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Stuck in No Man’s Land

Posted by on November 9, 2011

Leaving Thailand can be surprisingly difficult, so can getting in.

Most of my trip so far has been planned at the last minute. I’ve learned that prices don’t change much if you buy a flight the day before and, if they do, you can easily go into a booking agency (they are everywhere) and you can get a “special price.”

Originally I had planned to go straight from Koh Samui, Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. However, when flying from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Koh Samui, I had a layover in Bangkok. When our flight landed, I noticed that downtown Bangkok was not impassable due to flooding and activity/traffic looked functional. So, at the advice of some other travelers, I re-rerouted itinerary and purchased a ticket directly from Koh Samui to Bangkok. Then, after a few days in Bangkok wore me out, I purchased a ticket to leave for Ho Chin Minh City the following day.

When I got to the airport to leave for Vietnam, I checked in at the ticket machine and then got in the Document Check line where I presented all of my documents (or so I thought). The conversation went a little like this:

“Where’s your visa?”

“Um, I need a visa?”

Luckily, I had arrived at the airport about three hours before my flight was scheduled to depart. The lady at the document check counter suggested that I quickly find a computer, go online and see if I could get an expedited confirmation letter for a visa on arrival. I bolted to a computer, did some googling and paid an agency (a stupid amount of money) to get a visa ASAP (they said online 1 to 12 hours). With the letter that the agency gave me as a receipt of payment, I went through immigration and then to my gate. Sitting by the gate, I continuously checked my email waiting for the official confirmation letter. But when boarding time arrived, I had nothing.

I decided to cut my losses and head to the airline counter to reschedule my flight. Unfortunately, AirAsia happens to be the one airline in the entire Bangkok international airport that doesn’t have a desk inside security.

Frustrated after this discovery, I tried to head back to the check-in counter area. This maneuver required me to go through customs where, well, they had no idea what I was trying to do except for enter the country illegally. So, I was sent back to gate area to find the elusive AirAsia counter inside security. After walking another 20 minutes back across the airport (mind you, Bangkok airport is freakin huge), I was immediately sent all the way back again to customs.

After making my voice heard to the customs official after he attempted to send me back to the gate, I was “removed” from the area by a supervisor and escorted to another “special” area. There, I explained my situation another four to six times and the supervisor finally called over a representative from AirAsia who arrived a leisurely 45 minutes later. I explained my situation another three to five times to the  representative and she escorted me back through the entire airport to immigration where I went out through the “officials only” door, my name was written down in some official book and a big fat cancelled (in Thai) stamp was imprinted in my passport. I was free!

After some smooth New York talking at the ticket counter, my ticket was changed to the first flight the next morning, no charge.

A few hours later, my official confirmation notice arrived and by 8:15 AM the next morning, I was in Vietnam.

The lesson learned: You need a visa to get into Vietnam and don’t be dumb.

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