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Run for the Border
April 2, 2011  |  by jess c  |  Koh Lipe, Malaysia, Stuff For Wanderers, Thailand, Visas

If you do much backpacking in Southeast Asia, you’ll often hear–sometimes in hushed tones–people talk about making border runs. No, it’s not a reference to a certain Mexican fast-food advertising campaign (though, Jess M wouldn’t let me call this post “Make a Run for the Border”). Rather, we’re talking about taking a trip to renew one’s tourist visa.

Doing a “border run” has always sounded to us like doing something sneaky; like somehow cheating the normal immigration rules. An intrepid loophole. In reality, it’s a process that, while a bit tiring, is otherwise pretty mundane. Our trip the other day to get a new 15 day tourist visa in Thailand went like this:

9:00 am — board the slightly overcrowded speed boat on Sunrise Beach (Koh Lipe), and travel on pretty choppy waters for an hour and a half; play “I’m thinking of a word that starts with the letter ___” to distract Jess M from having to pee for the last half hour.

10:30 am — wander around the pier area of Pak Bara looking for the travel agency with which our Lipe agent has made arrangements for a taxi.

11:00 am — find travel agency, and taxi driver, and hit the road. Spend one hour driving through lovely jungle areas, with mist-covered mountains.

12:00 noon — arrive at the Wang Kalien border crossing with Malaysia. Walk to the Thailand “Departure” window and have your passport stamped as leaving Thailand. Walk 30 feet across the border, have your passport stamped at the Malaysia “Arrival” window. Then walk 10 feet around to the other side of the same booth, and have your passport stamped at the Malaysia “Departure” window. Walk 30 feet back across the border, and have your passport stamped at the “Arrival” window in Thailand, and waaaalllaaaa! New 15 day visa.

Look back and stare at the border, marveling at the lack of ceremony or intrigue or anything even remotely sneaky.

12:20 pm — get back in the taxi and drive back to Pak Bara.

2:30 pm — board the speedboat back to Koh Lipe, get completely soaked from the rain all the way back, remark that Jess M is a genius for suggesting we bring our rain jackets, and play more “I’m thinking of a word…” to pass the time.

4:00pm — arrive back on Koh Lipe, wetter, but with license to spend two more weeks at the beach on this lovely island.

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