I guess not! My previous trip to Thailand, I landed at Don Mueang Airport Bangkok in the last week of August 2016. Something had changed. The old document check & Visa on Arrival (VOA) counters were deserted and there was a signboard pointing incoming visa seekers to a new area. This new area seemed like an improvement because I immediately noticed a new queue system complete with token numbers appearing on LCD screens. I felt good about that but only for a brief while. I was in a long queue. The only flight that had landed there at that time was the AirAsia flight from Bengaluru and apparently almost everyone in the VOA area at that time was Indian. It must have been a good crowd because the wait time to the first preliminary document check counter itself was 45 minutes. It was hard to wait standing in an almost stationary line after having spent a sleepless night in a flight. If you don't already know, AirAsia's airplanes have seats without any lower back support. AirAsia could have used curved seats without adding anything to the cost but perhaps that would keep them from selling some pillows onboard. Anyway, everyone waiting there along with me appeared tired and wondering what was going on. For the first time visitors to Thailand, it must have been a rather unpleasant experience. For the rest of us, it was just routine. That's what I was thinking but when I finally reached the document check counter, I was in for a new shock. There was a notice on display telling everyone that the Thailand Visa on Arrival fee would be increased to 2000 THB per person from September 27, 2016. Keep reading...
|Visa on Arrival at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport|
The first official Thai welcome after 45 minutes in the document check queue was the news that my next visit to Thailand would cost an additional 1000 THB. It was baffling. Thailand needs tourists or do they really? For the last few years, Thailand has had a military backed "appointed" government. There is no democracy. My first conclusion was that perhaps someone in the puppet government had gone crazy. Later I tried to think of other possible reasons. I am still thinking. But if it were only for the increase in the visa on arrival fee, I would not even have tried to write this article. The real problem is something else.
The document check counter had four seats for staff. Only one member of staff was present to check documents. There were two other immigration officials there standing there chatting with the lone 'working' official. If all three worked, my wait time would have only been 15 minutes. After the documents were checked and I got my token number I was glad to see some plastic chairs to sit and wait for the call from the VOA counter. At first all the chairs were occupied but a few minuted later I got to finally sit down. Some of my fellow Indians were sitting on the floor while waiting for the call. There were four VOA counters with room for 8 staff members. Only one counter with two officials was working. One of the two immigration ladies at the counter was slower than the other. Every time she finished with a visa applicant, she waited for 3-4 minutes before she pressed the call button for the next applicant. Behind the counter, at least 3 other immigration officials were standing/walking/chatting/making jokes/drinking coffee or whatever else but they were not doing what they supposed to do - process visa on arrival. My wait there was another 45 minutes. After finishing there, I learnt that there was another step to go. Just the visa part was over but immigration was yet to happen. That required leaving the VOA area and going out again, backwards, where there were immigration queues. Fortunately, the wait time there was only 10 minutes. After almost two hours of arriving at DMK airport, I had got my "visa on arrival". It was passengers from only one flight. Had it been two or three flights, perhaps the visa/immigration would have taken six hours, but that would be for Indian tourists only. From my experience I can tell that Thai visa/immigration officials usually reduce their working strength and speed to a third of the normal whenever a flight from India arrives and there are no other tourists from a different country.
I remember another incident from a few years earlier when I was in the VOA queue at Suvarnabhumi Airport. It was a flight from India and all passengers were Indian except for a lady who was from another country. Three document check counters were operational. Suddenly, two of the officials from the counters got up and left. The third and the last one came towards our queue and approached that lady who was not an Indian. He told her to go to the fast track counter but she did not want to pay an additional 200 THB. That shameless immigration official told her in front of us that there would not be any additional charge for her. Yes, she got the express visa at the regular price of 1000 THB. For all the Indians there, the wait time had suddenly increased to three times. Some of us asked if it was possible to take fast track visa. They replied fast track was available only if we were taking an onward domestic flight. Of course that rule was applicable to Indians, not to that lady from the other country.
There are other problems too. At Suvarnabhumi Aiport, Thai immigration officials repeatedly try to scam Indian tourists while they are leaving for India. At Phuket Airport, they forcibly take a bribe of 200 THB from Indian tourists before giving visa on arrival. You can read about these Thai scams here. But we Indians still keep visiting Thailand. There must be something in our culture that makes us fancy being unwanted guests.
P.S. Malaysia issues online visa for Indian tourists at a cost that is less than 2000 THB. A Singapore visa costs around Rs. 1900 if taken from Thomas Cook. Hong Kong and Macau allow visa-free entry to Indian tourists without any payment. There is a world beyond Thailand.
|Posted by Narinder Singh|