If you are anything like most other tourists visiting Thailand, you are probably going to get to here and realize that you want to stay longer than you initially planned. Alot longer.  You probably arrived on a 30 day entry stamp, which means that once that month is up, you have to leave the country. If you were smart enough to arrange a 60-day tourist visa before your trip, then you can extend it for another 30 days at an Immigration office within Thailand, the closest one to Koh Tao being on nearby Koh Samui, and involving a simple, although overnight trip. If you’re on Koh Tao, and your time is up after either of these, don’t fret, visa runs are common and relatively cheap, and have been made very straight-forward by the numerous competitive travel shops on the Island. In saying that, the journey is a long one, and can be quite tedious if you’re not prepared for it.

Visa Mini Bus

Visa Mini Bus

The easiest exit from Thailand, if you’re on Koh Tao or nearby, is across the southern border to Malaysia, and the closest place with a Thai consulate where you can apply for your new visa, is a city called Panang. You can buy a package ticket on Koh Tao, that puts you on the night ferry to Surat Thani, departing at 9:00pm, and arriving at 5:00am, giving you time for a quick breakfast before a connecting mini bus from there, over the border, through the necessary immigration and border control check-points,and into Panang. The border crossing should be quite simple, and not as scary as you think, although when you get there, your driver may charge you 10THB per passenger to get himself and the van through, so have that handy as it is usually necessary. This leg of the journey departs at 6:30am, and arrivesat 4:30pm, so it’s a long drive, and you should bring a book or laptop to keep you entertained, as well as some water and snacks, although there will be adequate pit-stops along the way. You will actually go forward in time 1 hour, because of the countries time difference, so it will be evening by the time you get there, but don’t worry, because if you head to a small travel shop/guest house called ‘Bananas’, they will be expecting you. After they exchange your Thai money, help you arrange your visa application for the following morning, and get you sorted with a room for the night (you’re better off paying a bit extra for something decent as the rooms are basic and considering the surrounding nights situation, you will need a good rest), you can have a beer in their foyer and use the free wireless internet.

Banana Guest House

Banana Guest House

There’s nothing really exceptional happening in Panang, apart from a massive shiny shopping complex (which can be comforting and useful if you’ve spent a while living ‘Island-life’ previously), but you will find everything you need for one night, and it’s not a bad place to wander around while you’re waiting to pick up your visa the following afternoon. ‘Bananas’ will arrange your package return journey to depart as soon as the visas are ready at about 4:00pm, and this will mean another mini bus back over the border, and through immigration, changing over to a normal big bus in Hat Yai, for the overnight journey to Chumpon. You will arrive in Chumpon at about 4:00am, giving you a bit of an inconvenient wait before you are transferred to the boat pier about half an hour away, in time for the 7:00am ferry back to Koh Tao, getting you back by about 10:00am.

Indian Curry Stall in Penang

Indian Curry Stall in Penang

The total cost of the trip including visa, food and water, transport and accommodation shouldn’t be more than 5500 THB, and you will be gone for about 60 hours. You don’t need to take much with you; one clean change of clothes, a jumper for the travelling nights, and a toothbrush and some soap should do it (take a towel if you can, but they are easily hired at guest house), as well as anything you can think of that is going to make those long journeys go quicker.

Shopping in Penang

Shopping in Penang

This is the most efficient way of getting yourself another 60-day tourist visa (with the option of extending 30 additional days later), or for applying for multiple entry non-immigrant visas (although this option can be much more difficult to obtain successfully, unless you have all the necessary documents and a substantial reason). If you’re looking at staying in Thailand even longer, then it may be worth looking into the even further journey (but still straightforward and simple), across the northern border to Laos, where they issue a double of the 60-day visa, giving you a total of 6 months altogether, including extensions.