When I arrived in Thailand I was granted a free 30-day entry stamp. Thailand’s immigration law allows tourists to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period, however the entry stamp must be renewed every 30 days. The only way to do this is to leave the country and come back in again. Since I planned to be here slightly more than five weeks, that meant I had do a ‘visa run’ as it is commonly called (although it is a misnomer, since I do not technically need a visa to visit Thailand – just an entry stamp).
A giant industry has sprung up around the visa run. Tours are offered to all the nearby borders for ridiculously high prices, where busloads of backpackers traipse through Thai immigration, receiving an exit stamp that proves they have left the country, walk a few feet to get a passport stamp from the neighboring country, then reverse direction and come right back into Thailand. For those staying in northern Thailand, as I am, the most convenient visa run destination is Myanmar (Burma), about four hours north of Chiang Mai. So along with a host of others, I paid my 900 Baht (about $27 US) to the tour company and boarded the bus for the 14 hour round trip. It poured rain the entire day, which made me feel a bit better about the whole ordeal, since I probably would have been stuck inside the hotel anyway.
To their credit, the tour companies have tried to make the trip pleasant, throwing in some interesting sites along the way, such as the spectacular Wat Rong Kuhn in Chiang Rai. Called the ‘White Temple’ by the locals for obvious reasons, this wat has been under construction for ten years and the architect who designed it estimates that it will require another five years to complete. It was spectacular under gray skies. I can barely imagine how it must be in bright sunshine, the light sparkling and reflecting off the hundreds of thousands of mirrors embedded into its brilliant white stucco exterior.