Category: Travel

January 11th, 2011 by sandyadmin


Simple steps really:

1) Do not ever surrender your passport as a deposit on a motorbike.

Your passport doesn’t belong to you – it’s a document issued to you by your government, but it’s essentially a gift that you cannot give away. Do not surrender it to anyone ever – should you do so (and I did, so I know how obvious it can seem) there are ways to get around it should you be caught in the Koh Tao Motorbike Scam.

2) Give a deposit that you can afford to lose.

Koh Tao’s motorbike agencies operate thusly – they make their “real money” by jacking tourists for the smallest scratch or accident. Imagine my surprise when a fall of the bike to a sandy road at 2kph resulted in a bill for 12K baht – you could buy a whole new bike for that and the scratches were QUITE minor. A competing shop told me he could fix it for 2500 – and I got a bill for five times that. I didn’t pay it – don’t you do it either.

3) Give a fake name.

In case they decided to come after you.

4) And a fake guest house.

Because after all – everyone likes to pretend that Thai *hate* confrontation. Nonsense – they’re masters at passive-aggressive confrontation, such as handing you a bill for 12K baht when the proper bill is less than 3K. If they want to find you – make it harder for them. Now – how’s that for passive-aggressive?

If you have fallen for the Koh Tao Motorbike Scam and they’ve handed you a deliriously large bill and they’ve got your passport – don’t despair. Bangkok isn’t far and chances are good that your country has an Embassy there. Call first and tell them what’s happening. Extortion people for money for their passport is a CRIME in the United States and it’s not looked upon too favorably when people in other countries attempt to do it. A replacement passport will run you $97 plus two passport photos and your physical presence in BKK – you have to go there most of the time to leave the country – and I’m thinking Bangkok will be looking plenty refreshing after this particular rip-off, here, on the otherwise lovely island of Koh Tao.

US Embassy Information located at 95 Wireless Road in Bangkok.

Posted in Travel

October 20th, 2009 by sandyadmin


(this short article on Visa Runs is by no means comprehensive. Rules change all the time. Consult or better yet, ask another ex-pat who’s been here awhile.)

Making a Visa Run is an essential part of a ex-pat’s existence in Thailand, as I am coming to discover. When you arrive in Thailand from most countries, (including the United States and Europe) you will be issued a FREE 30-day Tourist Visa (at least until March of 2010) at the airport. When that visa expires (as mine is about to) you must a Visa Run or risk Overstay, a situation which costs 500 baht per day and can also get you deported and potentially blacklisted from EVER entering Thailand again.

A Visa Run involves leaving the Kingdom by foot, bus, train or airplane and going into another country, (including such neighboring nations as Burma, Cambodia, or Malaysia or anywhere else on earth with a Thai embassy) entering that Thai embassy with your passport, filling out some forms, paying a fee and waiting for your passport to be returned with the appropriate stamp.

What you want to get out of your Visa Run is the most amount of days that you can legally stay in Thailand upon your return. I have been told by multiple parties that if you cross a border by land, you only get fifteen additional days to stay in the country before you have to make another Visa Run. That ruled out travelling by foot, bus or train to anywhere, so I figured I would fly somewhere. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is closest to Phuket, approximately 50 minutes by air, and tomorrow I will be flying there to see if I can get what’s called a multiple-entry visa.

A multiple-entry visa can be either a double or a triple, as I understand it. A Double allows you to stay in the Kingdom for 60 days plus another 60 day extension which can be obtained by leaving and re-entering the country. A Triple allows you to stay for 180 days, leaving and re-entering every 60 days. Dizzy yet?

The reality of this situation and why it’s so complicated is simply this – Thailand is very keen to have foreign tourists in Thailand for periods of up to a month – but it is less interested in foreign nationals (farang) who want to stick around and make a home or a haven out of Thailand for very long – even if they have the money or a damn good reason (like teaching or other work) to do so. Nevertheless, Thailand’s tourist economy as well as its English language learning industry requires that a certain number of English-speaking people live in the country for at least part of the year – which is why the Thai government issues the non-immigrant B visa for foreign nationals who wish to work legally within the country.

Two quick points on that – the ability to live in Thailand for a year is what encourages so many Westerners to get TEFL certificates and teach here for low wages so they can get this Visa. DO NOT WORK WITHOUT ONE. You can get into very serious trouble. Legally, you can’t even VOLUNTEER here without a Non-Immigrant B Visa, so be careful.)

Had I known about all this before I left the US, I would’ve probably used a service like this one to get a multiple-entry non-immigrant visa, (good for one year with a potential for a three-month extension) which can only be obtained while you are still in your home country. $500 for a visa to stay in Thailand for a year without Visa Runs might seem steep, but if you honestly think you want to stay for a bit, you’ll save yourself much more than that in money and hassles at foreign embassies. I have even heard that there are certain embassies in the UK that will issue this visa without charge to UK citizens and this might even be true with the Thai embassy in Houston, Texas for US citizens. (The map is not the territory – call them if you want one.)

One last thing – today I heard of something called a Media Visa (officially known as “Non-Immigrant M“) for foreign press. The Lost Boy (an excellent blog, btw) has one, but I don’t know if it’s possible for freelance press to obtain one – yet.

