The easiest and fastest way to renew a Thai 30-day tourist visa is to leave the country and return the same day. The first of our three border crossings for such a purpose occurs at Ranong in January 2003. We arrive at the pier where longtail boats leave for Myanmar to find out that the Thai Immigration office is located one kilometer back on the road we just traveled. We need to go there first to get our exit stamp. Hence we hitch back to the office, get our passports stamped, and walk out of the office being officially not in Thailand anymore, but in reality still very much so. No one and nothing stops us from remaining in Thailand, but we do not feel like finding out what would happen if we do so. We walk back to the jetty where we arrange for a boat to take us to the Myanmar Immigration office on an island off the Burmese coastal town of Kawthaung.
On the island we hand over our passports and US$ 5 each for the Burmese day visa and sit down on white plastic chairs which prominently display "Mike's F1 Visa Run", a business operating out of Phuket about five hours by car south of Ranong. With his minivan, Mike brings foreigners, mainly diving instructors and divemasters, from anywhere between Phuket and Ranong to the border and back the same day with a new Thai visa - food and boat transfer included. For more expensive renewals at the Malaysian border, only the passport needs to travel to the border and wondrously returns a couple of days later with a new visa. From the island, the longtail boat takes us - proud owners of Burmese day visas - to Kawthaung for the Burmese exit stamp and optional shopping. Since we have just visited Myanmar in December, we opt to head straight back to Ranong where we walk back the one kilometer to the Thai Immigration office to get the new entry stamp - no questions asked.
In February 2003, we again cross the border into Myanmar, this time at Mae Sai in the north of Thailand. As we walk out of the bus terminal in Mae Sai, an official Thai Immigration pickup truck happens to be leaving too. We catch a ride - no chance of missing the Thai Immigration office before arriving at the border this time. In Mae Sai, the office is even further from the border than in Ranong, but as a routine part of the departure process, the Thai Immigration officer shows us a laminated map of Mae Sai on which three numbered locations are clearly marked: number one is the Thai Immigration office where we are, number two is the location of the Burmese Immigration office across the border, and number three is the location of the second Thai Immigration office where we will get the entry stamp back on the Thai side of the border. All in all, we only spend ten minutes in Myanmar, just as long as it takes to get entry and exit stamps.
In April 2003, the third border crossing happens at the Thailand-Malaysia border at Padang Besar. We take a bus to this large entry/exit point, and then simply walk across the border with our backpacks. It would have been the fastest visit to a country, even faster than the ten minute record from Mae Sai, if it were not for the delays caused by SARS screenings. At major airports we traveled during this time - Bangkok, Singapore, Kansai, and Vancouver - temperature readers automatically scan passengers as they exit the planes. At all land borders we used, control measures are implemented by questionnaires only, except for Padang Besar, where our temperatures are also taken. A reusable temperature-sensitive strip is placed on our foreheads for a few seconds until the reading does not change anymore. After having carried around a backpack in 40°C heat, I am kind of wondering how severe a SARS case I will turn out to be; but no, I am within acceptable limits even though I am above my normal temperature. By the way, Canada wins hands down in the category of "largest and flashiest SARS leaflet" against competitors from Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan: no one comes close to Canada's six language, six-page foldout, bright yellow handout!