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More checks are needed on visa run vans, say Phuket expats

End This Phuket Visa Run Madness

Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Phuketwan 'Brave Enough to Change' Campaign

PHUKET: Reid Ridgway is raging mad and not prepared to play Russian Roulette any more. Here, the veteran expat describes his Visa Run nightmare at the weekend and explains why it's time other expats joined him in saying:

''Enough. For too long, our lives have been needlessly put at risk by these maniacs at the wheel. Let's stop this craziness now.''

ON SATURDAY, six expat residents of Phuket were forced into a van and held captive for a terrifying 12-hour ordeal, helplessly peering out the windows, racing at speeds exceeding 130kmh, as the driver flew around one blind curve after another in the oncoming lane.

The driver of the van ignored all pleas to slow down, laughing at his passengers' fear, and flashing a peace sign at them.

He tailgated truck and trailer rigs, then lurched into the other lane to speed around them - even if they blocked the view of any oncoming traffic, racing them around the outside of the curves, testing the limits of gravity.

He roared to the inside of curves, breaking to the right, counting on blind luck to avoid a spectacular head on collision.

Each passenger was forced to take the gamble with him at every turn, hoping his luck held out and their lives were spared.

Several times his luck didn't hold out, and we were all suddenly dependent upon the awareness and quick reflexes of other drivers - stunned by sudden appearance of the rocketing van bearing down on them in the wrong lane around a blind curve. Three cars blowing by one another at great speeds.

Each passenger could only pray that some driver coming the opposite way wasn't taking similar risks and passing on a blind curve - four cars would never be able to avoid certain tragedy.

The van driver blew by cars on narrow bridges, blew past a group of bicyclists, nearly killing a mother and child on a motorbike, honking at them as they attempted to turn right on to the highway.

One incredible risk after another, the maniac drove onward, somehow narrowing escaping the statistical odds.

The van never slowed until it reached Ranong, where the six expats were hustled onto a rickety boat, and taken across the border to Burma (Myanmar) . . . to get their passports stamped, then herded back into the same van for the equally terrifying ride home.

This was not an abduction. The driver, [ name deleted], is not considered a criminal but a professional driver for a tour company, even though he daily breaks every traffic law on the books, and makes a mockery of professional driving.

It's called a visa run, and it is the fate of several hundred expats every single day. These people are the paying customers of a poorly regulated offshoot of the tourism industry.

Nothing is exaggerated in the story above. Every word is true, I was one of the six terrified people, forced to endure the harrowing ride because my own vehicle is currently in the body shop, and because my visa was about to expire.

When I could take the mounting stress no longer, and after making it very clear I needed him to slow down on two occasions, I angrily shouted at the driver to stop taking chances with our lives as he pulled yet another stunt so stupid and dangerous that we all nearly lost our lives, taken away by a foolish jackass.

INSTEAD OF SLOWING down, he flipped me the bird, and sped up. I didn't back down and continued to yell for him to knock it off.

His next response? He lurched into the oncoming lane and played ''chicken'' around the inside of the very next bend.

There was no reason to be in the lane, no other car to pass. It was just to show me that he wasn't going to be told how to drive.

I called him an idiot, and threatened to call his company. He held up his mobile phone to test my resolve then pulled tp the side of the road, shouting: ''F*** you, get out now. Get out! You get out now.''

I refused. Even though I so badly wanted out, we were were in the middle of absolutely nowhere, hundreds of kilometers from Phuket, and I didn't have enough cash to make my own way back home.

He drove off. The madness continued.

Several more times we would narrowly escape collisions as three cars met on a curve and blew past each other.

Back on Phuket when the terror was over and the driver got out and switched vans with another driver, two of the other passengers confided to me that they had every urge to jump out, too.

They were sorry they had not supported me verbally. They said they were intimidated and afraid to speak their minds.

I was also afraid to speak up until I had this thought: ''What would I do if my children were in this car. Would I still say nothing?''

It was then I realised that I would never have put up with anyone risking their young lives in this way and causing them fear and stress. Not for one second.

I would have physically wrestled control of the vehicle to protect them if necessary.

Expats are forced into these vans by Thailand's immigration laws. Although I have three Thai children and a Thai wife, I am still forced to go in an out of the country constantly, and I have been for 12 years now.

GO AHEAD: Ask me why my own car happens to be in the body shop. I'm glad you asked:

While returning home from picking up my children from school three short weeks ago, we were the victim of a head-on collision by the driver of white tourist transport van used for visa runs.

The driver blatantly ran straight through a red light that had turned yellow then red, nearly six seconds earlier.

He got out of his van, waving his arms in anger, and later tried to kick me in the crotch at the police station because I called him a liar - as he was telling the police that his light was green.

When he tried to kick me, I had my one year old baby daughter on my shoulders.

Luckily a closed circuit camera caught the whole crash on video, including the state of the traffic lights, and his insurance is paying to fix my truck.

My rented car is unfortunately not allowed to leave the island.

I AM AN EXPERT in mass communications and media. I have worked at the highest levels of the tourism industry, serving briefly as a regional director of the largest and oldest tourism association in Asia, and as a consultant to the Lao Government to help them understand the human resources component of tourism.

I can tell you this about tourism. It is an industry extremely dependent upon customer satisfaction.

Individual tourism businesses normally compete to provide exceptional service quality: the expert care of needs, desires, safety, and comfort for their guests.

The industry polices itself because if people aren't satisfied, they don't come back. Today, with social media and sites like TripAdvisor, neither do any of their friends.

The visa run industry is exempt from this duty of care - only because tourists have no choice but to get into these vans.

It is not an elective tour activity which competes with other entertaining things to do. It is a nightmare that people must face if they want to stay more than a month on Phuket without becoming an illegal alien.

There is little to zero regulation or oversight on the drivers and the industry has filled up with grown men who drive like 14-year-old adolescents, showing off to one another.

There was actually a second van full of people suffering along with us. Several of them admitted their terror to me at the lunch stop and on the boat ride to Burma.

THERE IS NOTHING unique about the event I am describing. It is the same across almost every visa run company on Phuket.

