A big part of planning our world trip, and one of the monotonous tasks we had to do, included researching the various visas we would require as we saunter from one country to another. Some countries require you to apply for visas before you enter the country and others allow you to obtain a visa at your point of entry. When we looked into the Thailand visa requirements two things became apparent pretty quickly. First, it was clear that we would be able to organise our visa at the border crossing. Secondly, and more importantly for the topic of this blog, the condition of your passport would be taken into consideration by immigration officers before issuing a travel visa.
According to the UK government website for citizens travelling abroad, entry to Thailand will most probably be refused to individuals carrying damaged passports.
With this being said, my passport is in its eighth year of the allotted ten and I can honestly say that it has not aged particularly well. It has apparently aged in dog years, having the appearance of being much older than eight and should really be considering early retirement. I have to attribute the immense speed in my passports decline to too many vacations in the sun, too many Atlantic crossings and too many trips out to bars in my pocket to act as a form of ID. It seems that it is true what they say about too much sun and alcohol speeding up the aging process!
Any idiot looking at my well used passport will quickly notice the complete lack of gold emblem on the front cover that has long since worn away, the torn pages on the inside and the way the plastic cover on the photo page is coming away from the backing paper. In its current condition it could definately fall into the category of 'damaged' and could have definately lead to a refusal of entry into Thailand which would have catastrophic consequences to our future travel plans!
Bearing this in mind, as the day approached for us to head from Malaysia to Thailand I began to feel a little apprehensive about getting across the border successfully so the night before I said a quiet little prayer asking that there would be no problem once we finally got to immigration. In a place like Malaysia, there is no shortage of religions, temples, gods and shrines in which you can direct your prayers, however, having had a Christian upbringing I sent my prayer by way of the big man upstairs.
Now let me fast forward to the morning we headed to the border crossing by bus from Penang, Malaysia and introduce to you ‘Nikson’ the slightly eccentric, talkative individual who sat next to me. It was five in the morning when our bus left Penang and all I wanted to do was try and catch a little sleep and perhaps take my mind off my concerns about my passport’s condition. However, Nikson decided he was not going to allow me this one wish. Nikson is a Malaysian national who amongst other things has made a little money exporting stolen copies of Microsoft Office to the USA which to me was a slightly surprising confession during the early hours of the morning. He insisted on talking at me about the places he’d been, business contacts he knew and deals he’d pulled off. It was all pretty interesting stuff and he had an infectious, if slightly high pitched laugh. However, he would not take my hint of shutting my eyes and letting my head roll forward that I just wanted to sleep and after some time I gave up. At this point I thought I would voice my passport concerns to Nikson as he appeared to be a seasoned border crosser. Once I had described my predicament to him, he simply smiled at me revealing a full set of twisted, stained teeth in all their glory, and said ‘Bribe the immigration officer with some money left in your passport’. He said this as matter of factly as if he was giving me directions to nearest computer software store.
At first I thought he was joking but as it turns out this is the done thing in these parts and it helps speed up your way through immigration and limits the level of harassment you receive from the officers about ‘damaged’ passports.
So, in my passport I included a small amount of money and as predicted I sailed through immigration with no questions asked.
Now as I sit here in beautiful Thailand I find myself in a conundrum. I consider being allowed in the country and the proud owner of a Thai tourist visa with the condition of my passport as an answer to prayer. Whether this answer manifested itself in the form of Nikson and his matter of fact advice or in the immigration official accepting my small monetary incentive, the fact remains that my heavenly assistance appears to have been facilitated by a means that may not be considered strictly above board.
This is where my dilemma lies. I hear God moves in mysterious ways but can these include methods that are not exactly on the straight and narrow? Part of me believes I got the outcome I was looking for but I can’t feel entirely comfortable attributing this to heavenly powers when the answer to prayer I received requires me to then go to confession.