How to Have the Worst Experience Possible at Immigration in Thailand
Our bar and hostel in Koh Phangan
Working the Full Moon Party
My job on the island of Koh Samui entailed doing basic work in a hostel, and taking guests on outings every night. In other words, getting the guests drunk enough to not notice how uncomfortable the beds were (just kidding!). I was hired there to work there for the month before the July Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan.
Basically, on the days before Full Moon, all of the hostel staff filtered out of our hostel on Samui and in to our hostel on Phangan, then after Full Moon did the opposite. I was one of the 4 staff members who only went to Phangan to work the night of full moon. We headed out on a ferry the evening of, and started working in the hostel bar as soon as we got there.
We were meant to get to Phangan, work most of the time, get to the actual FMP when the bar emptied out, and then sleep at odd hours when we could (for example, from 7-11 am). What a joke! The hostel was overbooked so those of us who had just gotten there that day had no beds. It was all right, 'cause we had to leave early the next morning anyways. I worked in the bar until about 2 am, and then went to the beach for the FMP.
At about 3 or 4, I was a little tired, so I went to go sleep on the beach. Joke's on me, it started raining, so some friends and I went into a little shack. When it stopped raining, we left and headed back to the hostel. At about 5, I decided to pass out on the couches in the bar with some of the other staff and our friends, seeing as we all had no beds to sleep in.
The Stagnant Line at Immigration
So the thing about this Full Moon, is it was the first day the immigration office opened after the weekend, and two days of holiday for Buddha Day. So it was packed. We didn't go on the day of FM because we couldn't get a ride, and we were too cheap to pay for taxis, so we decided we had to go the day after. This meant we had to catch the first ferry out of Phangan, which was at 7 am.
So my coworker, who also had to go to immigration, and I left the hostel in Phangan at around 6:30 am to hop on the ferry. We got a taxi from the pier and went straight to immigration. Covered in sweat, beer, sand and glitter from the FMP, we realized how idiotic we were in deciding to go on this day rather than the day before. We ended up taking a cab there, when the reason we didn't go the day before was because we didn't want to take a cab.
Upon getting there I had horrible nostalgia of being at the DMV. That's exactly how I would describe the immigration office in Koh Samui. A bunch of bored people sitting (standing, actually) around waiting. We went to get our passport photos taken across the street, and then filled out the forms in line. We waited in this horrible line for maybe two hours. It wasn't even that long, it just took forever. This place was like the DMV in that it could have used about 4 times as many employees, but it didn't need to, because people would wait, because they had to. The Thai government didn't care how long we had to wait to get our visas extended.
My advise to you is to make sure you bring bug spray everywhere. I absolutely hate bugs, but somehow end up never remembering to spray myself. Oh, and don't get spray with DEET. That stuff will kill you.
My other advise to you is to get sleep after you party all night, especially if you have to go be productive the next day.
So basically, my coworker and I stood complaining for two hours, laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation, looking like absolute disasters next to all the normal tourists. We couldn't believe Thailand would let us stay longer.
When we finally got the front of the line, we learned we were supposed to fill out another, much longer form. Why didn't we fill it own during the time we were waiting? I don't know, probably because we're idiots. If we really wanted to optimize our time, we should have had one person stand in line while the other went across the street to do photos, then switched. But no, we didn't do that, and we didn't check to see which forms we were supposed to fill out. So we lengthened our total immigration office time by even more.
The Final Hour
So we got all the proper stuff together, and finally got our forms and passports in. Then we waited. There was a tiny room with AC for the people waiting, but this line, or clump of people, I should say, spilled out the door. So all the AC basically just spilled out into the hot, humid normal Thai air. When it was finally my turn, I found out I had to pay 5,000 baht.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, my visa had expired five days before. Immigration was closed on the weekend, and then for Buddha day, so if I had gone on the day of FM (the first day immigration was open again), I wouldn't have had to pay any fines. But no, I waited a day, so I had to pay 500 baht for each day I went over, in addition to the 2,500 cost to extend my visa.
But I didn't even have 5,000 baht. Being the genius that I am, I was thinking I'd only have to pay the 2,500, and maybe the fine for the one day extra. But the Thai immigration people had no sympathy for hungover idiots. So I ran outside and luckily my coworker had enough money for me too. I seriously didn't know what I would have done if I wasn't able to pay after all of that.
So my coworker got her passport back first, and everything was sound. Then we waited ages more, and my passport still didn't come back. I thought I was just being impatient, until our poor cab driver who was waiting for us decided to intervene. He retrieved my passport with the extended visa, and said it had somehow just gotten tossed aside, or something. I wasn't really sure what he was saying, but that's the idea I got.
We finally hopped back in the cab and drove to the other side of the island where our home, the hostel, was.
Basically, all of that could have been avoided if I had just gone to immigration before the weekend. I blamed my coworkers for not giving me a ride. None of us had cars and I didn't know how to ride a motorbike. A few of our other coworkers went to immigration some days later and said they didn't even have to wait that long. We clearly chose the absolute worst day to go.
I don't plan much when I travel, but this is something I definitely should have. The 2,500 baht fine is around 50 or 60 USD, and that's 50 or 60 USD, which you can live for almost two weeks on in Thailand (if you don't spend excessive amounts of money on shopping, activities or alcohol).