreigners) from the comfort of their guesthouses to the nearest border and then back again. Some services dont even require the passport holder to attend – it’s all done by a proxy within a day.

Needless to say, we didnt use either of those services and elected to do it ourselves with the lonely planet as a guide. We were in Chumphon about two hours from Ranong, a Thai town quite close to the Burmese border, and after a sangtheaw (converted ute) ride to the local bus station in Chumphon, a local bus ride from Chumpon to Ranong, another sangtheaw ride from Ranong to the immigration office and then on to the pier finishing finally with a 30 minute long-tailed boat trip across the river into Burma proper (with an odd warning from Thai immigration about smuggling Viagra either into or out of Burma), we got another 30 days and an appreciation of why tourists elect the door-to-door service option even if does cost roughly twice the amount (ie instead of 300 baht it costs us, people pay around 500 baht from Chumphon).

The brief taste of Burma made me want more however. The brief glimpse into the terraced shophouse town was tantalising and even the touts were oddly charming. They were all young men with crew-cuts, ironed white shirts and brown trousers, all speaking good english with american accents, all wanting to sell us duty free cigarettes and other goods.

Maybe next time.

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