I had a similar experience with a different company seven months earlier, on a trip to Penang in Malaysia.

Nearly everyone who has been on these visa runs will admit to you that they they become terrified by the idiotic driving they are forced to endure.

Even the burly Swedish biker sitting next to me was white knuckled and kept shaking his head in disbelief.

Very few people have the courage to say something because they are, after all, guests here in Thailand.

More seasoned expats just feel that it's only going to make the situation worse if the driver gets angry and agitated.

They may have a point.

Even if you haven't been in one of the vans yourself, nearly every one of us has a story of being placed in grave danger by one of them: dangerously passed by one, crowded off the road by one, cut off by one, or nearly colliding with one around a blind curve.

I'm speaking up and I'm asking everyone to stand together, to confront this problem, and speak up with me.

Report these drivers to their companies. Video their driving on your smart phone and turn them in.

I call upon the tourism industry to set some standards for hiring and for monitoring ground transportation drivers.

I call on the authorities to police this Visa Run industry, and revoke the driving privileges of those who gamble with peoples' lives.

Fine them, jail them. Their actions are criminal.

It is no different to spinning the magazine of a revolver with one live round in it, aiming at another's face and pulling the trigger and laughing at their terror, a game of Russian Roulette.

One of the last passengers to leave the vehicle on Saturday turned to me before he got out and said: ''I recently had a good friend who died on a visa run to Penang.''

Nobody goes on one of these trips with the desire to come home in a body bag. Enough of this nonsense.

I've had it. You've all had it. You don't have to put up with it. I'm speaking out, and I'm not going to stop speaking out until I affect change.

I'm going to print news and radio. I'm going to the insurance companies. I'm going to tourism industry itself.

I'm going to circulate petitions in the expat community and I'm going to present them to the Tourism Authority of Thailand and the Governor of Phuket.

Please sign a petition when it comes to you. I have started a Facebook page for people to report their experiences with these companies.

And possibly to start a non-profit van pool for people to share the cost of renting a van and driving themselves to the border - or hiring a driver who can demonstrate the maturity to drive safely.

Let's get this industry under control and save some peoples lives. It might just be your own, or a good friend of yours, after all it's just a lottery, a random chance.

But the statistics always bear out eventually, and it is going to be one of us who pays the ultimate price for not speaking up.

Let's demand these companies list their phone number front and center of the vehicle, and a second number for the police hotline if they can't get any help from the boss of the companies.

Let's demand all ground transport vehicles install a working dashboard cam to record the truth of the situation.

Let's stick together. It's a powerful thing when people are fed up and stand their ground in unison.

Who knows? Maybe some day we can even end the stupidity altogether and get Thai Immigration to collect all this wasted money for themselves, and stamp visas right here on Phuket.

Wouldn't that be amazingly intelligent?

JOINTHE Facebook group Visa Run Safety Forum Phuket and sign the online petition at: http://chn.ge/NK1hsJ

Contact the author directly at: reidridgway@yahoo.com

Phuketwan accepts that there are some good visa run drivers, just not enough of them. Dashboard cameras and prominently displayed telephone numbers for instant complaints are good ideas. We wholeheartedly endorse Reid Ridgway's campaign.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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A very well written article summing up the fears andexperiences of many.

Of course the logical solution would be to stop visa runs period.

Why cannot Thai authorities allow those who wish to live peacefully in the kingdom, simply to go along to their nearest immigration office, complete the formalities, without wasting money & risking life & limb.

It would be a decent source of legal revenue for the Thai government.

Posted by Logic on March 25, 2014 12:03

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The solution to not doing these visa trips is to get a proper visa before you get to Thailand. If you don't qualify for one of those visas, well then maybe you should not be there in the first place.

Posted by Sailor on March 25, 2014 12:09

Editor Comment:

Your generosity of spirit towards your fellow human beings is becoming legendary, Sailor. I hope you still have some friends, somewhere.

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@sailor - what a load of rubbish. Many people come to Thailand looking for work - they arrive on tourist visa but often have to change to Non B Visas when they find work and this requires a Visa Run to a neighboring country.

To be very honest i no longer will do a visa run by Mini Bus anymore - I fly to KL. I will never put my life in those minibus drivers hands again.

Posted by Ciaran on March 25, 2014 12:22

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Sounds like Phuket modern team or pen phet Those guys are insane.....

Posted by Me Falang on March 25, 2014 12:23

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- Sailor

Utter and total rubbish.

There are several PROPER visa classes that require you to leave the country every 90 days.

I would be more than happy to sign the petition and even go out picketing in support.

Thai authorities are not likely to be interested because it's only foreigners who suffer and Thais gain.

No incentive or motive there to do anything about it. Only name and shame will work, which will carry repercussions unless enough expats join the campaign.

Much like the dive industry did and look at the ridiculous statements made by the Chalong police afterwards.

It's easy to coerce and intimidate a few people but being up against several hundred is a game changer.

Kudos to Mr Ridgway for standing up for all of us.

Posted by ThaiMike on March 25, 2014 12:30

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This story is terrifying, however if he's been in Thailand for 12 years and has 3 Thai children he could easily apply for a 1 year extension of stay at the immigration office in phuket town and avoid those "death traps" visa runs.

Posted by JK on March 25, 2014 12:34

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i agree 100% and i had same experiences and i am here 9 years. my conclusion is: nothing will change and i will go back to europe because i don't feel safe anymore here in thailand. that starts with the roads and ends with no law enforcement at all in phuket. phuket is more lawless then other parts of thailand and for my impression the best solution is to stop spending money in thailand. i will go back with my family because i lost the hope of change.

Posted by mike on March 25, 2014 12:34

Editor Comment:

Too early to give up, mike.

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First- nobody 'forced' anyone into a van- they had booked a trip and got in of their own volition. Second- 12 hours 'imprisoned'? Why did they not refuse to re-board the minibus on the half way stops or at Ranong?

I do concur that the standard of some drivers leaves a lot to be desired and am glad I no longer have to take my life in my hands every three months. If people have a bad experience they need to lodge a complaint at the time or refuse to re-board vehicles. Presenting things to TAT or the Gov is a complete waste of time - they couldn't give a toss about foreigners. Boycott bad companies and stick with the good ones, promoting them on social media.

