For forty-five nations, and the vast the bulk of international tourists, the standard visa-free entry into Thailand is thirty days. For many travellers, that many seem like a long time, but for those really trying to see the country North to South and East to West, thirty days is just not enough to see the nation properly.
Thailand is a massive country significantly bigger than Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, and if you are going to want to do it right, you need at least five weeks. For most people, who want to the opportunity to extend travel time in a country, they simply fly out of the country and fly back in.
Many people, however, on extended trips are on tight budgets and even a low priced fare on a discount airline can be a serious blow and make one consider if it is really worth it to take the time to really see a country or not. What most people don’t realise, however, that getting a fresh visa in Thailand can be done for as little as five dollars (150 Thai Baht) and be an adventure all itself.
To do this, what you will need to do is travel to Ranong. Ranong is a border town across the bay from Kawthoung, Myanmar and is about six hundred kilometres South of Bangkok. This small strip of water is barely a few kilometres across and takes only a short time to cross by boat. Going there makes the most sense if you are seeing Thailand from South to North, but either way works!
A trip to the city itself is well worth a spot on your itinerary following after either a trip to Krabi or Chumphon depending on the direction that you are coming from. It is a fusion point of two cultures, Burmese and Thai, and provides a fascinate glimpse into how they relate to each other. In addition, like many coastal cities, it too is a gateway to many of Thailand’s beautiful islands.
Aside from the ability to get a fresh start on your entry permission into Thailand, there is a variety of reasons to take the journey across the sea. The first of which is that the trip is beautiful and in itself a cheap island tour. Secondly, only recently did the strict government of Myanmar begin opening up to foreigners so entry is still is rather a privilege that may change at any time.
A typical visa for Myanmar costs a traveller forty dollars depending on the nation you are from and approval time can vary between days and weeks. On the other hand, you can skip the hassle and get a quick glimpse into the country by journeying over from Ranong.
Upon disembarking, you can visit numerous food stalls that feature delicious tradition foods like Monhinga, a fish-based noodle soup that many Burmese eat for breakfast. What makes it unique is that it uses the stem of banana trees as one of the vegetables in the soup. After this, dive into Myanmar’s tea shop culture and drink some of the local brew, Lahpetyei, a strong black tea with condensed milk that the locals sit over while chatting. There is also a large market with tons of cheap produce, clothes and other goods.
Finally, get a chance to see something completely unique to Myanmar, Thanaka, which is a natural sunscreen made from the ground-up bark of the Thanaka tree. It has been used for millennia to prevent damage from the harsh sun of the dry season and is a traditional cosmetic also used to show the beauty and is often applied to the skin in a variety of intricate and fascinating patterns.
There are a variety of options depending on how tight your budget is. For the simplest and cheapest option, simply go to the port in Ranong. There will be a host of small boat captains trying to cram you onto one of their boats. A one-way trip should cost about 100 Baht (3 USD) and you can negotiate a roundtrip for as little as 150 (5 USD). The journey across takes only about twenty minutes though the way back is a little bit longer.
There is a Thai immigration authority at the port office, have them stamp you on the way out, jump in the boat and enjoy the cruise. If you simply want to renew your visa then all you have to do is go across the bay and come back. Don’t worry about having your visa stamped by Myanmar immigration authorities because the Thai side will not care.
If you want to stay a little longer, for ten dollars, you can get a visa on arrival in Myanmar and this will give you the ability to stay for forty-eight hours and cruise around the general vicinity of the city and its pristine islands which unlike their Thai counterparts have yet to be overdeveloped. From there you can hire a taxi and see more than the just the town.
There is a large casino that draws many Thai tourists, and besides that, there are hot springs, a waterfall and a large pagoda worth visiting. Make sure, however, you have clean, crisp United States currency or otherwise, your application may be rejected.
Southeast Asia has a myriad of different cultures and cuisines and a trip to the Ranong-Kawthoung area will provide you with an opportunity to not only renew your entry period allowance but also give you a chance to absorb some Burmese culture. Not only that, it will give you the chance to jump outside the typical western tourist bubble (Phuket, Koh Samui, etc) and see a real side of Asia that has yet to be overrun by western tourists.
Get a glimpse of the life of those who daily make a short boat journey across cultures, governments, and such different lifestyles that it is actually quite hard to believe that if you were to walk between the two places, it would take little more than an hour.