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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chiang Mai: The Visa Run Plans Are Changing

My first task was to get money. After I got the money I needed, I went to the drugstore to get some of my medications. Of course they were out of one, only had ten of another, and 28 of the third. In poor countries, medications are bought on a week by week basis, because coming up with the full cost all at once would be impossible. Since prescriptions are only required for scheduled drugs, this is possible. The effect is that pharmacies only stock a few of anything. So I took all that they had, and ordered the rest. Even then, I couldn't get a full month's supply. I'll have to make a third trip later in the week.

When I got my valuables from the safe,I thought maybe I should double-check my visa expiration. That was a very good thought. Although I actually went through immigration in the first hour of October 28th, I was stamped in with an arrival date of the 27th. My sixty day visa expires, therefore, on the 25th of December. A change of plans was in order.

The plan to be changed involved taking an early morning bus to Chiang Rai, near the Myanmar (Burmese) border, getting a place to stay, then taking another bus to Mai Sae, the actual border town. I would walk across the bridge and walk back, paying a $5 or $10 Myanmar visa fee, collecting a couple of stamps in my passport, and being magically granted another thirty days in Thailand. Now, if I stuck to the plan, I would pay a 500 baht (34/US$) overstay fee.

The new plan was to go to immigration and pay 1900 baht for a visa extension. It sounds expensive, but after adding up bus fares and taxi or tuktuk fares, it's not all that out of line. But the woman who runs the guesthouse says that here in Chiang Mai that they will only give me a seven day extension, and that I'd be paying 1900 baht every week to get the total of four weeks allowed. I'd heard the same thing before, but I'd been told I could keep going back for additional time for free.

Now I plan to leave on Christmas for Chiang Rai and celebrate by getting a new stamp in my passport and paying a brief, but appreciative, call on Myanmar. I could do it all in one long day, but I'd like to look around Chiang Rai. Maybe when I cross the border I'll look around for a while there, too. I thought about turning it into a three or four day visit, but you can only travel to one other town in the area. I'm not sure whether it is because the country is rough and the transportation bad, there are rebels in the area, or the government only wants tourists in places where they can be monitored. Probably all three.

Leaving on Sunday means I will lose four nights on my pre-paid month at the Top North. Or so I thought. It seemed unlikely that she would agree, but I asked the manager anyway. Could I have my lost nights back when I returned? Yes. So when I get back I will have four nights at the monthly rate coming to me. Amazing.

But maybe I should just do the one-day turnaround and ... I swear, honest, I used to be a decisive person.

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