It’s 5.00am at Victory Monument in Bangkok.
Despite the early hour the city is already coming to the boil.
Street sweepers scratch away at chipped, uneven stretches of concrete; market traders set up their stalls ready for the pre-work rush; shopkeepers roll up the shutters to their businesses and busy themselves with a bowl of khao tom; and you… well you board a minibus – a vehicle surely manufactured in a factory somewhere on the outskirts of Hades – bound for the Cambodian border, where it is your duty as a law-abiding expatriate to obtain a fresh set of visa stamps.
It is true that these tedious voyages, flecked with sporadic yet liberal amounts of pain and suffering, are part and parcel of life in old Siam, but never before has one felt so much like a fucking circus animal.
It actually feels like a punishment.
“You want to spend another 30 days in Southeast Asia?!”
“Then you shall suffer!”
Leaving the big smoke smouldering behind on the horizon, you attempt to seek some semblance of comfort within the cramped confines of the minibus.
This isn’t easy for several reasons: the first being that you are sharing the back row of seats with an assemblage of fellow visa-runners who between them weigh more than the fucking van itself; and secondly, of course, the guy behind the steering wheel appears to be in a tremendous hurry – couple this with the shot rear suspension and it’s a miracle you have yet to stipple the vehicle’s interior with a recently digested Moo Sub Mama cup.
So, a mere 30 minutes into the journey and you have already sunken into a pit of woeful despair.
There’s probably only one solution to your current plight; well actually there’s two but one of them tends to see you banged up in the Immigration Detention Centre for a fortnight before being escorted to the airport and banished from the country for eternity, or two years, or something like that.
No, the more – and I begrudgingly use the word – sensible option is to ask Khun Maniac-Driver-From-Hell to pull over at the next available beer Chang retail outlet and purchase no less than seven large bottles.
Advantage – you. Now you have the upperhand.
Although you will morph into a most perturbing presence – and thrice-per-hour comfort breaks will become a trend – Aranyaprathet, the last Thai town before Cambodia, is met in fine fettle and you can now go about perusing the many hundreds of quirky stalls at the border market.
Indeed this is the trip highlight – unless of course you yield to the Cambodian visa tout’s offer of a Vietnamese national with pretty eyes and, I quote, “big milk”.
But for argument’s sake we’ll eschew this option because it’s downright sordid, depraved and unwholesome behaviour, said nobody, ever…
In amongst the market now and you discover that while tourists go to Chatuchak in Bangkok, locals come here, to Rong Klua. Indeed, walking around the entire market will see you yomp passed an incredible five kilometres worth of, let’s face it, tat – but very affordable and interesting tat nonetheless.
The market is a nice prelude to the main event. Now surrounded by a mob of Cambodian touts who, upon seeing you brandish a British passport, begin to imitate Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses, and much to your total awe and utter amusement, Vicky Pollard from Little Britain, you surmise through beer Chang-induced befuddlement that a little help for a few hundred baht would actually be just the ticket.
And before you ask, no, I do not require the services of a large-breasted, Vietnamese lady or a whistle-stop tour of Cambodia in the back of your 1976 Toyota Celica.
With the tout having performed his magic, you go through the motions and are presently stamped out of Thailand and into Cambodia, where you spend your allotted three seconds buying cheap cigarettes and whiskey, fanning yourself with the visa paperwork and, dare I say it, holding your nose.
Poipet – the Cambodian border town – has something of a fetid waft to it, not dissimilar to that of an extremely ripe piece of Roquefort – but it definitely is not Roquefort, if you know what I mean.
Back into Siam now, after having had your visa extended and your passport subjected to varying degrees of scrutiny, you pay the tout, trudge back to the minivan, forlorn at the thought of another four hours of travelling but buoyed because it’s the concluding leg of the trip, and take your seat, clutching the freshly-purchased bottle of whiskey like a comfort blanket.
They say that only two things in life are certain: death and taxes.
They obviously forgot about the visa run.
I am sure, however, that there are those who combine it with a long-weekend in Miami, or a snorkelling fortnight in Fiji.
But for many it’s the minibus, and gulp upon gulp of Cambodian duty-free.
Featured image is by RStacker and used under a Creative Commons licence