I’m a legal alien once again. Yesterday was my first running of the gauntlet over the border of Thailand and back in order to get another visa on arrival for Laos.
Even after the detailed stories I’d found online outlining the step by step process, I still somehow felt completely lost and unprepared. Would I fill out all the forms properly? Did I have the appropriate monetary amounts in each currency? What if I missed a step, crossed some invisible line landing me in a foreign prison where I’d be sure to sit for for years because, I mean, isn’t that what always happens if you break a rule in an Asian country?
Have I ever mentioned my penchant for worrying? If worrying were a professional sport, I’d have the gold medal, the title, the trophy, the cup or the belt. Whatever the top award for worrying is, I’d own it.
I didn’t have to face this task alone. Rob has his work visa now and also had the day off to accompany me. Our residence offers a van ride to the border and would wait to drive us back. We left at 9 a.m. and I tried to enjoy my first vehicle ride in a month. My heart pounded so hard and fast I could barely take in the passing view. We were dropped off and waited in our first line to pay the exit fee. The next line was very long. We were waiting to be stamped out of the country. After almost forty minutes, we exited and bought bus tickets for the ride over the bridge. The Friendship Bridge was built over the Mekong River to act as another portal between the two countries.
My heart was still beating so quickly. I suddenly realized why it’s referred to as the “Visa Run”. My heart was behaving as though I was running a race even as I stood or sat the entire time. Technically, it’s not more than a “Visa Crawl” at best.
We got off the bus in Thailand, found the appropriate line and waited again. Each time I waited in line, my brain managed to come up with a few hundred scenarios that could play out as I handed over my passport and the filled out entry and departure forms to the stern man behind the desk. The reality was that he would simply look it over, read the papers and look very official as he stamped and wrote and took my picture.
Rob and I were a little tired and very dazed as we walked out the doors after being cleared to enter Thailand. Halfway done, we turned and went to the opposite side to now make our exit. The lines entering had been very long. Crowds of people were heading into Thailand. Leaving Thailand to visit Laos? No lines. Stamped out, we realized a little too late that to buy two bus tickets back over the bridge we needed Thai Baht which we had failed to obtain. Rob asked the attendant if they would accept American dollars. At first it looked like we would have no luck, but then she answered “One dollar, one ticket”. I actually had two U.S. dollars and handed them over a little too jubilantly considering how much profit they just made on our tickets!
I tried to enjoy the second ride over the Mekong knowing that I was almost done. We were tired, hot and sweaty, but almost to the finish line.
We cued in the line we thought we needed to go through first, to pay the entrance fee. The woman behind the window looked at my passport looking very confused and kept shaking her head and giving it back. Yes, I panicked. World Champion Worrier proven correct at last! Surely I was about to be told I couldn’t re-enter Laos for some unknown reason. A missing stamp or incorrect date – some missed step had sealed my fate.
She pointed at the ‘visa on arrival’ window and it dawned on me that until I had the new visa in my passport, I couldn’t pay the fee to enter. Off to the window I went. Luckily I did remember to bring a passport photo and $35 U.S. I filled out the entrance and departure form for Laos, the visa application and handed it all over to yet another very official, very stern looking man.
One last wait and my passport was given back with another page entirely taken up by a 30 day visa for Laos. We went to the same woman to pay the exit fee but once again I was waved away and realized it was part of my fee to get the visa. Rob didn’t have to pay either. We exited, showed our legal passports one last time at another desk and we were DONE! It was Noon, only three hours had passed. It felt like an entire day.
I felt such a rush of relief that I’d made it, followed by the sinking realization I had to do it again every month. Sigh. The price of adventure isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it!
(Photos from left to right: Waiting in Line, Taking the Bus, Even Monks Fill out Forms)