As pointed out by logic a review of the visa system is well overdue and a huge amount of revenue is lost throughout Thailand by people leaving for a few days to Singapore, Malaysia etc every two to three months. An average proper visa trip runs (as opposed to an in/out at a land border crossing) 20-30k per person, times that by the amount of people doing visa runs and its a heck of a monetary loss.

Posted by Mister Ree on March 25, 2014 12:38

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Not only do these crazy drivers endanger their own passengers, they endanger every other road user.
Your visa run driver may drive perfectly, yet, you are still endangering your own life by doing a road trip to Ranong.

I now refuse to use these vans. Even though it is more time consuming and a bit more expensive, I now fly to do visa runs.

Unfortunately, the chances of changing the present situation is the same as the chances of change in the Phuket public transport situation.

Posted by Sir Burr on March 25, 2014 12:49

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There's already a group on Facebook that arrange visa trips for expats who's tired of the Russian Roulette.

Posted by nicke on March 25, 2014 12:57

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fly to kl for your visa run next time or get a proper visa and you would not need to leave the island

Posted by misty on March 25, 2014 13:02

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I agree with what the writer is saying and something really does need to be done about the tour bus/van drivers. I myself had had 2 incidents with them in the last 2 weeks, the first an An Yin tour bus crossing the meridian strip at 80+KMPH whilst I'm there trying to turn right. 2 seconds earlier and myself,my wife and 3 year old boy would be dead.
The second was this morning,i pulled across from the inside lane to the outside to turn right, i had checked my mirrors and nothing was coming, then a white tour van (reg 30-2553)was honking his horn at me, he was going 100+. I shook my head at him and that was it. 3 times he then chased me and tried to knock myself and wife off the bike, yes actually knock us off. once stopping in the middle of the road to get out and threaten us.
Who checks these drivers, who tests them for drugs, where are there licenses?
Just read the news today in Bangkok about the young school child killed by a bus,the driver of which had no licence to be driving such a vehicle.

Posted by phuket madness on March 25, 2014 13:25

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-Sailor- I live in TH. Have 3 children with 2 Thai women, not married, but live with my boys, visit other one. Have not enough money in Bank to qualify for one year Visa. Your solution?
-Logic- True! Just amend the Thai Visa laws similar to the Cambodian Visa laws. Would be easy than!

Posted by Alfred on March 25, 2014 13:27

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First: I do agree that Thailand's road safety standards are terrible, and that those who drive for a living (van drivers, bus drivers, etc) are often the most reckless drivers at all.

That's the issue we agree on. Making this about visa runs is misguided.

"forced into a van and held captive for a terrifying 12-hour ordeal, helplessly peering out the windows"
You paid for a service that included transportation. Nobody forced you into it. You weren't held captive. You weren't helpless. You just chose it's the lesser trouble to stay in that van.

"I didn't have enough cash to make my own way back home"
One should figure a grown man who's been living in a foreign country for so long should know to carry enough cash and an ATM card.

"I have three Thai children and a Thai wife, I am still forced to go in an out of the country constantly"
Then I'm wondering why you don't have a proper visa. If your name is on your kids' birth certificate, not much else is needed to apply for a proper visa.


"I AM AN EXPERT in mass communications and media. I have worked at the highest levels of the tourism industry, serving briefly as a regional director of the largest and oldest tourism association in Asia, and as a consultant to the Lao Government to help them understand the human resources component of tourism."
Which again makes me wonder what prevents you from getting a proper visa. I know people of far lesser stature than you who have Thai children (without even being officially married) and can stay in Thailand legally without the necessity of visa runs.

Apart of that, even if for whatever reason you do not qualify for a proper visa, there's no law that says you have to do visa runs by these minivans. You could leave and enter the country by air and avoid the reckless drivers all together.

Posted by Ben on March 25, 2014 13:27

Editor Comment:

Which doesn't ease the threat to other travellers on the road, Ben. Cheerleading for people doing the wrong thing doesn't make sense.

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Gosh you act like a big shot "expert" yet you have no money to get yourself out of the van and take alternative transport? There are many ways to do visa runs - you are taking the cheapest solution, so you get what you pay for.

Posted by Gina on March 25, 2014 13:28

Editor Comment:

Sorting right from wrong doesn't seem to be a skill you possess, Gina. Pity.

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I agree that the drive can be stressful. I've been in a similar situation once. But that aside, when you were told to get out, you didn't wanted to, because you were in the middle of nowhere, and you didn't have enough cash on you?? Serious? A bus ride from Phuket to had yai, for example is 376 baht. ( VIP ) didn't have an ATM card or credit card with you either? I mean, when I look at your impressive cv, one would assume you could look after yourself, not? I would have gotten out the moment he stopped for the pee-break, taken my bags, and continued on my own. After all, I also have three kids, and I would like to see them again.

Posted by Charles on March 25, 2014 13:46

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Everything you said about the drivers is true, not just on visa runs but also on regular scheduled van routes. However you should be careful about complaining too loudly - there is already talk of a re-introduction of 14 day stamps at land borders. No-one would thank you if your efforts resulted in the end of same day re-entries or the total ban on 30 day arrival visas at land borders - although that would certainly put an end to visa run companies.

You do also have other options. As you said you weren't abducted and forced to go on a visa run, it was your own choice, probably determined by the price, and as with everything in life you get what you pay for.

As an ex regional director and tourism consultant, surely your budget allows you to entertain other options, such as flying, getting a tourist or non-imm visa, or as you are married and have dependents even a marriage visa. Car rentals that you can take off the island are also available.

Apart from cost, the main reason people do these visa runs is (for whatever reason) because they can't bear to be away for more than 1 day - how sad is that!

