Malaysia Visa Run

For those of you who don’t know, Thailand is a country that doesn’t make it (extremely) easy to stay in for long periods of time.  They have different visas that you can apply for (business, retired, student, etc.), but all of them require a “visa run” at least every 90 days.  What that means is you have to stamp out of the country (before your 90 day limit is up), and then you can stamp back in to the country… sometimes even the same day.

There are several companies that offer a “visa run” trip on an air-conditioned mini-bus with all the fees included.  Since we waited too long to book a trip on Air Asia, we had to go with one of these companies that drive.  I have to admit… I wanted to try it anyway.  For $4000 Thb each we could each get a new Tourist Visa for 90 days.  It looked good on the website.

We showed the pics to Wesley of the comfy-looking chairs in the van and told him he could play games on his computer while we drove… it all sounded great.

Party Bus!

Party Bus!

The air-conditioned mini-bus “limousine” picked us up at our condo in Kamala Beach at 9:30pm on Wednesday.  It was lit up with blue lights on the inside and we had a row of seats all to ourselves… it seemed awesome!

For about 30 seconds.

The moment the car started driving Damon moaned “This is the vomit comet!” and could only look straight ahead out the window.  He NEVER gets seasick, so I figured he would get over it in a minute.  I don’t usually get car-sick and Wesley hasn’t been carsick since driving on curvy mountain roads in 2009, so I figured we would all be fine once Damon got accustomed to the van.

Well, the drive from Kamala out of the beach area and onto the main road was incredibly curvy.  Wesley was feeling carsick in a matter of minutes.  I was the only one who was unaffected.

We started out with only 6 passengers, but we kept stopping and picking up more people and Wesley started feeling more carsick.  Damon hopped out at one stop to get Wesley some water, a plastic bag and napkins… the poor kid was looking greener and greener.  I quickly told the driver to stop and let Wesley sit in the front seat with him… or else have him throw up all over the van.

We ended up with 10 passengers in the van and one driver.  There was NO space at all and instead of watching “farang” movies on the DVD player (like they advertise on their website), the driver played a Billboard playlist of “Parental Advisory Suggested” music videos.  Think Nicki Minaj and Pitbull with lots of T&A.  Yeah, it was great.

Now imagine sitting in your tiny seat for hours at a time with a 10 minute break at gas stations for the next SEVEN HOURS.

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Good information to know.

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Squat toilets make for interesting bathroom breaks!

We arrived at the Thailand/Malaysia border at 5:00am.  This is when our driver started being awesome.  He knew what line to get in, where to go, what to do, and how to get in front of all the other buses doing the same thing.  Some of them weren’t just 10 passenger mini-buses… they were double-decker 75+ passenger luxury liners… but he made sure we were never waiting behind them.  That part was the best.

After TWELVE HOURS of driving we finally arrived in Penang, Malaysia.  Since the company had an all-inclusive deal, when we arrived at the hotel there was a breakfast buffet waiting.  Right about the time we finished eating, our driver had our room key ready for us.  We gave him our passports, Tourist Visa applications, photos, and 110 Malaysian Ringgits and went to our room.  They dealt with the Thai Consulate in Malaysia for us.. we didn’t do anything else except collapse in our rooms.

Banana Boutique hotel room

Banana Boutique hotel room

Damon checking out Malaysian TV

Damon checking out Malaysian TV

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View from the door.

Too tired to game...

Too tired to game…

Unfortunately we slept until after 3:00pm that afternoon.  That was really NOT my intention.  It put all of us on such a weird sleep schedule that none of us could sleep that night.

We did manage to go out that evening though.  We had our dinner included at the hotel, (a buffet that was fine), and then we went walking around.  I really liked the city of Penang.  We’ve been in Kamala for so long that I miss that city “vibe.”

I would like to go back to Malaysia and actually see more of the cities… go to the beach… experience more of the culture.  We had to check out of our hotel room the next morning at 6:00am, so we didn’t have much of a chance to experience any of Penang.  Our passports were returned to us (Tourist Visas Included!) and we got back on the mini-bus.

Bathroom stop in Thailand

Bathroom stop in Thailand

I don’t think ANY of us were anxious to start the drive back… the good part was that two of the passengers were only one-way fares… so we each had a little bit more room on our rows.  Thankfully Wesley did NOT get sick on the way back… mostly because we started out on highways and not curvy beach roads.  All of us were able to stamp out of Malaysia and back in to Thailand without any problems.  Mission accomplished.

Ask me which company you should use for a “visa run” to Penang and I’ll tell you KBV because they did take care of us.  But ask me if I’m going to do another mini-bus “visa run” 90 days from now and I’ll tell you I’m too old… that’s for backpackers and students.

I’m flying.

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Singapore Airlines in Moscow

Airplane

We searched for tickets for a full 48 hours of on/off fare shopping, mileage rewards charts, frequent flyer credit cards, and TripAdvisor reviews before we finally settled on three one-way tickets on Singapore Airlines.  We flew from Houston (IAH) to Moscow (DME), and then on to Singapore (SIN).  We stayed in Singapore for a few nights because I figured we would all need a break at that point and it didn’t add anything to our airfare.  Then we flew on to Phuket (HKT).

Apparently Singapore Airlines SQ61 is a popular flight.  When I searched for reviews, I found posts from 2005.  Unfortunately, no one would tell us what to expect when we arrived in Moscow.  I thought I would fill everyone in…

You do NOT have to pick up your bags and go through security again when you land in Moscow.  However you DO have to depart the plane and go through a checkpoint.  They didn’t stamp our passports and I don’t think it was immigration… it was just a “secured” area of the airport.  We were given a plastic pass as we got off the plane and were released into a dismal part of the airport to wait in line (with no services at all).  All of the departing passengers were in one line with two security personnel checking our plastic passes/passports before we were released into the main area of the airport.

By the time we were allowed into the regular terminal the people who were going on to Singapore had to walk immediately to the departing gate.  There wasn’t time to change money and there absolutely wasn’t time to shop for anything.  I’m not a big shopper, but I thought it was ridiculous of the airport to keep all those people from buying a ton of things while they waited for their flight… instead of waiting in the “security” area.  But hey, they didn’t ask me.  I wasn’t intending on changing money anyway.  I’ve heard that they will only change $100 USD or more, and they won’t buy back their own rubles.  So you’re stuck with a cheap souvenir and a bunch of rubles that they won’t take back.  Not my idea of a good stop.

Hope this helps the next traveler who wants to know what happens at DME airport.