Posted in Travel

October 4th, 2009 by sandyadmin

In my two visits to Thailand, I have seen doctors in at least three cities – Pattaya, Chaing Mai, and now Phuket. The routine is just that – a routine that I can now confirm is efficacious in getting you what you need.

Most Thai doctors and nurses speak at least some English – most M.D.s have a reasonable degree of fluency, as many of them have studied outside of Thailand and usually in the United States or England.

1) Find out the name of a reputable hospital in your area using either the Internet or a friendly Thai informant.

2) Find out the exact address of the hospital and get a taxi to it, preferably with the aid of a Thai-speaking person to tell the driver where you are heading.

3) BRING YOUR PASSPORT. They will need it. Treatment of foreigners is within their declaration of human rights document regarding medical treatment, and I believe it is regardless of ability to pay.

4) They will ask you what you need. Tell them the truth about what you are needing.

5) There will be forms to fill at each hospital and then you will receive a card so that you don’t need to re-register each time. I have cards for hospitals in Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket.

6) Generally, you will see a doctor on the day you arrive, and my experience is that the wait is not long. Thai hospitals are very conscientious when it comes to receiving foreign patients. In one case, because I asked to see a specialist, I was told to come back the following day – I later discovered while they had a psychiatrist on staff the first day I came, they wanted me to see their best one and so had me come on the following day when his schedule was not so full.

7) Your doctor will invariably speak English. Describe symptoms, ask for what you need – I find Thai doctors to be much more compassionate than their Western counterparts.

8) If you have needs just for medication, you may not need to see a doctor. My first visit to Thailand, I lost all my meds on the plane coming in – I visited a small pharmacy near where I was staying and they directed me to a Wondrous place called Fascino, a truly Disco-pharmacy, very sleek and modern and well-stocked. Lithiums were 3 baht a piece – they basically let me have anything I wanted and the prices were beyond decent. I bought a three-month med supply for less than $250.

9) Most small pharmacies will sell benzodiazepines of all kinds (Valium, Ativan, Xanax, etc.) sexual aids (Viagra, etc.) and even heavy meds like Percoset over the counter for very reasonable prices.

10) A small warning: Hospital pharmacies are rumored to be more expensive than their commercial counterparts, but doctors are required to write scripts for their hospital pharmacies. Ask for a seven-day supply – once you have the name of the drug and prescription envelope in hand, you can get the script filled in any other pharmacy in Thailand – generally speaking, that has been my experience, but of course it might not work everywhere. For the last round of benzos I had prescribed at a doctor’s, the price was 140 baht for a 14-day supply in a hospital pharmacy – 10 baht per pill. (roughly 30 cents a pill.) A lot less than you’d be expected to pay in the US, that’s for sure.

What follows is a short list of hospitals in the cities I have been:

Bangkok Hospital Pattaya (in Pattaya on the baht bus route)

Chiang Mai Ram (located just outside the moat, as I recall)

Bangkok Phuket Hospital (located in Phuket Town)

For those of you concerned that you might need in-patient for a psychiatric illness, I have heard there is an outstanding facility in Hat Yin, but I have no direct experience of it. As always, try your best to meet Thai people who also speak English and ask around of them as well as seasoned ex-pats in your area.

Posted in Travel

November 5th, 2007 by sandyadmin

So I’m up late, researching all the museums I want to go to. I feel like such a hayseed. I’m going to New York, I’m going to New York!

I’ve been before but it’s been years. I promised myself a trip there this fall in exchange for blowing off Burning Man this year. I wanted to see a real city, a place that *wouldn’t* disappear in seven days.  How novel…

I have plans. I’m staying with some friends who run this cool website about spirituality. I hope while I am there to see my friends Turi Mckinley and Josh Schrei. But mostly, I am hoping to troll museums and maybe some galleries, in particular the George Gustav Heye Center, the MOMA, the Met, and the Whitney.

I’m only there a week. I just want to get on subways and look at people and architecture and art and eat hot dogs on the street. My friend Spiros sez he’s taking me to some lecture on Buddhism at Columbia. Columbia! You mean that big ol’ college where all the smart people hang out? Take me there, for ANYTHING. I’m so fucking there.

Mostly, I just want to feel the pulse. I don’t really have any hidden agendas. Yes, I’m bringing my portfolio and samples and a resume but I hardly think I have what it takes to live there. It is, however, without a doubt, the last big American city I would consider living in. Not forever, mind you, maybe just for a couple of years. I get all excited just imagining what it would be like to have some little hovel and some weird hobbies and stuff there.

More and more I’m thinking that if I don’t get new stimulus, I’m going to do something other than write stuff. It’s a really tough gig but I don’t know what else I’d do. I feel sorta terrible at it – I have all these smart friends and acquaintances like himhimhim, and her who’ve put out big splashy books and I’m just kinda inching along in blog-land, with stars in my eyes, just wishing. I have all these smart artist friends like him, and him, and her and him who are putting out great work. Maybe I am destined to be just sorta average, writing about cool people but never really doing something exciting like this guy.

Sigh. Well, who knows? Wish me luck!

Posted in Travel