Posted by Del on March 25, 2014 13:54

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i also hve had bad experiences with visa buses . been told to f .. off . threatened with violence .. when we got to phuket . got out and caught a cab . i,ll never do bus again .. get a plane to singapore . all in its an extra 8,000

Posted by sean on March 25, 2014 14:05

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Life is of little value here. I always wonder why so many drivers even if not caring about others seem to also value their own life on a very low level. Considering that there is next to no social security in Thailand, one would assume they would at least worry about their families. Without them earning money and supporting the household income the whole family might get in serious trouble. This thought however really seems not to bother any of the drivers.

Well, on another note this whole issue is quite clearly a case for proper law enforcement on traffic regulations. We know well how good this works and it's even internationally recognized that Thailand is one of the deadliest countries in terms of road accidents. This doesn't stop tourists from coming though.

Posted by Jakub P. on March 25, 2014 14:21

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Could the OP explain why he has to make visarun? He says he has a Thai wife, so he qualifies for 1-year extension that would avoid him to make visaruns again.

Posted by Oukiva on March 25, 2014 14:22

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Some video footage would be useful support in taking your case to the bus company. Thais are taught to deny wrongdoing until forced into a corner by irrefutable evidence. Even then, you get anger at being caught out rather than any admission of culpability.

Posted by Rockderk on March 25, 2014 14:50

Editor Comment:

Precisely why the dashboard camera becomes an argument settler.

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Oukiva and others. Here we see a typical downhill slide on discussions. The posted story is about the danger/s of visa runs, but for some reason a few readers turn it into, why someone needs to do these runs. You seem to miss the point and hijack the discussion simply so you can "shoot" the writer. Why do you find this necessary? Is it so hard to stick to the posted story and the reason for it.

Posted by Laurie Howells on March 25, 2014 15:15

Editor Comment:

I agree. It's a perverse condition and some readers are chronic sufferers.

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In full agreement with you. On my Penang run I shared the back seat with 4 large full fuel cans.

Posted by Anonymous on March 25, 2014 15:49

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Good work fella. Dash cams are a great idea. Seatbelt fitted as standard also might help. The times they are a changin. Let's make phuket even better.

Posted by GazB on March 25, 2014 16:37

Editor Comment:

''Let's make Phuket even better.'' Sorry Gaz, I just had to quote that.

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Whatever reason Mr. Ridgeway went for this visarun and despite what u all think about he should fly or get another tipe of visa its not the topic. Yet this visaruns are high class risk.. absolutely insane and should be put to an end.. ( i do my visaruns to Cambodia and take time off from phuket for 2 week or more but i guess i am of the lucky guys.. any way suggesting that Thailand should have same visa laws as Cambodia is not a good idea either coz the Island of phuket would be full of non wanted mates....

Posted by frog on March 25, 2014 17:06

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I have also travelled with these minibuses in Thailand and i can say i felt the same. It was like the driver thought he was on a race track. I will never travel with these again. I would rather pay for a taxi or better, rent a safe SUV.

Posted by Anonymous on March 25, 2014 17:07

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I agree the driving is a disgrace, and now take a flight to KL every 3 months. Its more expensive, but i'm not prepared to put my life in the hands of these people any more.
Good luck with the campaign.

Posted by jimbo34 on March 25, 2014 17:12

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I agree with you 100% , i am so so lucky that now i am over 50 and have a retirement visa that i don't have to endure what you described anymore. Actually the last time i did the visa run to Burma was in 2005 and it was because of the ridicules dangerous driving of the mini bus driver that since that horrifying day i have never set foot inside a mini bus again.


The mini bus was owned by a well known hotel in Soi Sansibi and at set off from Patong at 08.00 am , i chose to sit in the front alongside the driver . By the time it got to the Tesco Lotus junction at 08.15 am , it was obvious that the driver was a maniac and four people banged on windows and demanded to be let out , they chose to walk back to Patong . What you explained in your write up is basically the same experience i had , overtaking on blind bends , tailgating , driving at absolutely ridicules speeds ect. At Kolak two more people chose to gert out and make there own way back to Patong.


Somehow the driver made it all the way to Ranong and back to Patong without an accident , which i found unbelievable , the experience made me actually feel physically sick for a few days after and had a traumatic effect on me , to the effect that to this day i will not get inside a mini bus. I had been on about 10 visa runs before , but this particular one was absolutely terrifying.

Posted by Peter O'Connor on March 25, 2014 17:14

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I think anyone who has had to do Visa runs would agree they would rather pay the money to THAILAND than to these crazy drivers who probably break the law by driving too many hours non stop.
1900 Baht to immigration is better than whatever a visa run costs now adays.
I agree with Ciaran about flying to KL.

Posted by Tbs on March 25, 2014 18:35

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thank you Reid Ridgway

Posted by maprao on March 25, 2014 18:55

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Expats Unite !! Expats Unite !!! Expats Unite!!!
Sailor, Not true!!j You can own a company and have employees and STILL have to to leave every 90 days- just like I will have to do next week.

Posted by The Night Mare on March 25, 2014 19:06

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This particular case has got very little to do with tourism. The absolute majority of tourists will not stay for more than 30 days in Thailand. And if you plan on staying longer, you can apply for a 60 days tourist visa in your home country.
Very few, if any at all, of the people doing visa runs are "tourists" but rather people that live and work, legally or illegaly in Thailand. So it is in this case too, but people always want to make a "tourism issue" out of their bad experiences, because of the attention it brings I guess. Of course, terrible and dangerous driving is a general problem in Thailand, for everybody including tourists. But to a lesser extent since the typical tourist will get on a bus, go the their beach resort and take a tuk tuk ride a few times during their typical 2 weeks of vacation before getting on a bus again to go to the airport.

Posted by christian on March 25, 2014 19:07

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Dear Del, I run a horse business and have a one year B visa, yet I have to leave the country every 90 days for a border stamp. I take the shortest possible trip as I worry the horses will run into a gate left open, will step on a rake left out, or will develop colic and it will go unnoticed, etc..,etc.,... etc. I worry they are in danger because my workers simply do not care enough even though they are paid over twice the minimum wage, which is why I cannot afford the minimum 4 workers a one year extension requires. I am on a budget. So please consider this when you choose to denigrate us overnight 90 day border runners.

Posted by Christy Sweet on March 25, 2014 19:40

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Avis would have rented him a car for 750 baht for the day and he could have driven himself.

