Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Communist Christmas: Adventures in Visa Travel






There are only five countries left in the world that subscribe to Karl Marx’s views about life, where the national religion is by definition atheism. You know about China, Cuba and North Korea. You may know that Vietnam is still Communist. The one you don’t know is the fifth and last Communist country in the world, this other country that you may have never even heard of and certainly have never thought about: Laos.

Little Laos.

That’s where I spent Christmas.

Not by choice.

One word:

Visa.

Those in the travel community love to tell stories about the escapades and bureaucratic back-flips needed to acquire tourist visas in certain parts of the world. Up until I arrived in Thailand, the only story I had about visa "fun" was having to pay double as an American what Swedes pay for a Russian visa – I assumed it was just leftover bitterness from the Cold War.

Now I understand.

At least it’s good blog material...

Here’s how I ended up in Laos for Christmas:

1) If you fly into Thailand, you can stay for 30 days until you have to start playing the visa game.
2) I didn’t know beforehand that I would be here for longer than 30 days.

3) You can’t get a Thai visa IN Thailand. Yeah, I’m glad you think that’s funny.

4) To Cambodia for the day, but the border extensions are only for 15 days, a law two weeks old and still not posted on appropriate websites. No help whatsoever, and a day wasted.

5) The Thai Embassy in Laos gives 60-day visas. Where? Laos. What’s that? It’s a country between Thailand and Vietnam. Really? I had no idea.

6) I had to get there before December 23rd or start paying day-by-day to be in Thailand.

7) Despite two blank pages in my passport, and after a two hour wait in line at the Thai Embassy in Laos, and after an overnight train ride and hotel booking just to get there, I was told I needed more pages in my passport. Visa denied.

8) US Embassy to the rescue – 20 minutes in and out. God Bless America.

9) But, I had to stay an extra day in Laos due to my visa page problem. That day was Christmas Day. Laos is a Communist country. It’s all such an adventure full of irony and, hopefully, entertainment if all you have to do is read about it.

10)Since you have to turn over your passport for the one-day processing, I was officially without a passport in a Communist country…on Christmas.

Paige and I made the most of our unexpected first Christmas together – and we’re already able to look back and laugh at our (mis) adventures, and the stories we can tell, about forced visa travel.

I can hardly wait to see what New Year’s holds.

Happy New Year to you from the Tuk-Tuk Talker.

See you back here in Thailand in 2009!

Pictures above:
1. The Lao and Communist flags fly in unison throughout most of the country.
2. The visa game line at the Thai Embassy in Ventiane, the capital city of Laos. Don't miss the Laos version of the Tuk-Tuk!
3. In between twice-daily embassy runs, Paige and I squeezed in some sightseeing at this famous landmark in Ventiane, the Patouxay, or Laos' Arc d' Triomphe, since Laos is a former French colony.
4. An impressively festive Christmas display in front of the main hotel in Ventiane.
5. The beautiful fountain in Old European Square, the center of town.

3 comments:

Christopher said...

At least you had Paige with you!

dan said...

whity:
This is beautiful. As a fellow blogist, I covet such tragedy.

Merry Christmas to you and Paige!
dan

p.s. your mom is so cool.

todd.whiting said...

So, that's where you were. Mom and I realized you weren't there around noon on Christmas.

So, you were with the woman you love in an exotic country for Christmas? Sounds "horrible."