When visa-on-arrival is not a convenient option

If you’ve been planning a South-east Asia trip, there is a good chance that Thailand is on your list. That’s no surprise as it happens to be a very popular international destination among Indians. And one of the reasons is that it offers an easy entry and visa-on-arrival for Indian tourists.

If you’re as ignorant about the country as I was when I first went to Thailand, now is a  good time to do your research. I’ll be writing more about when it’s a good option and when it really isn’t, like really! That’d also be a good reason to follow my blog now if you haven’t done that yet.

bangkok
Bangkok evening skyline

Although arranging visa was only a small part of my month-long planning for an international trip, it’s still an important one. While planning for Thailand, when I realized it gives visa-on-arrival, I thought well, that saves me a couple of trips to the travel agent and unnecessary hassle. They’d probably just put an extra stamp during the immigration check.

The on-arrival circus

If you too thought that it’d be piece of cake, you’re in for a surprise. And for some reason, no-one really warns you about it. The travel agent through which we went, actually encouraged us to go for an on-arrival option.

People flock to Thailand in hordes. Like in really large numbers. At the airport, you’d see a couple of hundred Indians, Chinese, Malaysian and a few Americans.  The DMK airport has a look of a really old structure and navigating your way out when you land for the first time feels like navigating a maze. It was like swimming in the sea of people. And the experience is as unpleasant as it sounds.

DMK-20

Endless counters and queues

So, after landing I just followed the crowd searching for immigration and visa processing counter. We entered a lobby where 200 odd other people were queued up against about 20 immigration counters. Me and The Wife joined one of the queues. Over the next 40 minutes as we waited our turn in the queue there wasn’t much for entertainment. We watched a really obnoxious Chinese/Japanese/Thai kid (I’m not racist. I just can’t tell the difference even yet) make stupid gestures at us (The Wife no like that. Don’t know what she did or said to him but the kid ran back crying and never showed up again). Several mothers each one of whose babies happened to be crying incessantly were allowed to cut the queue. The babies curiously started crying exactly when the mothers stood in the line-of-sight range of the bespectacled immigration officer. Once in a while, a random white guy would click a selfie with his phone. Poor thing must not be literate enough to read the instructions to not click photos in four different languages plastered everywhere. But as soon as they clicked, each time it prompted an enormous Thai police woman to suddenly appear out of nowhere and drag the guy out. Considering how depressing the whole place was, I didn’t see the point of why anyone would care about that place not being photographed.

thailand_airport

Finally, when our turn came, the immigration guy gave a brief look at our documents and calmly told us that we were in the wrong queue.

“What? we’ve been standing here for 40 minutes! There are some 20 odd counters here. And I don’t see any other immigration counters nearby!”  He told us to go to the far end of the hall way. No point arguing with him. We quietly took our bags and went.

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More wrong queues

There were 4 dingy counters in the corner of the lobby. We again stand in the queue for about 20 minutes experiencing the Déjà vu of all the things from the last hour. When our turn came, the immigration lady casually declared that we were standing in the wrong queue!!

I was about to collapse now. This was around 5 am in the morning. We hadn’t had proper sleep all night and now we were running from pillar to post like idiots. It turned out that the counter was an immigration counter. Before you go there, you have to fill up the visa-on-arrival form get the visa from a different set of counters in another lobby. If you were wondering how could we be wrong in spotting the correct counters so many times, yes, you’re right. There were no signboards or instructions. At least none that we could see or read in English.

Giant swing bangkok the symbol, religion.

Also read: A brief travel guide for Thailand

The actual visa process

And thus we finally arrived at the actual visa-on-arrival counter. This was a weird sight. The place was worse than a fish market. The sight of dozens of Indian/Asian people pressing against each other, seemingly trying to enter into a small glass window of the counter itself. Pushing, pulling, tearing at each other. They were split into half a dozen queues for the same counter where normally only one queue is expected.  Sigh! A sight supposed to give you a very homely feeling, being an Indian, but alas! somehow always gives me chills. I unwittingly roamed around for some time, first looking for the application form, then begging for a pen to fill it up and later doing a search for full 20 minutes looking for someone who’d have a glue-stick to attach our photographs on the form!

After finishing all that, I realized that standing in the queue would mean another 2 hours or so to get the visa done. The whole visa process was extremely haphazard. The visa officers had a certain familiar air of Indian government officers. The passports were collected at the window. A skinny guy would pick up a lot of 2-3 dozen passports at once, go inside and take them to a middle-aged visa officer lady, who would then just take papers out, stash the money together in the drawer and stamp with the visa. All with a superhuman mechanical precision and speed. I was expecting at least some customary interrogation for the visa. I had also read about a certain minimum amount of cash you need to hold as a requirement for getting the visa. All my doubts were safely put to rest at this point.

Want to get it done “Faster”?

We came to know that there was an option of paying 500 TBH extra to get the processing done faster. Wow! Such a sham. At this point, anyone would shell out that extra buck to get the hell out of that place.

We saw a lot of people, especially Indians and Pakistanis showing their native skills and jumping the queue, one guy collecting 10 other passports and submitting in one go. It was quite a chaos. But I had no energy to carve a path for myself in that kind of crowd.

When I’m almost on the verge of crying, suddenly The Wife rose with some invisible surge of energy. “Hand me the papers”, she demanded with a definitive tone. “We’re not standing here for another hour to get visa stamped!” She took the papers and somehow, almost magically found a place right near the counter. A rowdy was still pushing around in the front and I almost had a fist fight with the guy. We somehow managed to get the visa in under 15 min. Thanks to The Wife’s magical powers which somehow manifest exactly when you need them!

There was another 15 min of standing in the queue for immigration counter left to finally exit out of the airport. But in the end, I was more relieved to get out of that place than I’ve ever been in my life. This was definitely the worst start I’ve ever had for my holidays.

The above tragic story is just to tell that unless you happen to plan your Thailand trip overnight and you have to rush there within a few days, I’d say, just get yourself a visa in advance and save yourself some hassle.

Update: One of the Quora users commented on my answer and informed that the process to obtain prior visa instead of on-arrival is super simple and a lot cheaper. Apparently it costed him INR 2500 only. I’d recommend getting it done by VFS or Thomas cook.

Update2 : Thailand has recently announced that it has waived off the visa-on-arrival fees of 2000 Baht (about INR 4000) for all 21 countries for 2 months. So if you’re planning your Thailand trip between 1st December 2018 to 31st Jan 2019, you can save some good amount of money if you go for the on-arrival option.

 

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