Personally I'd rather pay a bit extra, rent a car and stand a greater chance of being alive at the end of the day!

Posted by Ted Turner on March 25, 2014 20:17

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Glad you made it back Reid. A few months ago I started the Phuket Visa Run Rideshare Network facebook group because of these visa run death races. A good friend lost his leg on a visa run and the Filipino girl that was recently killed was a friend of a friend.

Posted by NomadJoe on March 25, 2014 20:52

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The visa run drivers are notorious for their dangerous driving. I think most people who have been here for a while already know this, whether they use their services or not.

Nobody is 'forced' to use their service either. Yes, it is cheap and to a certain extent you do get for what you pay for. This however, is no excuse for the drivers to blatantly put everyone's life at risk through such recklessness.

I for one enjoyed the danger of the visa runs when I did them in days gone by. That's one of the things I enjoy about Thailand. It can be a roller coaster ride.

What I find disappointing about the whole charade is that the Thai immigration is losing out, at least inside the country, of untold billions in lost revenue that they could be otherwise claiming.

It would be easy for the immigration department to allow a tourist to renew their visa inside the country for a fee. They could even charge what it would cost for a visa run and get away with it. They could do this for an amount of time before one had to leave the country for another set amount of time, or obtain the proper visas to stay as a non-tourist.

A dashboard camera was brought up in a recent reply. I think this is an interesting idea and one that other countries such as Russia seem to have adapted. Their are numerous videos online showing the antics that the drivers in Russia pick up on these cameras. I imagine Thailand would also have its fair share of insane footage. Drivers could also use the recording as evidence for insurance purposes. Maybe insurance companies could change their premiums to reflect the use of a dashboard camera.

Posted by Matt on March 25, 2014 21:05

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Ted Turner, Not everyone can drive 18 hours in one day, or even afford to take off work two days and rent a car for 2000 baht plus gas , plus tax plus hotel. Good grief, these border stamp (and visa) runs are absurd and all about making money for Thais at the expense of foreigner safety !!

Posted by Christy Sweet on March 25, 2014 21:23

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All you VisaRun happy farangs or story excerpists, it is true. VisaRun vans are driving extremly dangerous. That is a hazard to everyone on their way. Not only the havingnotproper Visa people inside the van. In the towns on the way people know the crazy drivers coming at 10 am and back around 3 pm or so. They drive through town with little regard for others. And it does not stop there. Only in a hotel shuttle to Khaolak or Krabi u can complain to the hotel and the very insane driver will move to other tourist groups or VisaRuns. So the worst may end up there, because who cares if u complain there?
Btw. I was witness to a driver paying off police for the company vans, so no hassle for them on the way.

Posted by Lena on March 25, 2014 21:26

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I feel the need to clarify something for all the dim folks who point out my other options. This is not about me. The article is about the lack of enforcement of reasonable safety for a whole industry that is guaranteed clients by Thai law. Not only me. It's about pushing for a change so that anyone, regardless of their financial means, how long they stayed here, or how many kids they have, who find themselves in need of this service, can expect to be driven in a safe manner. Get it?

Posted by Reid on March 25, 2014 23:56

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After reading some of the comments basically saying, "This is the way it is...deal with it or leave." Would you have told Gahndi and Rosa Parks the same thing?

Posted by Tyree D. on March 26, 2014 01:31

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The man is correct...minibus drivers whether on visa runs or not are notoriously agressive drivers. This also applies to the majority of intercity buses. Seen them speed through busy rural market areas horn blaring only to stop a few kilometers down the road. Saw a minibus load of Thai passengers near local village leave the bus apparently because the driver was drunk.
The issue is still lack of enforcement.

Posted by David on March 26, 2014 06:25

Editor Comment:

No need to exaggerate, David. Some bus drivers are the problem. Many drive well.

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A flight to Singapore cost 4'000 Thb round trip. Departure at 10:00 and back at 21:00 the same day with Jet Star. I stop those suicide missions to Ranong 15 years ago already. It's not worth my life. But I am surprised when you write that your rented car can not leave the island. This is a cheap excuse from the renting company. From police sources, nobody can forbid you driving through the bridge with a rented car. The only reason they said that (the renting companies or indivudals that rent cars) is because it's gonna cost them too much to pick up the car if any mechanical problems occur outside the island.

Posted by Jay on March 26, 2014 09:00

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Staying in Khao Lak I do my Visa Run in our hire car to Ranong and are passed both ways when these lunatics blow past. Particularly worrying is that on their return trip through the Khao Lak area it is school closing time and you have convoys of these idiots putting not only their passengers and other road users at risk but loads of kids in their school buses. I just can't understand those ho in any way try and excuse this madness by pointing fingers at the passengers.

Posted by Alan on March 26, 2014 09:05

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thailand is ranked 3rd country in the world for road deaths. Dangerous drivers should have their license canceled.Responsible are also operators who hire these drivers which should be punished;

Posted by Anonymous on March 26, 2014 09:14

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While I agree with the article, the drivers act like teenagers given whisky and car keys, and the entire 'industry' in unnecessary and could be a clear source of revenue for Thailand itself.

What I am baffled with, is a why a man married to a Thai nation, who also has Thai children, therefore has many options available to him that do not require ANY visa runs, ever. Someone who seems to have been living here years. Why they would put themselves through this entirely preventable situation.

I agree, there is a large 'hole' in the visa regulations, for single retirees, with adequate funds to live here indefinitely, under 50 years old. But that does not appear to be the case.

Posted by LivinLOS on March 26, 2014 09:24

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I seem to remember an article, maybe ten days ago, regarding police carrying out drug tests on bus drivers and the results were frightening. I think the test figures proved 20% positive, (maybe Ed could clarify that). That is an astonishing statistic. I've been on a visa run, many years ago. No point in the story, suffice to say, once was enough. Reid should be thanked for putting his story here, it may well save a few lives. Unfortunately, there are a lot who don't see the big picture and aren't happy unless they are spouting vitriolic nonsense.

