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November 17, 2004

Arrival in Bangkok

I had imagined that my trip to Bangkok from Auckland would only be eventful after I landed in Thailand. In particular I wondered if I would have any issues with immigration since I would be entering on the 30-day visa-exempt status, yet my itinerary showed me leaving Thailand after 34 days. I was not too concerned about that: I would just explain that I was planning on visiting Laos where I could get a new 30-day allowance on reentry. My Lonely Planet guide book claimed that nobody they knew had ever had their onward tickets checked so I was not worried about the fact that these were waiting for me in Thailand (and I had an itinerary to show that I had a reservation for the flight out).

My confidence was shattered shortly after entering the Auckland airport. At the check-in desk the Kiwi in Thai Airways uniform asked to see my onward tickets. I produced my itinerary. "Anybody could print that!" he said. I tried to explain that it was good enough. He checked with the disguised Kiwi at right, the one at left, then swung his computer monitor around to show me the "official" Thai immigration requirements, and said: "They won't let you in without a ticket!". There was no mention of a "confirmed itinerary" anywhere and upon questioning I realized I couldn't remember where I had read that. I had seen a lot of ambiguous information researching Thailand entry requirements and Visas, but I took a general average of what I read, instead fulfilling the requirements of the worse case. Just when I realized how stupid I looked and how I may have ####ed up in a big way the manager appeared and confirmed that yes, indeed, I had. Thankfully he provided a solution: run to the Air New Zealand desk and buy a refundable ticket out of Bangkok to anywhere.

My heart in my heels, my brain awash with questions, I hurried to the sales desk. After internally cursing the guy in front of me who couldn't make up his mind about what he wanted to buy, I was facing a Kiwi in Air New Zealand attire and asked for a fully refundable ticket out of Bangkok. "Were to?" she asked. I proceeded to explain the situation. "Oh right! That's no problem. We get that all the time." I was relieved. We agreed on Singapore, and I asked her again just to be sure: "This is fully refundable, right?". She assured me it was, gave me the contact of their representative in Bangkok, and made a photocopy of the ticket to keep separately. Pleased with the situation I produced my credit card and mentally patted myself on the back for paying it off regularly. She swipes, I sign, then she looks up and says: "Of course you know about the 50$ refund fee?" RATS!

I was upset but I didn't have the time to complain. They had me. They found a way to make a few bucks off every idiot like me. Regardless, I was able to check in and I was on my way.

The trip was the usual bore, except for the departure from sydney where windsurfers raced the jumbo jet down the water-locked runway (being a windsurfer and pilot I thought that was just too cool). Fourteen hours out of Auckland, I was a groggy mess and I started wondering what would happen at immigration. Someone had said something about an arrival card on the barely audible PA, but I never saw one. In the terminal everybody was filling out something, yet I couldn't find any stacks of forms anywhere. Also I couldn't decide whether I should go to the "Visas on Arrival" desk where most of my flight seemed to be. I didn't have a Visa after all. I found a card and started filling it. In my murky mind it took me a while to convince myself that as a US citizen I was visa-exempt for 30 days which meant that I didn't need a visa, so I shouldn't go to the visa desk, and just leave the appropriate box blank on the arrival card. Though this all sounds silly, it was early morning for me and I hadn't slept more than an hour. In addition I did not want to attract any attention to my case from the immigration officials due to my sketchy departure situation (one open ticket with no date, and one itinerary with a late date and no ticket) so I wanted to have everything in order before standing in line.

After shuffling nervously in the cue for what seemed like a very long time, I was facing a stern looking immigration officer. I forced a relaxed face as I placed my passport and arrival card on his counter, keeping all my departure information tucked away in my shirt pocket. He didn't look at me, and within thirty seconds I had all my stamps and authorizations, no questions asked.

My $562 ticket to Singapore had only served to get me on the plane so I could get to Bangkok to prove that it was of no use whatsoever.

The last bit of concern, namely getting to my hostel in unknown Bangkok late at night without getting ripped off or robbed, was quickly erased. Friendly bus staff put me on the right track and a Thai traveller helped me find the right drop off point. The few touts at the airport backed off at the first sign of a negative response from me.

I found my neat little hostel tucked away behind a 7-11, just like the map showed, and I'll write about Bangkok some other time.

Posted by piegu on November 17, 2004 09:26 PM
Category: Thailand
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