Mar 06 2012

Visa runs from Samui

Published by at 2:10 pm under Practicalities


Should you want to extend your Thailand adventure, and need to do a visa run or border bounce from Ko Samui, Malaysia is the most convenient country to get to. To clarify, a visa run entails going to a Thai embassy or consulate to get a new visa; a border bounce is for those who have multiple entry visas, and have to exit the country every 90 days in order to reactivate their visas.

I can't imagine why anyone would want to extend their stay here.

Getting a new single entry tourist visa will entitle you to 60 days of pleasure in the land of smiles. It is possible to extend this, one time only, by 30 days at immigration in Nathon on Samui. Should you enter Thailand without a visa, one can get a 30 day entry stamp if arriving by air, but only 15 days when arriving by land.

Visa runs are big business from Samui, and just about every second shop and tour company will sell visa run packages, both those to a city and consulate for new visas, as well as the more straightforward border bounces. An average cost for a full visa run, which involves a one night stay, is around 4,500 baht from Samui to Malaysia, including accommodation and transport, but excluding visa costs.

A border bounce costs on average between 1,600 and 2,000 baht, and this is a same-day affair, albeit an exceptionally long and tedious day. It is also possible in theory to drive yourself to Malaysia, but note that most hire car companies will not let you take the car out of the country, and paperwork is required, as well as changing number plates from Thai to English.

The visa trips booked at tour companies can be hit and miss. Some go remarkably smoothly, others can be quite stressful, and involve little communication, and lots of waiting around. The most popular border crossing for these visa trips is the one at Sadao, about 90 minutes hours past Hat Yai.

This trip involves collection from where you are staying, a trip on a ferry, followed by a ride in an air-con bus to Hat Yai. From there, you are transferred into a minibus, and taken either just to the border for a border bounce, or further on to Penang. It seems to be a case of ‘hurry up and wait’: wait for the ferry to leave, wait for the transfer from the bus to the minibus. Some of these visa run companies use poorly serviced vehicles, and their driving skills leave a lot to be desired.

We would suggest that you’re better off going with  a reputable visa run company such as Herbert’s burger and visas. Yes, the name is a bit bizarre, and is derived from the famous or infamous (depending on your palate) burgers that are provided as lunch on the way back.

Is a burger really a selling point for a visa run? Apparently.

Herbert goes to another border crossing a little bit more west, closer to Satun. It’s called Khuan Don (Thai side) or Wang Kelian (Malay side). This border post is far more laid back than the Sadoa one. Exit Thailand, walk 50 metres, enter Malaysia. Take two steps to the window next door and exit Malaysia before walking back the 50 metres to re-enter Thailand. Having used both border crossings several times, I can confirm that the queues are shorter and the officials friendlier than at the Sadao post.

Herbert does border bounces from Samui on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, at the rate of 1,900 baht. Visa runs to Kota Bharu take place on Tuesday afternoons, and cost 4,750 baht including one night’s accommodation.

Herbert’s reputation precedes him. He is German, and he runs his visa trips with military precision. If he says the minivan will arrive at the next toilet stop at 14:10, then expect to arrive there at precisely that time. Herbert waits for no one. He only allows enough time at stops for toilet breaks, not smoke breaks; you choose, one or the other. I have been on his minibus when a woman was desperate for the bathroom, but he refused to stop, saying he only stops for scheduled breaks; this may seem harsh, but when you have 15 people on a trip, all in holiday mode, there needs to be some sort of order, or the bus would not make it back to the ferry in time. If you are prepared to do a little boot camp, then Herbert is your best option. It is worth putting up with his abrupt manner, knowing that you will get to your destination safely and on time. His number? 0818 933 859.

Military tanks, um sorry, minivans waiting at a bathroom break.

And if Malaysia isn’t your cup of tea, you can also do a run to Burma.

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