Posted by Sudo Nim on March 26, 2014 09:27

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I understand the writer and in no way wish to criticize his decision(s), however, I do have one question, did he go to the tour company, and speak directly to the owner/operator and explain what happened? It's wonderful that he is speaking up now, but unless he goes and speaks to that owner and tells him what happened and what the ramifications are, then his words are for naught. Anyone who has been around knows the scenario that was described and has had their own brush with death courtesy of these drivers. However, the owners have to lose some revenue before they will have an incentive to act. If there is no cost, then they will do nothing and laugh at the suckers who use their services. As an aside, considering the time, costs and safety margins involved, the more prudent alternative is to get on a cheap flight to do the visa run. There is no need to take these vans any longer.

Posted by Ryan on March 26, 2014 09:49

Editor Comment:

There may not be the need for some, but others will still seek the lowest-cost alternative. And as long as some of the visa run drivers flaunt safety, other road users will be endangered.

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Well written and on point. Most drivers are law abiding, good drivers while some should not be behind the wheel of even a go cart. I can't find the figures from a previous article that you posted Ed but the drug testing in 1 stop of drivers netted somewhere around 20% of the drivers were on drugs? Seems more of these checks are due to weed out the worst offenders.

Posted by Jon on March 26, 2014 09:53

Editor Comment:

That recent article may have been published elsewhere but the figure is not surprising.

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just fly or catch taxis for your visa run if it's that important to you..... a cinch!

Posted by nol on March 26, 2014 10:23

Editor Comment:

As others have said, noi, this is not about personal choice but about ending the danger to all road users posed by the visa run drivers who don't drive with care. If you wish to think only about yourself, the answer comes easy.

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I have repeatedly experienced similar situations and am fortunate enough to still be alive to tell the tale.

12 years in Thailand + you have a Thai wife & children? Haven't you learned your lesson by now?

It is exactly this sort of craziness that forced me to relocate my family and investments elsewhere. Hasta la vista Thailand!

I suggest taking your family to live in any of the other amazing, friendly & cheap countries within the region where visa regulations are much more farang friendly.

Flying out is not much more expensive & besides what price can you put on your life?

Posted by Big Harry on March 26, 2014 21:27

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Had a visa run last Monday.
Absolutely crazy, I was glad to be next to the driver so I at least had a seat belt.
I will drive by myself next time.

Posted by william on March 26, 2014 22:41

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"As others have said, noi, this is not about personal choice but about ending the danger to all road users posed by the visa run drivers who don't drive with care. If you wish to think only about yourself, the answer comes easy."

A massive task, a Don Quijote journey in SE Asia, hahaha!

Why do you all want to change the ways of "Asia Man"?

You are acting like the former imperialists 200 years ago, can't you see that?

Let them develop in their own pace, make their own problems, and please stay out of this if you are farang, YOU are a guest here, so shut up or move away.

Thank you...

Posted by Wilai on March 27, 2014 01:22

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In December we took a tourist van from Phuket to Phang na, en route to one of the islands, should have driven my truck, but the package included transportation. No excuse in hindsite. There will be no next time in those vans, god willing. In the front passenger seat, I wore out my right foot applying the phantom brakes. The driver was either constantly texting, while weaving in and out of lanes,or talking non-hands-free on it, as he was obviously conducting some sort of business deal, about 20 times back and forth to the same person.

Posted by Dean on March 27, 2014 02:26

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I know this article was written to raise awareness to a problem but the writer/Expat runner has some self awareness issues. #1 would be getting back in the van for round two of " Russian Roulette". A person with common sense would not do it. I find the Visa runner to not be that smart. Evidence is the fact he does this 12 times a year.( Get a real Visa)It would be cheaper in the end. Cost effective and security for his family that he will be there for them.

Getting rid of bad drivers in Thailand will happen the same time as the Taxi Mafia leave Phuket. Don't hold your breath.

FACEBOOK as a petition page? Really, FB, I don't even have an account. Do you think friending a public official and sending a copy of this is a direct legal way of doing this or something a teenager would do.

I am not being mean toward the passenger of the visa run just saying what I got out of his words.

I also agree with Ryan about speaking to the owner of the company. If there was an accident he would loose 1 vehicle, lost revenue, and have law suit against his company from victims involved. The owner might want to know and have the driver fired.
Again not trying to be mean, I know you are trying to raise awareness but PW doing something officially would be more affective than his campaign. You are a credible source for an official to listen to. Peace

Posted by john on March 27, 2014 07:39

Editor Comment:

john, PW is a news outlet, not an expats' nursemaid. We are advocates, not activists. Creating awareness of the issues is a great step forward and we commend Reid Ridgway for his courage. We hope he continues to fight on behalf of all travellers on Thailand's roads. These drivers pose a threat to everybody, even those like you, john, who think that not making visa runs provides a self-interested solution. The visa run van you cleverly avoided may be coming around the next corner, heading straight at you. To constructively criticise this article and this reader's campaign for change, you need to proffer serious alternatives. Put-downs have no value.

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Wilai, it really is immature of you to tell farang to "shut up," as we have a duty, yes a duty, to help teach Thais about safe driving, after all we introduced them to cars. We, farang, are guilty, but are trying to correct our mistakes, however, it seems many Thais do not want to learn and people, like yourself, are not helping. With your attitude more people, including Thais ( men, women and CHILDREN) will die.

Posted by Laurie Howells on March 27, 2014 08:03

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Wilai, perhaps you are one of the van drivers being discussed here, or perhaps one of the visa run company owners. I cannot see any other reason why you would speak in such a rude and ignorant manner.
Don't worry,the farangs are already starting to leave, and many more will follow. Then the tourists will stop coming too. Then what will you be saying when the people who line Thai peoples pockets are no longer here?

Posted by phuket madness on March 27, 2014 09:58

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@ Wilai. Have you also acquired the syndrome of your eyes too close together? You can look through a keyhole with both eyes open. The tourists are leaving, the expats are going back home or to Chiang Mai and you come with a very shortsighted view on your countries future. Yes it is that more locals die from these mini vans than do farangs, sure we have to do visa runs, but we still have to drive on the same roads as the killer minivan drivers do. Your great caring and understanding nature is only surpassed by your great physical beauty.

