The intricacies of getting a Thai visa in Vientiane make Maurits Escher’s stairs seem like a small folding step ladder. One moment you’re confidently striding upwards, the next dangling from monkey bars above a pit of writhing snakes.
There are religiously special times for a cascading series of spectacularly badly defined but rigorously upheld procedures.
Of course there is a lunch break where everything shuts down.
The signs are, naturally, in Thai. Despite having seen The Bridge on the River Kwai and The King and I several times we are surprised that we can make no sense of them. But still we hold ourselves erect and whistle a happy tune so no-one will suspect…we’re afraid. These fears, as they do, grow when we realise that even our intricate knowledge of Thai menus is virtually no help at all.
You are in Laos but fees must be paid in Thai baht. And like Kurtz you cannot help uttering “The horror. The horror” when confronted by the lines.
We had strode in confidently that morning with a song in our hearts…….
Seeing a line we joined it gladly, (now humming The March of the Siamese Children), but find out after a while (it’s the afternoon) it’s only visa pickups time, oh yes it is.
We are directed to Window 1 to pick up our forms. You can’t fill it out there and then and present it since this can only happen in the morning. Overnight you complete your form, change money into Thai baht, photocopy your passport and airline tickets, get 2 visa photos (slightly different size so you shave yours losing a bit of head or chin.)
Bright and early you arrive at 8.25am to find a queue there already. You join the queue. After a con-sid-er-able while you are directed to a building. You’re not sure where to, what for, or who by. No English she is spoke. In the building there are lots of signs suggestive of serpents wriggling through rice paddies.
There is another queue so naturally you join it, eventually, in the fullness of time you come upon a bank of surly secretaries. It seems that your form must be re-typed by these charming ladies, of course it must. After waiting for a while they hand you a number. You wait. They then type out your sheet but insist on inserting a number of mistakes. You sign, pay, and are sent back to the very long queue outside. Somewhat miraculously you are selected
(we don’t know under what criteria) to queue jump to the head of the queue (you don’t argue but look nervously at the only signs that are in English with dire warnings for queue jumping.) The lovely visa lady does a lot of examining, stapling, sorting, thumping and then directs you back to the building for more photocopying.
You’re getting just a tad wide eyed, sweaty and anxious by this stage so you beg to come straight back with the necessary.
She smiles beatifically and assures you. You dodge the mud (all visa applications must be clean so one slip and you’re back to the first circle of hell) get your photocopies, pay more money, gently edge over the mud again and proudly present the extra copies with the timid smile of a child that seeks approval. As a reward the beatific lady hands you a piece of paper to present after 1.30pm tomorrow.
The next day, like a weary soldier who has not only survived the battle but conquered you waltz past the long long queues and head straight for window 2, hand over any money they want (check there’s a visa) and get the hell out of there.