top of page

Visa Runs, Civil Wars, and Viagra | A Myanmar Love Story


The boat was scheduled to pick us up shortly after 4am. The Thai sun yet to show its face as the four of us sit nervously by the side of the docks. Clutching my passport, a crisp US$10 note slipped inside, the unofficial price of a border run from Thailand to Myanmar, and one prescription for viagra, we anxiously waited.


2006 was a different time. Smartphones were barely a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye, wifi was a rare novelty, and influencers were still just peddling pyramid schemes offline. It was most definitely a transitionary period in the world of travel. The shift could probably be defined by the clear marker that was 2006. The noticeable change from pre-social media, honourable mention to the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forums, to a saturated and quite-frankly less exciting world of travel. Yes, flight prices may have plummeted, but it has since become a hell of a lot harder to get off the beaten track. Barely four years after this trip I returned to Thailand, it felt like 20 years of change.


But I digress, we had been in the country for 28 days and as is custom to extend your tourist visa for another 30 days you must leave the country and re-enter. Chuy, the friendly, barrel of a man who owned the cabins we were staying in on Koh Tao, recommended one such trip. Forget about going south to Malaysia, just take a little trip up the coast and pop into Myanmar, civil wars be damned, it'll be alright, he said.


The price of such excursion would be 500 Baht each, including a truck pickup, connection at the river with boat pickup, and return. Oh, and an unused $10 note for the Myanmar border guards apparently. Luckily Chuy sourced that side of the deal out too. Another aspect of the deal was that I was to source him some viagra. The little blue pill is almost four times cheaper in Myanmar, and much easier to come by, despite the fighting. We had heard gentle murmurs of the fighting next door, but as we had no intention of dropping by Myanmar, we never concerned ourselves with the details of the civil war. But, as things do, things change. We were left with little choice but to travel into the heart of darkness.


The small boat chugged into view, a lone beam of light illuminating the tranquil sea in front, and soon pulled up to the docks. A scrawny kid, barely seven, hops out onto the pier and lashes the small boat to the moorings as the captain, a steely-faced man wearing an Arsenal shirt with 14 and HENRY on the back, already a bad omen, greets us with barely a shrug and takes the envelope of cash from us. No words were exchanged as he steps back onto the boat, as the kid, all smiles, motions for us to climb aboard. Koh Tao disappears behind us as we chug our way to Surat Thani, a small town on the mainland.



We arrive at the docks of Surat Thani at daybreak. Disembarking, Henry doesn't even glance around to see if we'd all stepped off as the kid waves ecstatically as the boat fades into the horizon. None of us knew what to expect next, the ramshackle pier showing no signs of life, no buildings save for several wooden cabins with a Coca Cola sign. Two cars make their way through the jungle-lined road, their headlights illuminating the dust, flickering between the tall trees.


The cars, a silver Mercedes and a banged up Toyota Yaris turn the corner and pull up alongside the deserted pier. The door opens to the Yaris and a man steps out, a tight-fitted tee and aviator-style sunglasses, frantically talking on the phone in fast-paced Thai. Without breaking his rhythm, he gestures to us to get in the cars. Neither of us move, he takes the phone away from his mouth, and in broken English barks at us; "Car, now".


We each stand up, and gingerly make our way to the two cars. The passenger door to the Yaris swings open and another guy steps out. A short, thin man in flip-flops holding an envelope walks to the rear of the car and opens the trunk. "Bags?" He smiles at us, as we reluctantly hand him the bags. The fast-talking guy shouts something at the short one, his smile immediately fades as he ushers us in the two cars. We get split up and a part of me feels this isn't going to end well. The Thai sun continues its relentless rise above the jungle canopy as the two cars head towards the Thai border with Myanmar, and the ensuing civil war, and cheap viagra.


To be continued...

bottom of page