Posted by Robin on March 27, 2014 14:17

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Wilai, you sure seem to have an axe to grind, so make sure it's razor sharp, because your words don't make you smart like a fox, more like an un- Wilai (wily)coyote?

Posted by Dean on March 27, 2014 21:28

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I don't care about who you are, what you are doing in Phuket, and what your NGO agenda is. Most of the commenters here are not tourists, but apparently a special breed of farang misfits who have more time to pollute PW with their stupidity than working out there in real life. You are misfits most of you, and cannot be taken serious. If a farang is so stupid to wanna live here +12 years, and go on Visa Runs every month, then HE has a problem! IF you still want to stay here like that, then take a plane, train or boat, so you get off that suicide Van ride. Just my friendly advise, but it's difficult, more and more stupid farang here, solly...

Posted by Wilai on March 28, 2014 02:01

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me and thai freelancer"eim" went on a trip to myammar last year just for te /my experience the driver was a well nice fella/ careful chilled out driver in all a good experience

Posted by ayjay on March 28, 2014 07:01

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Wilai,
You have made an assumption and stated it as fact- no where does M. Ridgway state this is done every 30 days. The fact is that a majority of expat resident B visa holders have to do a border stamp run every 90 days.

And to the suggestion about flying to Singapore, they no longer issue B visa, or so I've read

Posted by The Night Mare on March 28, 2014 08:56

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Something the companies should be made to do on over night trips to Malaysia is require two drivers. Most would be happy to pay an extra 200 baht to pay for this as it would eliminate a lot of the danger not having a fatigued driver.
Drug testing commercial mini-bus drivers at the SarasinBridge border might be a good idea, too.

Posted by The Night Mare on March 28, 2014 09:08

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Same story here in Pattaya.
Very fast and dangerous driving and risking lives of the passengers. I refuse to take these MiniVans again for VisaRun... the booking agency know the reason why. Next time will take the airplane for sure.

Posted by Bullitt on March 28, 2014 15:20

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@ Wilai. I've just learned about your illness.
Let's hope it's nothing trivial.

Posted by DuncanB on March 28, 2014 21:50

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I did some Visa Runs myself. In the beginning I also did it with a company, but got lucky not to made the same bad expierence. Now I do this always on my own. I take my car or a regular bus and I honestly enjoy those trips.
I am also married to a thai wife and in this case I also think there should be a change of law, not only with the Visa but also with the possibilty to buy land and houses.

Posted by Volker on March 29, 2014 13:16

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I spent three months in Thailand this winter and took several bus trips. The driving standards are getting worse and most should not be allowed to have licences. Being on the road is I think more dangerous than any other activity in this country.

Posted by abo631 on March 30, 2014 20:02

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Attention people, this is not a tourism issue but one of immigration. Repeat after me, "tourist don't go on visa runs, aliens do". Aliens who don't want to return to their homeland. The driver is aware of this, he holds you in contempt and communicates the sad fact in various ways; laughs at your wimpy threat, flips you the bird, order you out, drives dangerously etc. He knows you can do nothing, he is not acting alone. The driver, his boss, the police, Thai politicians hold you in contempt also. Go report this incident to the police and see how far you get.

Having said that, this is an offensive crime and something must be done but don't expect Thai authorities to help.
What you can do is get video proof and post it on the internet for the world to see, seeing is believing. Keep your phone charged and close at hand for your protection. When your video is viewed by a 500,000 people, the Thai authorities might consider taking action. BTW, your brave talk of physically wrestling control of the vehicle is a joke, forget it, you don't sound like someone who has lived here for 12 years.

Posted by Adam on March 31, 2014 02:19

Editor Comment:

Adam, this is your first post so somebody should tell you that word like ''aliens'' and ''foreigners'' are frequently misused. If you feel like an ''alien'' or even perhaps even a ''foreigner'' anywhere, it's probably time to head for somewhere more comfortable for you.

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these people should not be allowed to risk the lives of others on the road with the don't give a damn attitude

Posted by scott on March 31, 2014 10:16

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I agree wholeheartedly. Have had the misfortune to be stuck in vans driven by these morons on several occasions. After a serious near fatal crash in KL, I vowed never again to sit in a van with some idiot incapable of driving in a safe manner. Since then I have baled out of two vans after they started driving like morons. Lesson is that you don't have to put up with it and the sooner people object the better.

Posted by Barry on March 31, 2014 11:56

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-BEN-
Again, which is that "proper Visa"? If I do not have the required funds for a year visa, have to get shorter solutions! And make Visa runs!

Posted by Alfred on April 1, 2014 00:25

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Seems the general consensus is the visa run in a mini bus is a kamikaze mission, far as the drivers concerned he has placed a religious medal on the dash what could go wrong he's now invincible and bulletproof.

Posted by slickmelb on April 2, 2014 21:19

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This is quite a bit of hyperbole and leaves the reader with a lot of questions about your personal circumstances. That really detracts from a couple of important subjects. The first is the driving standards in Thailand being completely out of control. The second is the visa process which is completely crazy. Those two things need to be fixed more than anything, not some huge campaign against a specific driver or visa run company.

There are indeed safer options. In your post you make it seem like there is just no competition. However, this is just completely untrue. When I was in Phuket I took the option of renting a car myself and found other people to split the cost with. I also took the option of flying in/out of Kuala Lumpur in the same day. You could also find a reputable visa run company I am sure if you actually put in some effort. Another option would be to hire a taxi for the day. So from a practical standpoint you haven't got to put yourself into that death trap again if you don't want to.

Posted by David on April 3, 2014 00:31

Editor Comment:

''Completely out of control.'' ''Completely crazy.'' Isn't this hyperbole?

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I've been doing the visa run to Ranong for 10 months (with my kids). The first couple of vans I took had me fearing for my life. I had to grab on to both the kids the entire time (they hated it and cried) since there are no seat-belts and the fast curves made them slip and slide all over the seats. The past two visa runs I've done with another company to the Andaman Club and their drivers are not only nicer but drive much safer. Sure, they still go a bit fast once everyone on the van is asleep but they don't do the madness curves getting on the wrong side of the road. Either way I hate having to travel 10 hours on highways without carseats for the kids so I just try and stay calm and hope and have faith that we get back home in one piece.

