The Ranong to Myanmar Visa Run
Ranong to Myanmar
Under present visa regulations in Thailand as from December 2008 visitors coming over a land border must leave the country every fifteen days to avoid falling foul of the law.
Thailand borders onto several different countries and those towns closest to areas where there are a lot of tourists are the most popular for the infamous 'visa run'.
Ranong is the closest and so favourite for those living or in Phuket and is also well frequented by those living in Koh Samui or Koh Phagnan. As a Budget Traveller in Thailand the regular visa run is an annoying essential.
The whole operation is quite straightforward and in a nutshell involves taking a boat from Ranong in Thailand across the water to Myanmar and back again.
Chinese Temple on one of the small islands
The Trip Gets Easier
There is a cheap and an expensive way to do the visa run. The choice of the wealthy is the Andaman Club. Here you are picked up by a luxury minibus from your hotel in Phuket. Up the coast to Ranong. Luxury launch across to the Casino on the Myanmar side and back again. All your paperwork taken care of. Nothing to worry about.
The 'do it yourself' version takes a little longer but, once you know how, is quite straightforward and just a little bit more interesting and exciting. I have 'run' a few borders and done this one three times. The trip gets easier each time.
Burma, Land of Golden Temples
Firstly make your way to Ranong. There are some reasonably priced budget hotels here. Aim just to stay the one night. Ranong is one of the most miserable places in the world. The rest of Thailand smiles, Ranong does not. I suppose it doesn't help that they have one of the highest rainfalls in Thailand positioned as it is in the 'thinnest' bit of the country and so getting sea winds from both sides.
Apart from a 'Hot Spring' and an interesting 'fish dock' there is little to keep anyone here.
A 'fixer' or not?
Once you have once done a Myanmar visa run you will probably decide to do it alone. But the first time, I advise you hire a fixer. This can be done through whatever guest house or budget hotel you are staying in.
It won't cost much...perhaps 400 Thai Baht and it will remove any small headaches you have with the process.
So my advice is pay the fixer.
One very important piece of advice here. You must take with you a crisp new unfolded genuine US $10 bill. If you don't have one it will really make your life difficult. For a start you won't get your visa without one and find yourself stuck in 'no mans land' until some nice person comes along and 'helps' you...for a price. The fixer can help you but his exchange rate is going to be radically different from anything any bank would charge...so get that $10 bill...and do not crease it. I kid you not.
The other thing you need is a photocopy of your passport. However you do it, it will be wrong so don't bother. The fixer's assistant will do it for you on the Myanmar side for 20 Thai Baht. It is one of the ways he makes his living.
Honey Bear Hotel - Myanmar Side
The fixer will pick you up at your hotel at around 07.30 in the morning. There may or may not be other customers in the car. Then again you may be collected by a motorbike. You will be ferried to the dock which is about 10 minutes away. Here there is the Thai immigration office. Fill in the departure form. This should already be stapled in your passport from when you arrived in the country. Hand the passport over. It will be stamped and the form removed.
IMPORTANT: Pick up a new arrival/departure form while you are here.
The fixer will have arranged a boat to take you across the water. Again you may be travelling alone or with others. Climb carefully into the boat watching you don't bang your head or fall into the water. There are any number of 'helpers' here to ensure your safety and every one of them is after a small 'tip'. It's up to you.
The boat leaves and whilst still on the Thai side will make a short stop at another immigration post. Your passport will be taken inside by the 'fixer's' assistant and returned within the minute.
You are then on your way over the water. Next stop is on the Myanmar side at a stilted immigration post at the side of an island which appears to be only inhabited by dogs, buzzards and Buddha statues. Again your passport will be taken from you briefly.
Off again and the next stop is Myanmar (Burma). Here you get off and go straight to the immigration office. Hand in your passport, photocopy of your passport and crisp $10 and you will be stamped into the country at the first desk and out again at the next one.
Take advantage of any lull in activities to fill in your Thai Arrival/Departure card whilst you are on dry land. Makes it easier and quicker on the other side.
Actually you do have a choice. You could stay here for a few hours or a couple of weeks but it is scarcely worth it. You are not permitted to travel from this tiny corner of Myanmar to anywhere else in the country. In the short time you are here you will be offered cigarettes and viagra. To be honest I don't know if buying either here is a good deal. People do buy so it probably is.
Return to Ranong from Myanmar
Back to Thailand
Then it is back on the boat. You may or may not make a stop on the way back. Customs and excise have a post on one of the islands and they may put a dog on the boat to sniff out contraband. Maybe it's a viagra dog.
In Ranong, Thailand you go to the same immigration office you left just a short time before. Hand in your passport and completed Arrival card and you will be stamped in.
You have 15 days!
The fixer will be waiting to run you back to your hotel, Hotel to hotel, the whole process takes a little less than two hours.
Go with the flow, don't rock the boat and everything will go without a hitch.