One of the most important things to realize in Thailand is that impatience and frustration will get you nowhere! Thais are unfazed when it comes to traffic – they will sit at a light for 30 minutes, repeatedly cut off by weaving motorbikes, food-vendor push carts, masses of pedestrians and tuks tuks driving the wrong way, and not give so much as a sigh. They’ll wait until the end of time for buses, a chance to cross the street or a turn in the checkout line. They never bat at eye at a motorbike flying towards them on a sidewalk – they just step aside. The response to any irritating or unfortunate situation is mai pen rai – never mind, no worries!
I’ve never been too easily irritated – I think I’m pretty patient and generally go with the flow. The Thais put me to shame, but they have also rubbed off on me quite a bit. I mean, really, where do I have to be that is so important? Things in Thailand can always wait, and it’s important to accept that if you’re going to make it here with your sanity intact!
The past few days have presented a few frustrating incidents in terms of coordinating our departure. First, there is the issue of getting our Cambodian visas. The border crossing is notoriously seedy and full of scammers – the best advice I’ve read is to assume that every single person there is trying to cheat you. If you take a tour bus, they will have a well-rehearsed breakdown halfway there, causing you to arrive at an overpriced, out of the way guesthouse at 1 a.m., when you have no choice but to stay. Why? They pay the bus drivers commission on every ‘guest’ that is delivered.
The visa costs $20, but the immigration officials will ask for 1500 baht (about $45). Sometimes you can ignore them and hold out a $20 bill, but generally they will shut the window and ignore you until you pay. This money, of course, goes straight into their pockets. There will be touts telling you that you need to pay to be stamped in (not true), that they have to help you fill out the form (definitely not true) and the driver you end up with will tell you that your guesthouse is full/closed and offer you a list of others (that pay him commission). Basically, there are a lot of potential hurdles when arriving in Cambodia, but most of them can be bypassed with enough research (which, obviously, I’ve been doing a bit too much of).
Because of this research, we’ve decided to be smart and get our visas at the embassy here in Bangkok. We have the time, they won’t overcharge and then we can just walk right over the border, no officials to deal with. Gabe took on the task of heading there yesterday while I was at work. After finding the location on their website, he set off on what is easily a 1-2 hour journey (again, Bangkok requires patience!). He didn’t find an embassy, but he did find a pile of rubble and a sign stating that it was, in fact, the Cambodian embassy. He’s trying again today, thanks to an internet forum that gave the new address which has been in place for nearly two years. Maybe it’s time to update the website?
The next hassle involves my work permit. Thai immigration has put this awesome law into effect where you have to have your work permit cancelled at the immigration office that granted it to you. Then, you have to leave the country the same day or else pay a daily overstay fee (no small sum). Naturally the office opens at 8:30, the process takes a couple of hours (not to mention transport time there and back), and you are left with a very small window of time to get out. This is no accident! I’m sure that the extra revenue stream started flowing with the instatement of this rule…
Of course, I’m determined to pull it off and we should be fine since the bus to Cambodia only takes four hours. It gets complicated, however, when we throw checking out of our apartment into the mix… The owner won’t let me check out the night before (you can’t stay after room inspection!). He also doesn’t want to do it before 10:00 a.m.(why so early? I’ll be sleeping!), nor is he cool with letting Gabe take care of it while I go to immigration (his passport number isn’t on the paper!). Since the process of returning to check out means that we’d never make it to the border on time, we are resigned to moving out on Monday night and getting a hotel. In Thailand, all you can do in this case is smile agreeably and thank the guy…
The next little issue involves stuff. We’ve got clothing, some dishes, some books and my laptop - things we want to take home but definitely don’t want to travel with. My friend Joe is staying for the next year and offered to let us keep whatever we want in his room, since we’ll be back through Bangkok at the end. It was a great plan, til I found out that he’s leaving town on Friday and won’t be back before we leave. It’d be tough to give up internet access tomorrow,as we’ll have lots of last minute things to take care of, so I asked my friend Jim if he could help out. He was planning to move on Sunday to a new condo and is more than happy to take a bag or two for us. It was going to work out perfectly, until he found out that there are no checkouts on Sunday, so he is now moving Saturday morning. Bottom line is that we’ll now have to plan on finding our way to his new place at some point on Monday, between packing up, checking out and moving to a hotel. Fun.
Part of me wonders if I should have just paid the overstay fee, but then my Thai-side kicks in and reminds me that, honestly, it’s not that big a deal. There are things out there worthy of frustration, but this certainly isn’t it! For all of the strange, backwards ways that many things are done here, the Thais redeem themselves with mai pen rai – the world should take note!