Getting visas in Bangkok (March 2010)

On our second full day in Bangkok, we got up early in the morning to go to the Chinese Embassy on the other side of the city to apply for visas. The guidebook listed the hours as 9am-11:30, so we left fairly early, caught a taxi, and showed the driver the address in the book. The taxi driver ended up getting pretty lost and, after stopping at a bathroom, pulled over by a pay phone, took our guidebook, and called the embassy to see where it actually was (pretty far behind us). The guidebook’s listed address was the same as on the embassy website, but it didn’t mention which soi (sidestreet) the embassy was on (it’s on Ratchadaphisek soi 3, if you’re looking for it, not soi 57!), and we arrived at the embassy around 11:45. We were frustrated, the taxi driver was frustrated, we were late, and we couldn’t tell which building the embassy was actually in, as it wasn’t marked.

We finally got up to the office around noon, hoping that they had after-lunch hours which weren’t listed. As we were walking to the door, a man walking out with a briefcase pointed to the hours listed on the door, and said that we would have to come back after the weekend to apply for a visa (which was a little confusing, since we hadn’t realized that it was Friday). He said he could process the visa for us though, which in retrospect was probably a poor choice; we were worried about not having enough time to get the visas we needed while in Bangkok though, and he offered same day processing for that afternoon. We agreed, and followed him outside where he helped us hurriedly fill out the forms, and charged us an excessive fee per visa.

At the time we assumed he was a visa clerk at the embassy, since he was leaving around closing time with a briefcase full of applications and even had a business card for himself as the “Assistant Chairman for the Chinese People Association (Thailand)”, but after looking back it’s more likely he ran a visa service for tourists like us, and charged us what he thought we’d be willing to pay. We didn’t actually have enough cash to complete the transaction that day, so we ended up coming back on Monday (after a stressful weekend of speculation as to whether or not we would ever see our passports again) to pick up our passports at the visa application center. The good news was we got our passports back with shiny new Chinese visas; the bad news is that we paid probably 2000 baht extra for each.

Getting our Chinese visas was not the highlight of the trip, but we ended up being luckier with the Indian ones. After leaving on Monday with our passports, we caught a bus down Ratchadaphisek to Sukhumvit to catch a second bus back to the KhaoSan area. As it turns out, the Indian embassy is near Sukhumvit, and since we had gone to the the Chinese embassy early in the morning we decided it couldn’t hurt to stop by and see what we needed to do. When we found the embassy there was a line out the door to get in, but apparently this wasn’t where you applied for a visa anyway; the guard at the door showed us a map, which had the visa application center about 1km away on Sukhumvit.

After getting slightly lost, we eventually found the building (Glashaus, on Sukhumvit soi 25) and made our way to the 15th floor. The guard at the door checked our bags and waved us through, where an English-speaking clerk explained to us that Indian visas for non-Thai residents take 5 working days to process, with no expedited service available. If we had waited until the next day to get our visas we would have been without our passports for the whole week and weekend, but since we were there on Monday we could get things finished up by Friday (a good thing especially, since we were hoping to be out of Bangkok by the weekend to avoid the protests scheduled for Sunday). We filled out the applications and submitted our information, paid what still seemed like too much due to the added fees for our US passports and the visa processing center, and left feeling poor, but more comfortable than last time since the person we gave all our money and passports to was actually sitting behind a desk. Tuesday we left Bangkok for Ayutthaya, the city built on the ruins of the former capital of Thailand–but that story is for the next post.

On Friday we returned and picked up our passports, feeling better about our experiences after listening to other people in the waiting room who had more problems (including the woman who had a ticket to fly to India the next day and was just submitting her passport, and the man who was leaving that afternoon and wanted to collect his passport before the official time). It feels pretty good to have our passports back and have the major work we had to do for the rest of our trip taken care of!

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