How does one even begin to recount the horror of realizing one’s passport is missing in the middle of traveling? Let me tell you, if you’re going to lose your passport, make sure it doesn’t happen in Thailand. I’ve now had the misfortune of having my passport stolen twice—once out of my childhood home in Hawaii, and recently during my solo trip through Bangkok. Although it was a bit of a nightmare to get my replacement passport on the road, it truly wasn’t the worst thing to ever happen. In fact, once I accepted the fact that my passport was gone and there wasn’t anything different I could do, I decided to view the 2 day process of getting my new passport as an adventure. After all, how many of you have lost your passport in Thailand?
This is essentially what happened in Thailand: I was finishing up some shopping at MBK superstores in the heart of Bangkok when I was approached by two New Yorkers. They had a fervent look about them that I was familiar with—fresh off the plane hit with culture shock and no idea how to navigate the city. These New Yorkers also happened to be from Colombia originally, so I took pleasure in using some of my Español to explain to them how the BTS (Bangkok transit system) worked. It took all of ten minutes, a rare time during which I subconsciously let my camera bag face my back rather than have it protected under my arm in front. By the time I’d set the New Yorkers on their way, I turned around and immediately stepped on my wallet. That’s when I realized their was a huge gaping hole in my camera bag. Since it was a well worn bag, I assumed it was natural wear and tear. It wasn’t until later on that night, at 4am precisely, that I bolted awake and realized my passport, which had been in my camera bag, was gone. I immediately dug through the bag and re-examined the hole, determining that it was a little too clean cut to have been natural. Passport: gone! And I was due to leave Bangkok to continue on to my next destination the next day.
After explaining to the owners of my hostel what had happened, they immediately told me to postpone my travel plans. The process of replacing your passport in Thailand is a pain, and I spent the better part of my weekend collecting all of the mandatory documents:
1)A copy of proof of citizenship (birth certificate or copy of passport)
2)A police report in the case of a stolen passport
3)Passport size photos
4)Copies of my airplane tickets detailing my departure from Thailand
Most of these documents were easy to obtain via emails to my parents and a quick stop at a local photo shop. The hardest document to get was actually the police report, and this was an adventure in itself. In the USA, it’s arguable that there are too many police all over the place, but in Bangkok, they’re actually quite hard to find, at least in my experience. I spent half of my Saturday running around to 3 different police stations, all of which were nearly impossible to find. None of the locals, even the tourist information booths seemed to have any idea where the cops were. When I did finally find the stations, 2 of them were completely shut down with not a soul in sight. I ultimately had to rely on my cousin and his Thai wife to help me find an active police station, then communicate with them to have the police report completed. I can’t imagine having an actual emergency in Thailand—there would be no police to my rescue!
After getting all of the necessary documents, it was time to head to the US Embassy and get everything processed. This ended up being relatively easy, and after about 4 hours of waiting around the embassy, I had a brand new temporary passport in hand. Now for the hard part that everyone in my hostel warned me about: traveling to the Thai Immigration Center to get an entry stamp; without one, my exit from Thailand was likely to be denied.
The main immigration center is up in Chattawattana, about an hour outside of the heart of Bangkok. Getting here required taking the Sky Train up to the very last stop (Mo Chit), then hailing a taxi to take me the rest of the way. Again, this ended up being pretty easy; the only challenge was finding a taxi that knew where the immigration center was. I called upon 3 taxis before I finally found one who looked at the map I showed him and nodded ok.
Per the advice I’d received from others, I arrived as early as I possibly could at 7:00am, an hour and a half before the office opened. I was warned there would be long lines of people, but to my surprise, most of the building was deserted. There were just a few janitors cleaning the floors, and they all gave me strange looks, shouting at me in Thai a few times. Finally, the clock struck 8:30am, and the office showed no signs of life. Fortunately, the information booth did, but when I questioned the booth staff, I received some bad news. “Sorry, this immigration office has been closed since the Bangkok protests began. You’ll have to go to Lad Phrao to get your stamp.”
I made a beeline for the front entrance of the building, frantically looking for a taxi. I was lucky that a motor bike taxi stopped to help, and after we enlisted the help of 3 other Thais to translate my destination to him, he handed me a helmet and we zipped off to Lad Phrao.
I’ve been a passenger on several motorcycles and vespas in my life, but nothing prepared me for the wild ride that I experienced in Bangkok. It turned out that the motorbike taxi was my best bet for getting to Lad Phrao quickly, as my driver was able to skillfully navigate around the crazy traffic that was backed up for miles. It was an experience that was both exciting and terrifying – there were multiple times I swore my knees would graze the sides of vehicles we were zipping past, but to my amazement, we made it in one piece, knees intact.
The motorbike taxi dropped me off in front of a huge commercial shopping center and told me to go to the fifth floor. I gave him a dubious look, but did as he instructed. Sure enough, on the mostly abandoned fifth floor of this shopping mall, there was a makeshift immigration center in full working order, stuffed full of people waiting their turn. All in all, it took about 4 hours of standing around before I finally departed the building with that necessary stamp in my passport. All that waiting for a stamp!
The lessons here are these:
1)If you must carry your passport on yourself, keep it close to your body. Normally, I have mine stashed in my hostel, but my hostel had been subject to theft recently, which is why I was carrying mine around Bangkok. Either way, the passport should have been around my neck or in my belt wallet, not on the outer pocket of my camera bag.
2)When travelings, it’s essential to have easy access to important documents such as proof of citizenship and a copy of your existing passport. Scan copies at home, and store them on Dropbox or some cloud service. You’ll be happy to have these if you ever need to replace your passport on the road.
3)If your passport is lost or stolen, it’s not the end of the world. These things do happen, and there are processes to quickly and (relatively) easily get an emergency passport issued. The one thing you do want to make sure of is that you fully understand what’s required to get the replacement. In the case of Thailand, you need to make an online appointment at the US Embassy to be seen, and you need at least a full day to get your entry stamp. These two requirements made me really glad I hadn’t made firm travel plans for the second half of my trip so that I was able to extend my stay in Bangkok to get these things done.