The Day of the Visa!
The way to the Pier is shown in the Video:
Following the signs is fairly straightforward.
Wolfed down some quick food, in this case some sloppy food at a rough restaurant, on the pier road. It wasn’t worth the 35 baht for noodles but I guess the hustlin’ starts from here on in...
The last time I’d done a Ranong visa-run was nearly four years ago. Thinking it can’t of changed that much I follow the port signs and head into the immigration complex on the right hand side. It’s deserted apart from three thais, two immigration officers and a minicab driver. I park up and head past them inside and stop. The usual door I’d gone through so many times past was now marked ‘DEPORTATION’ in the big lettering.
Not wanting to encourage the immigration dudes I start looking for a door that has the right signage. An immigration officer comes up to me and he explains that they’ve moved the immigration section for visas to the Sangpla pier 5 months ago. We have a brief palaver about my bike and the usual small-talk before I set out for the Sangpla pier, wondering what new changes have been woven this time around...
I get there, usual orderly chaos of thai/Burmese toing and froing and the even stronger stench of salt and fish in the air. I parked up and stepped on inside, the mad tout of yesterday was nowhere to be seen and I move over to the immigration queues. With my departure card already filled out it was a breeze through the departure window, stamp out and negotiation time with the longtail men for passage to Burma.
Now the actual methods, ways and means for the passage are a dividing point for a fair few farangs I know.
You basically have two ways of completing your visa run. The most adventurous method is to do it your own way and be independent. This, is how we roll at OTRT and I was making no exceptions. The tried and tested longtail across the estuary awaited.
The other way is to pay a company (there are plenty up and down the pier road) to do all the travel via passport courier to Burma. This will cost you about 900 baht. I think you even don’t have to wait in the queue either, but this can’t be confirmed.
The big name that gets smoozed around is the Andaman Club. In the above picture that blue and white speedboat is theirs. It’s said they are the best for doing this kind of thing, despite sounding like a dodgy ladyboy cabaret act! It’s also said they have an island casino they take visa-running farang too.
Not wanting to spoil the fun I choose the former, mentally noting to investigate the casino avenue later ;)
Ranong Pier has changed radically since the days of 2004-5. The filthy mud bank leading to mudsand has been transformed by a set of concrete steps going to the boats. Most notable though is the large concrete pier that runs out to a jetty, here the dozen or so longtails await. I walk down the pier and negotiate with the boatman. I try 150 baht return but he’s sticking to 200 baht. I’m not a cheap Charlie so I agree to the price. You don’t pay straight away and I jump on board. As we set off I take note of the other farang on board. A middle-aged farang (German I later learn) and two rough-looking Swiss girls. Both seemed the trashy backpacker types, you know the kind, fresh silly tattoos and clothes. Possible dykes too but I wasn’t going ask. The weather was sunny with clouds and it was gonna be a roaster of a day. After stopping at Thai immigration island for the thais to stamp out (why they have to go here and not have one on the mainland is a mystery) we set off for Victoria Point immigration island.
The Estuary we cross is peaceful this day, in the past this crossing has been fraught with rough currents and choppy waters, a grim passage if you are on-board a longtail, especially if they catch you a-port and starboard. This time though the waters are calm.
The next islet we pass has a building/shelter with the ominous sign of ‘Immigration Check-point’ or words to that effect. Not that I’m worried but it’s yet another new ‘thing’ the powers-that-be have added and somehow seems to be eroding at my free-spirited mood on Thailand. As if to reinforce this the boat crewman passes me a passenger manifest sheet and a pen! I feel like I’m back in the forces running cargo now! Adding some totally radical details onto it with the minimal personal ones I pass him it back. As I’m not a criminal out here I really don’t do the red-tape bs when it comes to personal details. I have my passport and that is enough IMO.
On the way there I get my first inkling that things have changed on the Burmese side, the little longtail crewman starts chirping in my ear for 5 baht to get a photocopy of my passport, considering the 200 baht fee they’ve charged I ignore him. You didn’t need that before, now you do, more red tape.
As we approach the island I can see that the old building is now fronted by a sheltered pier to make mooring up easier. Where before you could enter the ‘hallowed’ immigration house (well a three roomed bungalow) now the little longtail guys gather up your passport and monkey off the longtail to the pier and disappear inside instead. They’d have our passports stamped into Burma while we cooked on the longtail, no sweat I wait and take in the surrounding islands.
The younger of the two Swiss girls tries to take a picture of the pier but is bellowed at by a Burmese official until she lowers her camera. It always amazes me how overly sensitive they are about silly crap like this. I think they must have an ego trip they go on seeing us all come along to Burma and leave again. ‘Pay your $10 but don’t you dare photo our magnificent bungalow and pier!’
Heh, thankfully the above photo was taken 4 years ago before they had sets of eyeballs watching boats coming in ;) Just imagine a sheltered pier in front of it and you get the up-to-datescene...
We set off again, once the longtail man’s returned with our bundle of passports. I’m always wary about handing over passports but handing them over on a moving boat really pisses me off. One false move and they could be dropped by the thais and lost to the estuary and then we’d be in a blackhole of beauracratic shit.
Passports back in our grasp we make the final leg on the water passage to Burma. The Honey Bear hotel still stands, albeit with a new paint job. No sign of the fine sail-boat moored there years ago, a Burmese Navy Gunboat is there in its stead!
Here at Victoria Point you can get a lot of contra-band like whiskey, cigarettes and generic Viagra. The trouble is there are now strong rumours of crack-downs on people smuggling them in. The main ‘angle’ on this being the Burmese and the longtail crews tipping off immigration. A fine gets levied against the farang caught and both the Burmese and longtail crews get their ‘cut’. Indeed Viagra being one of the prime things being looked for (as it’s illegal to bring in). I notice one of the crew talking into his mobile phone, letting the touts know we’ve arrived.
