A Whale of a Time: Going on a Visa Run in Thailand
Embassy Efficiency Leaving Something to be Desired
With hundreds of applications daily, the Thai embassy has decided that the most logical way to deal with the crowds is to let them self-govern in a first come, first serve line. The entire process takes place outdoors and is usually about five degrees hotter than the surface of the sun itself.
As with every step of this journey, this stop has yet another angry white guy (this time Russian) standing in the middle of the line, screaming about how he has been cheated out of a visa. With the heat and the three hour wait, most of us are too engrossed in our 400th Candy Crush life to even look up. I still couldn’t tell you if he got what he came for or not.
After all this pain and penance, just to continue your current living situation, you get to the front of the line and are blessed with the opportunity to turn in your paperwork. If you’ve completed it all to the liking of the embassy officer (which is a herculean if), you finally get a number—which is for tomorrow’s line, to pick up your visa.
Sleeping With the Roaches
Vientiane hasn’t done a whole lot to cultivate a culture of tourism, and its primary purpose is to cater to expatriates living in Thailand who must leave to acquire/renew their visas. This philosophy extends to the city’s hotels, and there aren’t a lot of options that don’t either cost more than a Laotian’s annual salary, or come with roommates of the six-legged nature.
My wallet and spirit had already been broken, so I took the first place within walking distance of the embassy that promised plenty of creepy crawly companions. I paid the 25 bucks for my graffiti strewn room and checked my watch; it was noon. Time to sleep off the previous 12 hours.
Awaking in my smoke stained room around dinner time, I figured I might as well try to make the best of my evening. In the bathroom, the faulty wall mounted hot water heater had a drooping and faded sticker of a whale that said, “Whale of a time!”
Was it a pun? Was it a misappropriated idiom? I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but it seemed a perfect representation of my mercurial feelings toward this visa run. I cleaned up and set out to have a whale of an evening. Whatever that meant.
A Night Out on the…Ferris Wheel
The embassy is just close enough to the downtown riverfront to seem walkable, and it’s definitely worth it for the change in scenery. The main section of Vientiane sits just along the Mekong River, facing Thailand on the opposite shore. Along the river walk are several bars and restaurants catering to the visa runners, and I chose a cute little place called “Little Hanoi” for some Vietnamese food.
Laos has had a confusing past of occupation by other countries that has the benefit of some pretty diverse cultural options. The French were there for a long time and you can find some pretty amazing — and cheap — wine just about anywhere. I finished my traditional Vietnamese spring rolls and French wine, but didn’t feel like heading back yet…
Buddhism has a big focus on the cycles of the moon and random one or two day carnivals will pop up around them. I’ve still never figured it out, but I’m usually too busy to check them out back in Thailand. I have no idea if the temporary riverfront amusement park that night was the result of that night’s astrology, but it seemed a perfect way to quench my thirst for something different.
I walked along the water, getting harassed by some drunken teenagers and solicited by some of those from the region’s oldest profession. Eventually deciding to ride the Ferris wheel, I purchased some tickets. I had partly bought the tickets merely because of how decrepit the whole contraption looked. Sort of a morbid sense of adventure or danger, I guess. I don’t know, maybe the wine was stronger than I realized.
It became a whole lot less playful once I was locked in to the rusted steel box. The carriage was not big enough for a Laotian, much less a six foot, two inch giant. It shuddered its way to the top of the wheel. I legitimately wanted off of that death trap enough to let out a scream that I’m far from proud of. The death trap spun through its revolutions, giving my screams the Doppler effect of crescendo and decrescendo to those in line below.
Needless to say, I was spared, and rushed to use my remaining tickets on the far safer bumper cars. I headed back to the hotel with my tail between my legs.