Posted by Orana on April 4, 2014 01:49

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'Completely out of control.'' ''Completely crazy.'' Isn't this hyperbole?

Not in the case of Thai driving skills and visa policy, no.

Posted by phonus balonus on April 4, 2014 09:10

Editor Comment:

I think anyone who uses Thai roads understands that there are good drivers and bad drivers. The mix may vary from place to place, but not all drivers are bad and the traffic is not ''completely crazy.''

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Oh what a whine,....... yes for sure he silver & white shuttle vans are driven by M150 fueled nuts.....

But please do not pretend it is a legite run demanded by Thai immigration

It is a runfor cheap charlies staying on a sketchy form of visitor pass.
Your lucky anyone drives your cheap butts over the border.
Put 400k baht if your married to a Thai or 800k if your not in a Thai bank to show your not going to be a burden & get a real 1 year visa extension.
Then you can stop whining about your cheap rides

Posted by lawson on April 4, 2014 09:34

Editor Comment:

There's the important issue of public safety on the roads, whether you're in a visa run van or driving with them, lawson. To personalise the issue is to miss the point. You miss the point. People whose only concern is money often do.

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Soon you can write another story how they 'fixed' your car. Dashboard camcorder is must to have if you have to drive car in phuket.

Visa things are not so simple..
I have always had one year multi entry O visa.
I still have to exit country every 3 months.
It doesn't matter how much you have money in Thai bank account. You have to have proof of income. After proof papers disappeared 2nd time with all needed stamps and official translations. I just decided to give up and have a visa run every 3 months. NOT WITH MINIBUS TO BURMA!

Posted by jj on April 5, 2014 13:39

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@wilai @lawson,
You are both off the point! How many people, tourists, farangs , Thais , kids, have died in the last year due to these crazy ignorants ? And you both must be ignorant for not admitting the truth that these mini van drivers are not fit for the road.

Posted by Elizabeth on April 5, 2014 23:24

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@Elizabeth: People are free to do whatever they want, ALSO take a dangerous ride in a mini-van for app. 12 hours. I did it from Samui to Ranong once, but never, never again, I tell you it was a nightmare, and this was app. 10 years ago. Nothing has changed.

Posted by Wilai on April 6, 2014 04:02

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I didi it one time........never again

Posted by David Rejwan on April 7, 2014 14:12

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Totally agree with sailor's comments, also totally agree with the Thai navy suing you lot. This is a developing country, what did you expect? You pushed it too far, and now when it's time to face the music, you're whining and whInging...

Posted by Anonymous on April 8, 2014 10:37

Editor Comment:

You're not getting any braver, are you Foreigner/Hotel Manager/Ian/Mark/Phil and now, Nameless.

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Sounds like a pretty hairy experience and like anyone who has lived in Thailand for some time I can agree that mini Vans are death traps, drivers are compelled to make the trips in minimal time or lose money. However no one makes you take a mini van or even go on a visa run, there are visa;s which allow you to stay in Thailand without leaving every so often, if you are married to a Thai get a Spouse visa then no problem. Also how can you go on a visa run to another country and not even take a few thousand baht or credit card with you.
There is always an alternative!!

Posted by SteveO on May 7, 2014 00:04

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SteveO, people who make comments, like yours, make me scratch my head, it is plainly obvious, at least to any reasonably thinking person, that if there were other "options" available then no one would take the vans, but it is plainly obvious, to thinking people, that these "options" are not available to everyone. Not everyone is in the same "boat" as you, think yourself lucky but also think about others. One must ask, do you actually live in Phuket?

Posted by Laurie Howells on May 8, 2014 08:33

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I don't mind the day trip and boat to ranong.In fact I started taking the bus up from phuket & staying for a night or 2. I Thoroughly enjoy that experience........yesterday I Chatted with a visa run company owner and they're not doing ranong for the time being but going to Satun, further south ....& a longer drive.....which should put the willies up all you complainers........ Wouldn't mind checking that place out actually....

Posted by I enjoy my visa runs on May 8, 2014 13:40

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One effective solution, but probably unpopular among both expats and Minivan drivers, would be for Thailand to just make it illegal to do all these trips getting a "tourist visa". Maximum should be one new one month stay in your passport, after that you are obviously not a tourist. maybe make it compulsory to stay out of Thailand for a month before being allowed to enter as a tourist again. Would cut down on obvious law breakers who for some reason think it's their birthright to "live" in Thailand just because they want to, and would mean a lot less crazy minivan drivers gunning for the border every day.

Posted by christian on May 8, 2014 23:01

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i WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree!!! i have been terrorized multiple times on runs down to Penang- the last time, when i had pleaded for a bit of sanity in the driving (in Thai) the driver attempted to force me out of the van in a VERY bad, drug-infested alley in Penang- then tried to physically assault me when i refused to exit the van there... and this is coming from Krabi, not just Phuket

Posted by jenifer divine on May 14, 2014 13:32

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One short term solution no one has brought u, but one that I commonly use (in taxis around Bangkok mainly) is to offer a bit more money for a safe ride. Each person is the van chips in 100 baht, tells the driver to slow down for a 500 baht tip. I agree this in no way addresses the long term problem, but it may help get you home safely that day. My sister in law and mother in law frequently take minivans from Nakhon Sawan to Bangkok and back, they frequently complain about how bad the drivers are, so this isn't an issue just for long stay farang.

Posted by Brent on May 18, 2014 10:04

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Informative post! Shocked after hearing the news. Travelers have to wait for some time.

Posted by Tereza Lopes on March 24, 2015 17:55

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nice post and warning for someone about to visit.
I have a huge problem with people who feel a god given right to life threatening take risks on behalf of others. Not just the Visa run drivers but cab drivers in some places. I can't believe the twats who are saying otherwise in the blog below. I wonder if they would say the same from the vantage point of a wheelchair?

Posted by Anonymous on September 19, 2015 15:31


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