2 days of travelling
17.03.2012 - 19.03.2012 37 °C
Arriving in Bangkok after a reasonable amount of sleep (for a sleeper train ride anyway), we ran from the train to the ticket office to book our next train to Champorn which was due to leave in a few hours (8:30am). Unfortunately it was fully booked so we were stuck in Bangkok until 2.30pm when the next train would be available. Deciding not to pay large amounts of money to leave our bags in a locker for 5 hours we hung around outside the Train Inn (a hotel we had used before going to Chiang Mai) and thankfully they had not changed their internet password, so we were able to plot our last few days. As the train we were now catching would be arriving late in the evening we were going to miss the last bus to Ranong (our gateway to our desert island) and so would have to spend the night in Champorn. We booked a reasonably cheap hotel room, grabbed some food from our favourite gay bar and waited in the sun for our train to arrive.
With our Visa's for Thailand about to expire we would have to do one of the many Visa runs to another country. A visa run is the easiest way to get longer in your chosen country without overstaying and paying the penalties. To do one is relatively easy, you just need to visit a neighbouring country then after a few days/hours (or sometimes even minutes) you return to the original country and are granted a new visa - hey presto no overstay, no penalties. The costs vary depending on which country you visit, the length of travel involved and the company you use. As we were going to be close to the borders of Myanmar after our next train, this would be our country of choice. Deciding to wait until we got to Champorn to see how much it would be and how best to do it we throw our rucksacks on again and boarded the train to Champorn.
The train was ok, in fact the seats were very large and soft with lots of space so comfort wasn't a problem, but boredom was! Having to listen to the many wailing locals who wonder up and down the carriage at what seem like 2 second intervals trying to sell you anything from fruit and veg to washing powder and hammocks for the next 8 hours, seemed like an eternity! I managed to flatten my battery in my Laptop/Iphone and Ipod and was considering actually reading a book (or banging my head repeatedly against the wall until hopefully losing consciousness) when we finally arrived.
Chaporn was a place where we did not get a good vibe when we arrived. Maybe it was because we were so tired, maybe it was the many drunken tramps sleeping on the station or the ladies of the night frequenting every corner but it just had a 'skummy' sort of vibe. Luckily our hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the station and we made it there alive. It was part of the 'Fame' travel agency and although a large building, the rooms were small, dingy and had the same vibe as the town (minus the tramps and hookers). Deciding to do the visa run ourselves without the aid of a company to arrange it might be a bad idea, but we were going to give it a try in the morning.
Anyway, totally exhausted we threw ourselves into the shower and flopped into bed to grab some much needed sleep knowing we would have to be up at about 5:30am to catch the first minibus to Ranong.
Morning came far to quickly and we were up again and wondering around the streets with our eyes half shut trying to find the local bus station. It turned out to be no where near the 'bus station' and was actually a little office in a side street about 1km away. Oh well, at least we were early enough to catch the first minibus that leaves at 7am (or as soon as the bus is full) and at only £2 each for a 2 hour journey it seemed like a bargain. The minibus was comfy and had aircon (which was a blessing) but the driver was one of those people who seems to be very angry with the pedals for some reason. He insisted on either taunting the accelerator by constantly moving it up and down causing our necks to rock forward and backward like nodding dogs, or trying to force the break pedal through the floor with obvious consequencies.
By the end I was feeling pretty sick and was glad to jump out and sit in the 38 degree heat rubbing my now elongated neck and trying not to throw up.
From here it was a quick Sonthor (local van with seats) to the pier to Myanmar. At the pier we were greeted immediately by a man who very kindly offered to sell me a crisp $10 bill (needed for the border) for only $15, so with the lack of any official currency changers we accepted. He also then for free (!) helped us prepare our paperwork and motioned us towards a boat with a guide for the 2 hour return journey to Myanmar. The boat was a traditional long boat with a truck engine on the back and as the driver fired it into action the guide explained the boat was £4 and we could pay him for his services also - but only if we felt we wanted too. hmmm.
It was a strange trip as we passed several huts in the water with border police staring at the boat and the guide shouting Thai at them or gesturing he had 2 people on board.
We were just wondering if we had been sold to the slave trade when we moored up at a larger building and the 'guide' asked us for our passports. What could go wrong we thought. Here we are between Thailand and Myanmar on a ropey old boat with 2 local men and a child that we didn't know with no one knowing where we are and he is going to now disappear with our passports. Perfect.
Oh well, in for a penny we gave them to him and he scurried across the old wooden beams and into the building. Thankfully he returned shortly afterwards and the boat set of again - still heading in the direction of Myanmar.
We arrived at a busy dock a short while later and he moored us up to another boat and made us hop from boat to boat until we set foot on Myanmar. Taking us through the crowds he managed to find a place to photocopy Jaynes passport (you apparently need copies) and then pointed us in the direction of an official looking hut on the waters edge. Inside they asked if we were staying or just 'Visa Running' and stamped us in and out of Myanmar while pocketing the two crisp $10 bills we had bought from the Thai man. As soon as we were outside the guide rushed us back to the boat and before we knew it we were on our way back to Thailand. Yet again we passed several huts, this time them stopping at a few to check our passports and the guide asked for 100Baht. I told him we had paid enough and he said he was seperate to anything else we had paid and he needed money for the child. Refusing to hand over any more than 50 Baht left him staring at me the whole way back with a look of hate on his face. Never more glad to get off of a boat we arrived back at Thailand and went to their 'man in a booth' to get welcomed back into Thailand.
Phew. Visa Run done we now have 15 days allowed in Thailand that will see us through until we return home. Job Done.
To be honest it was actually very easy to do as they do hundred every day and cheaper than arranging through a company. I would recommend to anybody to try it yourself, just make sure you have enough crisp $10 bills first and some small change for 'other expenses'.
A nice motorbike taxi man asked us where we were off to next and after explaining we were going to Koh Phayam he explained it was a short walk across the street. It was only about a 10 minute walk from the Myanmar Pier to the Koh Phayam pier so wasn't too bad in the heat with the bags.
There are slow boats that go at 8am and 2:30pm and speed boats that go more often. The cost is 4x more for a speedboat so although it would mean a few hours wait we opted to buy a ticket for this and sat down for a bite to eat.
A few minutes before it was time to catch the boat they stuffed us into a minibus and drove us to another part of the pier to board our slow boat. It was much bigger than I had expected and more like a ferry. Plonking ourselves onto a wooden seat we dropped the bags on the floor and settled in for another few hours of motion.
The journey was nice and gentle with many beautiful islands passing by and an old hippy traveller serenading us with his didgery doo and various other wooden instruments.