We were so excited to be returning to Brisbane to see our son and his partner, the granddogs and catch up with other family and friends.
All our preparations to leave the boat safely at Boat Lagoon Marina had gone smoothly and we had even found a very nice local yacht captain to keep an eye on the boat while we were away.
We took a taxi to the airport and after some confusion on the taxi driver’s part (as he hadn’t realised the new international terminal had opened the day before) made it to the correct check-in desk with loads of time to spare.
The check in process was speedy but in complete contrast at passport control we had to queue up for well over an an hour.So it was with great relief that we stepped up to the desk to have our passportS checked, be photographed etc.
Standing at the desk for what seemed an inordinate time I was just thinking “hmm no wonder the queues are so long….” when I noticed that Jonathan had been taken on one side by a couple of officials.
The next minute I too had been ushered to join the huddle. Everyone was talking at once – in Thai – and we were trying to understand what the problem was.
One thing became abundantly clear – we were not going to be allowed through passport control, the clock was ticking and our flight was starting the boarding process.
We just couldn’t understand what the problem was – no one had good enough English to explain and despite our rising panic and desperation, and repeated requests for a translator no one came to help explain.
It was a very vulnerable feeling. We felt completely powerless. Looking back it gave us the tiniest insight into how it must be for those who are stateless, completely in the hands of Immigration authorities, not able to understand what people are saying, being made to feel targeted, hearing raised voices all talking at once – our fate in someone else’s hands but not knowing what was happening. It’s unnerving and uncomfortable to say the least.
Turns out (and this we discovered later) if you enter Thailand on a boat of any kind and you obtain a thirty-day visa on entry, you must leave the country on that vessel. If you wish to exit by another vessel, plane, car, bus, donkey cart or foot you will be required to pay a bond of 20,000 Thai Baht per crew member (does not apply to “passengers”.) This cannot be done at the airport!
What we had forgotten is that last time I had flown out of Thailand we had previously entered on a multiple reentry visa and therefore there was no issue when I left the country.
We were escorted back to the Singapore Airlines check-in desk and the lovely woman there immediately transferred our flights to the following day and even checked us on in the same seats. That was a huge relief as we thought we might have to pay for new flights. Thank goodness we had paid just a little more and gone with Singapore Airlines- I’m not sure we would have received the same treatment with any of the budget airlines.
It was late by the time we arrived back at Boat Lagoon Marina and it seemed everyone was asleep.
Of course the marina office was closed and we had left our key in their charge. Fortunately, Captain Birdseye was able to break in to the boat and we collapsed into bed thoroughly exhausted.
The immigration authorities very kindly opened the office for us the next day even though it was Sunday. We had managed to get just enough out of the ATM (40,000 Thai baht) but that was our limit on two cards. We still had to hire a motor bike and eat!
We thought maybe they would allow us to pay just one bond (we only have one boat right?) but no, because we had put me down as crew rather than passenger we both had to pay a bond.
Fortunately I had a few Aussie dollars in my purse and again very luckily, there was a money changer open not too far from the Immigration office. We just scraped enough together to pay the bond, hire the motorbike, buy brunch and have enough left over for another taxi ride to the airport.
We have now learnt that if for example, you fly back to Thailand and then subsequently leave on your boat, you still have to pay a returnable bond.
However there is an alternative – a one-off non returnable payment of 1,000 Thai Baht. Note that you should always put one person down as skipper and the other(s) as passengers (not crew). In this way you can avoid having to pay the 1,000 baht for each person departing.
We were so relieved when at last we took off for Singapore. I hope that others will benefit from our unfortunate experience.