*To read Part I of this story, click here!
I’m in a longtail boat with some Thai merchants and about thirty other foreigners, including the four members of the group I came with – a Portuguese man, a Russian girl, and an Aussie couple. We are heading to the Myanmar border on a visa run, an onerous task that everyone on a tourist visa has to do every two months. Or, as in my case, you do it completely unexpectedly, when Immigration randomly decides not to extend your extendable visa.
We ride for almost an hour, crashing through the choppy waves. The only crew member aboard hurries to pull the clear tarp over the sides of the boat. The tarp only reaches about halfway down from the roof of the boat, so the water just sloshes in from the uncovered bottom half.
Why did nobody think this through?
Some of the merchant women have their hands over their mouths. I look away immediately. I’m what you could call an “empathetic vomiter” – meaning, I don’t get motion sickness, but the sight of someone throwing up will automatically make me sick.
Despite the vomit-inducing waves, we are expected to fill out our arrival and departure cards en route. One member of my visa run crew, a beautiful Russian woman who could pass as a supermodel, takes my card. She fills it out quickly and passes it back to me, clearly having done this many times before.
The Supermodel hasn’t said much the whole trip. On the ride here, whenever we stopped for breaks, she’d jump out of the van and make whispered calls in Russian, furtively glancing over at us to make sure we weren’t listening.
The Supermodel passes her arrival card to the crew member, along with a stack of documents and a sealed envelope. He takes the package from her without a word.
I am definitely the least shady person on this trip…
We finally get to the docks, with everyone’s lunch still mostly inside of them. An authoritative man in a military uniform jumps on board and asks us to hold up our passports. He’s strapped, so we all comply.
The man squints extra hard when he looks over at my passport. In my photo, my hair hangs limply from my head. I took the “No smiling” directive a little too literally, so I’m scowling into the camera. I look like a jaded teenager on heroin who’s seen too much of the world to ever feel happiness again.
We all appear to pass the very official squint-check from the soldier, and we’re allowed off the boat. We troop into the Myanmar immigration office, which is the size of a condo bathroom, and hand over our passports.
The process is quick. A man opens each passport to an empty page and hands them over to another man, who viciously stamps them all within 20 seconds. The other man then calls out names.
“Kjazin?” he calls out. Nobody goes up.
“Kjazin Petragi?” he calls again impatiently. He holds up a Canadian passport. There is a photo of a youthful drug addict with soggy hair on the page.
“Oh, that’s me!” I run up and grab my passport, after realizing I’m “Kjazin Petragi.”
We all get back on the boat and make it to the Thai side without anyone puking.
The Aussie girl in our group, who was just accompanying her boyfriend on the trip and didn’t need to do a visa run herself, wasn’t allowed to come across to Myanmar with us. She hadn’t brought her passport, not realizing one was needed to go to another country (!!!), so she had been forced to wait in the hectic Ranong immigration office on the Thai side of the river.
She watches us dock and then spill out of the cramped boat, a scowl on her face. “What took you so long??” she asks, annoyed.
She fans herself dramatically. “It’s soooo hot in here!”
I am soaked in sweat and ocean spray, my eardrums are burning from the drone of the boat engine, which was right behind me, my stomach is eating itself, and someone almost puked on me. I have no more patience.
Our group piles back into the same white serial killer van that brought us here, but we stop for lunch moments later. As soon as we’re seated, the other four light cigarettes. A waiter frantically runs over to tell them there is no smoking in the restaurant.
I plow into my chicken fried rice with the intensity of a serious contender in a hotdog-eating contest. The Aussie girl takes a test-bite of her food.
“This is chicken!” she cries indignantly. “I asked for pork!”
The waiter looks confused, and someone who appears to be a supervisor runs over to our table.
They take away the offending plate, apologize profusely, and come back shortly after with a plate of fried rice with pork.
She takes a few bites and looks over at her boyfriend. “This is DISGUSTING!” she complains loudly.
The supervisor, who understands English and isn’t deaf, clearly overhears her.
I bow my head down, shoveling food into my face – which, incidentally, isn’t the rudest thing that’s happened at our table today.
We finish eating, and our chaperone – an older, English-speaking Thai man who is handling our visa run – quickly herds us out of the restaurant before we can offend anyone else. The Thai waitstaff and the supervisor look at us with disdain as we leave – a look I’m becoming familiar with by now.
We set out on our way back to Phuket. The van is again cruising at about 150 kilometres an hour, going over potholes and narrowly missing motorcycles and other vans as we aggressively overtake them.
About three hours into the drive, the Aussie couple gets into a fight. It starts out with heated whispers that I pretend to ignore. Then, they are yelling at each other. This escalates to actually hitting each other. Seemingly playful slaps quickly turn into violent smacks.
Oh my god… I will literally witness a homicide right here, in this van…
I am trying to think of what to do to stop the fight. I did train in Muay Thai, but both of them outweigh me by at least 50 pounds, and as a woman, everything in my societal conditioning has taught me to try to de-escalate a bad situation before it gets worse.
“Um… do you have a power bank I could use?” I interrupt stupidly.
“What??” the Boyfriend stops smacking his girlfriend and turns back to look at me like I’m crazy.
“Can I borrow a power bank, if you have one?” I repeat. “My phone’s about to die…”
This is actually true – my phone’s at three percent.
“Um… hold on,” the Boyfriend rummages through his backpack and passes me a power bank.
His girlfriend has moved to the seat opposite him now. Both of them are sulking and staring out of their respective windows, but at least they are no longer trying to murder each other.
Ha! Fuck Muay Thai, I can break up a fight with my secret weapon: sheer stupidity!
I take out my phone and plug it into the borrowed power bank. Then I text my climbing partner. I had bailed on him so I could go to Myanmar with four weird, culturally insensitive, potential felons with the social etiquette of newly arrived Gremlins.
“I need pizza and alcohol the second I get back!” I message him frantically.
About eight hours after we left the restaurant, we finally arrive at Tiger Muay Thai, my stop. I almost throw myself out of the vehicle the second it slows down.
It has been pouring rain for the last hour, so I’m drenched as soon as I get out of the van. It’s dark outside, and because of the torrential rain and heat, it smells like wet dog and open sewage.
I’ve never been so glad to be home.
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