It was a holiday on Monday last week (6th of Oct) in Singapore and Malaysia because of Hari Raya (or Eid in other Muslim parts of the world) so I decided to tag along with my backpacker friends who often visit Malaysia and Thailand via coach. It was something I've always wanted to try because I often travel via air. So we went to Hat Yai, a city in the southern Thai province of Songkhla.
The journey began from Singapore, passed by immigration at the border (departure from Singapore and entry at Johor Bahru), went on to travel the entire Malaysia until the north and finally reached Songkhla after 15 hours. Yes, 15 effing hours on the bus. Hahah. Crazy, I know. Until now I still couldn't imagine how I managed to stand that. It was like taking a long haul flight from Asia to America sans the comfort of sitting on a nice plane seat while being served by lovely cabin crew.
To be honest, I was kinda shocked when I saw the checkpoint at Songkhla (Sadao). It was quite chaotic and people were scattered everywhere. On what seemed like a parking lot were a couple of booths (more like our toll gate booths in the Philippines). It didn't help as well that it was raining so the roads were muddy.
|Photo from: http://nostalgicofluna.blogspot.sg/2011/01/kangaq-bukit-kayu-hitam-hat-yai-sadao.html|
My friends and I followed our fellow passengers and queued up to those booths. On each of the booth, "Passport Control" was written along with its Thai language translation. When it was my turn the lady immigration officer (who looked really pleasant, by the way) took my passport, scanned it a bit, smiled and told me, "Number 13". I didn't get it at first so I looked at her with my confused face and asked why. She just said, "Go to Number 13", which later I realized was booth number 13.
Number 13 was at the other side of the arrival area, quite far from the Passport Control booths. It was closed so I went to the next booth which happens to have the same signage as 13, "Border Access and Passport Control". In my head I was like, "Border access? I didn't drive a car to get here." To my surprise my friends followed me. The booth I went to first had a long queue of people so we decided to transfer to the next, which for some reason opened and it felt like it did just in time for us. Hahah. But a family of 7 Malaysians cut the line, leaving us waiting again for quite long. My friend then told me, "ikaw na nga mauna, nang wala na makasingit pa."
Finally, it was my turn. I handed my passport to the officer. To my astonishment he told me, "Pay 50". I asked why, he just said, "Pilipin pay 50". It was not my first time in Thailand so I was certain we didn't have to pay anything to enter the country. I am also visa-free as citizen of an ASEAN member country. Because I wanted it be finished as fast as it can (as our bus mates might kill us had we spent more time at the border), I just obliged. I took out my smallest Baht bill which was 500. Seconds later, it occurred to me that I was stupid because first, immigration officers are not supposed to collect money (there should be a cashier) and second, (if they do collect) they won't give you the change if you give them big amount. It was too late to bargain but I still tried my luck. My friend had a 50baht and I asked the officer if he could give me back the 500 in exchange for the 50 I got from my friend. To my disappointment he did not allow. He handed me my now stamped passport and asked me to leave. I was still begging for the 500 and even negotiated that I cover the 50 each 'payment' of my friends. All I could hear from him was, "No, no, no. Pilipin pay" on repeat mode. Then my ever fierce friend asked, "for what is that?" while the other friend was hitting her in the arm saying, "wag ka nang umapela.."
I never stopped negotiating and questioning him but when he suddenly stood and called a cop I was like, "Shettttt, hindi na po ako kikibo" Wahahahaha. I've read some horror stories about setting up people at the immigration, even the innocent ones. They might fabricate stories about us disrespecting authorities. F*ck, I didn't wanna be held in that awful place. Besides, the Philippine embassy is in Bangkok which is too far from Songkhla. Hahahhaha.
So there, the bastards just got 1500baht richer. If you think about it, 500 baht is equivalent to SGD20. Such a small amount I'd say.. but to not fight for what is right? I felt like a lost a million dollar. I am the kind of person who won't stop until I get to send my message across and be heard. I've always been the straightforward type, not the one that would just keep quiet. It saddens me until now that there are people who aren't fair. It's even more saddening that they are "public servant". What kind of government do they have?
As we walked toward the bus it came to me that maybe they were thinking I was some kind of an ignorant Filipino, because I used my new passport which only had 2 stamps (Philippine arrival and departure) and an arrival in Malaysia. As a resident of Singapore my passport has never been stamped there, immigration officers only scan our Singapore identification cards upon entry/exit. I had my old passport with me in case I would be questioned. I thought perhaps if I took it out along with the new one and my Singapore IC, the story could have been different. Or maybe they thought I was one of those Filipinos that illegally cross the Malaysian borders and work as whatever-kind-of-entertainer-you-call-them which is kind of odd because I was in my loose t-shirt, jeans and a pair of Chucks. So ragged for a hooker eh? Hahaha. Oh well... 'nuff said. Damage has been done and we can't do anything about it anymore.
Realization after this experience?
- If there's an available flight, fly. Saves time and energy, plus the possibility of having immigration issues is low (if you're a genuine tourist, of course).
- While it's always good to fight, there are some instances wherein keeping quiet is the best thing to do.
- Do some research on places you're visiting to prepare you for whatever it is that you may encounter. Too bad this trip wasn't really planned, thus it was the first time I never really did proper research and even failed to create an itinerary. As soon as I got an internet access I searched for articles about Sadao border and read similar horror stories from foreign tourists. Had I known... *sigh*
- If you've just renewed your passport, better bring your old passport to let them know you're a seasoned traveler and not an illegal alien wannabe aiming to cross borders. Hahah.
I had faith in the Thai people. I aways believed they are better than their neighbouring Asian people. I presented only my new passport just because I thought there was no point showing my old one. And I took out a 500baht because I was hoping he would give me back my 450. I am that stupid, I know. Hahaha.
*sigh* The bottom line is just.. I am sad, because I loved Thailand and it's people. I think they are one amazing nation.. well, except of course for this corruption thing. If you could label this as one.
And just like a heartbreak and failed romance.. I don't know if I can still handle seeing Thailand again. *sniff sniff*