Many expats or longer term residents in Thailand have to leave the country every two or three months in order to obtain a new visa. Within Asia you can generally only get short term tourist visas. There are exceptions: Retirement visas let you stay in Thailand permanently, but you have to put a big chunk of money in the bank (about US $25,000.-), and you have to be older than 50. Work visas also allow you to stay in the country, but they are only good as long as you are employed by a company.
My visa is good for one year, but I have to leave the country every three months in order to get a new entry stamp in my passport. And once a year I have to travel to the US or Australia to get a new one year visa. Just recently it was again time to get a new visa, and I went to the US to get it.
I have traveled a lot in my life. I lived in 8 countries and have visited at least 50 countries. Actually I was working as an international tour director for 10 years, and many times I woke up in the morning and it took me a few minutes to remember which country and which city I was in on that particular morning.
Traveling can be fun, but I have to say that the trip from the US to Thailand is not my idea of a great time. The flight from Los Angeles to Taiwan (if you take China Air) takes 14 hours, one of the longest flights there is, and then another 4 hours to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Depending on where you originate in the US, the entire trip to Thailand can consist of three to five flights and a total of 25 to 30 hours of flying time and airport layovers. If you come straight from the west coast, you can make it with two flights in about 20 hours total.
Sometimes I am asked by geographically challenged friends where Thailand is exactly. My somewhat simplified but graphic answer is that if you drill a hole from the middle of the US right through the center of planet earth, you emerge in Thailand at the other end. The time difference between US central time and Thailand is 12 hours, so US noon is midnight in Thailand.
What this means is that your body is literally turned upside down in more than one way. If you think about it, if you stand in Austin, Texas, let’s say, and someone else is standing in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then your heads are pointing in opposite directions and your feet are pointing towards each other. It is like the other guy is hanging upside down below you. Of course gravity prevents anyone from dropping away from the earth.
If you would look at the scene from outer space, you could theoretically see those two people pointing in opposite directions. One of them is just waking up, and the other is about to go to sleep. Noon for one is midnight for the other. It is not natural to overcome such a huge distance in one day and be literally turned upside down both geographically and time wise.
But that is what is happening when you fly to Thailand, and the effect of this is called jet lag. It takes a few days for your body to adjust to the new location, climate, and time zone. Your sleep pattern needs to be reestablished and your stomach has to get used to new meal times. That’s why it is important to allow for some down time when you arrive in Thailand and not schedule all kinds of activities or travel in the first couple of days.
While traveling to Thailand is not exactly my idea of fun, arriving and being there is a lot of fun. You are greeted by friendly and smiling people, the pace of life is slower, there are lots of interesting places to see and just watching life go by in the streets can be a great show all by itself. Unlike the more sterile organization of the west, life in Thailand is pulsating, teeming, full of color, variety, and surprises.
You never know when you see that tiny motorcycle passing by with 4 or 5 people on it, or an elephant trudging along a city street, or a group of monks begging for food in the morning, or a festival taking over the street or the entire neighborhood. The long airplane trip will soon fade in your memory and it will all be worth it when you finally arrive in amazing Thailand, the land of smiles.