Sure enough before we’ve even set foot off the boat they are upon us with open arms. OTRTs stores have plenty of ‘contraband’ already so I know I don’t have to risk a contraband run this time but I do feel compelled to ‘take their measure’ on this.
First things first I walk down the bridge across the jetty towards the Burmese immigration offices on the right. I step into the middle one which I know does immigration. Three startled Burmese officers then point to the small building opposite, it has hordes of farang, Laos and Thai queueing up. Great, another change from the last time.
Inside the two desks for immigration with PCs running are a world away from the immigration procedures of a few years ago. I remember fondly just having to have your $10 tucked in the passport and you’d be stamped out just like that, no questions asked and even a crowd could be done in less than a minute. They’d smile and be friendly and you’d be on your way. Now though you can’t waltz in and out anymore, globalisation and big brother makes it take even longer!
First off all they take your $10 and clumsily count it and tally the money with the passports handed over. Cool, then instead of handing them back, they pass the stack of passports to another desk. This has the big brother computer system with the camera on it. They have the computer system running, but I think they are useless at it as for some reason the guy behind the desk just keeps you waiting and waiting and waiting. We’ve paid our money, gotten our stamp out but this lazy moron just has us hanging around as the pile of passports from the rest of the queue builds up to about fifty. He could process each one at once and save himself the aggro but instead we are kept waiting ten minutes. I’m finally called forward to peer into big brothers camera and pray the system doesn’t mis-accosiate me with some farang arms dealer or the like. I’m good, Mr Lazy nods and I’m free to leave.
As I peruse my passport with the new stamps I cheer up again when I see that the Burmese have granted me 14 days stay. It used to be a lot harder to get that. I guess the big brother bs has it’s trade-offs. The touts now descend and start stringing for contraband off us. I’m carrying my bike helm and one of them tries it on. His head is too big though and it nearly gets stuck! We all chuckle and the big brother bs is forgotten about.
I get the usual big bike questions, one of the hard-core touts points out that the same helm I’m carrying is worth about 2,500 baht in Victoria Point. I’m pretty chuffed at that. I only paid 850 baht brand new in a thai market. J The talk switches to contraband and I get quoted 100 baht for 4 Viagra. That’s a good price. The same as four years ago, at least some things haven’t changed. I’m wary though, as to being busted. I put him to the question on being shook down and fined. He evenly replies that the shake-downs have stopped and it’s safe to smuggle Viagra again, he looks away to the left and I keep to my promise of not smuggling. I keep pressing him on it anyway, eventually replying it’s dangerous for farang to carry Viagra across now, mentioning the Check-point Islet. Interestingly he shifts tack and agree’s to have some sent to me in Ranong by courier, he wants money first though. No deal I reply, money after. I buy some orange to cool down a bit. And before long be leave Victoria Point behind.
Once again, for some unknown reason we stop at the Burmese island immigration pier. Two cute Laos girls are on the neighbouring longtail and I briefly start chatting them up.
Then we’re off again, coming back was interesting, somehow the longtail engine kept cutting out and we’d be stranded for a minute or so until the pilot could re-start her. A bigger and sheltered longtail started to close in behind and it was soon neck and neck. I could tell the crew wanted to win the ‘race’. With the mid-day heat blazing down. I’d donned my helm and the relief was instant, with the visor open a crack letting the air in I was in clover.
Caught a really sweet picture of a sea eagle or condor swooping about overhead four years ago...
This time only a white seagull thing was gliding around though.
We pulled in to yet another Islet. This was swarming with twenty or so thai soldiers all under a vast pier canopy. One carried a loaded M-16 the other nineteen I guess were there for encouragement and would shout harsh language at any invading foe. The longtail pull up to the soldiers pier and I now reckoned we’d be searched, as the rumour-mongers state happens occasionally. Instead one of the soldiers starts pointing at me, I ignore the arrogant prick until he starts gesturing for me to take off the helmet. I do so with casual slowness, satisfying him that I’m not a headless farang out to destroy and decimate Ranong pier he smiles and we are allowed to go on our way. Yet another strange moment, yet another change from 4 years ago!
Took this pretty picture of a sea-eagle/condor 4 years back. No sign of it this time around, just a white seagull instead.
Back at the Sangpla Pier the longtail crew succeed in beating the big longtail and we scuttle off the thing and up the pier to immigration arrivals. Thinking we’ve breezed it I step up to the window and to my dismay I’ve not filled out my arrival card! Usually I do it in the queue but I’d no pen and forgotten completely. Telling me to go away and fill it out I do so, I pop my head around the window and ask to borrow a pen. I get a brusque no and scoot about for five minutes to get one. Now if the arrogant twat had lent me his I could of got the card done in thirty seconds flat but no dice. I go to the back of the queue which takes me 30 minutes to get to the front again. Paying off the longtail dudes I make the most of it and chat with one of the farangs there. He’s a traveller and we comment on the changing face of Thailand and globalisation bs that’s changed Ranong and Victoria Point. Then the two cute Laos girls arrive behind me, making the time pass a little sweeter...
The Ranong Raid was complete!
Visa run done, here’s the low-down on the prices.
Lone Wolf Style:
200 boat fee (return)
450 = $10 (in Ranong black market, 500 baht if you use the longtail men. Even Cheaper if you get $ outside Ranong.)
The Andaman Club.
850 - 900 baht all-in.