My favorite bag – A simple but sturdy canvas bag from Japan

As someone who practically lives out of the bag, it is important to get a good bag. There is this company in Japan that makes sturdy canvas bags. I like them for their utilitarian feel and classic looks.  They are a bit pricy at about 300 USD but they last a long time and handle all the rough you throw at them. Here is the manufacturer’s web (Japanese only).

The Matsuri (local festivals) in Japan

One fun adventure in Japan is to visit a Matsuri – local festivals usually around a shrine. Chances are that wherever you are staying, perhaps a couple of stations away, a Matsuri is happening. They usually run for a night to couple of nights. There is lot of local food and some fun games. The best way to find a local Matsuri in Tokyo is to look up the web

You can walk past the stalls and just point at the food you want to eat.  Snacks usually cost  100 JPY for a stick of grilled meat to 500 JPY for a pack of Yaki Soba. Drink cost around 100 JPY for soft drink to 200 JPY for beer. 

Shape of things

I met such a beverage holder. Note the depression on the surface. It is there by design to aid the grip. It feels natural and enjoyable to hold it this way. I remembered some words from a book on a well known American technology man. He used to say that implements should be designed in such a way that they invite users to use them.

Thailand visa on arrival for Indians, Chinese and others. The procedure, the documents and frequently asked questions

My Thailand trips have reduced to a trickle - 2017 is the first time in last 20 years where I skipped Thailand, so I can not longer claim to be up to date with the Visa on Arrival process and requirement. I am still leaving the post here for archival purpose. But please check official Thai websites for more accurate information. For example see the Thai Embassy in Singapore web site.

__ Archived __ The information below was last updated in early 2017 and may not be current _____________

Since 1997, I have used the visa on arrival (VOA) facility at several Thai airports and land border crossings. I am hoping that this guide will help fellow travellers. I made this as there is a lot of misinformation on the ad-filled forums and blogs.  Also please read the FAQs below, I have answered the most common questions there. 

A. What documents do you need for the Visa

A1. Completed visa form.You can get this form at a desk near the visa on arrival area, or you can download it from the Thai immigration website at - The page is in Thai, but it is the first download link on the page. 

Fill the part until the signature. Fill in everything that I have marked in the image below.
Make sure that you fill in the section that asks for the address in Thailand. They are very particular about this. Write In the name of the hotel you are staying at. If I am staying in multiple hotels in various cities, I will write in the hotel where I am staying first (or the hotel where I am staying the longest). If I am staying at a friend or a relative’s place, I will fill in their address. 

A2. Your Passport – Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months from the day you enter Thailand. If you have less than six months validity left on your passport, the airline counter at your home airport (and the immigration guys in your home country) may not allow you to board the flight. Thai visa and the immigration stamps take up one full page, so you need at least one empty page.

A3. Your boarding pass stub – This is part of the boarding pass that has your seat number and flight details etc. The stub also has your flight number (you need this number to fill in the Arrival/Departure card). The boarding pass is issued to you at your home airport when you check in for your flight. When you leave your home airport, the airline staff at your boarding gate will tear a part of you boarding pass and return the rest to you. 

A4. Arrival-Departure card

The flight attendants will distribute this card before the plane lands in Thailand.  The first page is the Arrival Card. Fill all the areas except the part that asks for the visa number. The visa officer who grants you the VOA will write in the visa number later. 

The back leaf of the first page has additional questions. The From/Port of Embarkation is the city where you started your journey. Next City is the immediate next destination after Bangkok. So if you are going to say Phuket after Bangkok, write Phuket. If you are only staying in Bangkok and going back to your home city (or the city you started your journey from), then write in that town.

The second page of this form asks for your departure flight. 

Sometimes, they run out of this card in the plane. You can find this card at the Visa on Arrival counter. At the Thai immigration counter later, the officer will keep the arrival part of this card, and staple the departure part to your passport.

A5. Your return or onward ticket or e-ticket printout.

Your return date must be within 15 days from the date of entry (visa on arrival allows 15 days, including the date of entry and the date of exit). So say if you enter Thailand on 1 June, you must return no later than 15 June.

A6. One recent photograph

Thai immigration website recommends that the photo is 4 x 6 cm.  I have used a photo that is similar in size to the photo in Indian passports; they are fine with it. There is a photo booth nearby that will take your photo for a small fee. Make sure that the picture that you use resembles how you look now (don't use photos from some years back).

A7.  The visa on arrival fee

Visa fee is 1000 THB ( see If you do not have Thai currency, you can get it at the 24-hour money changers near the visa on arrival counter at most Thai international airports. If you are crossing into Thailand by land, better get the money exchanges at the shops in the border towns of the neighbouring country.  

A8. Proof of ability to stay in Thailand

You will have to show money equivalent to 10,000 THB (about 340 USD) per person (if you are a solo traveller) or 20,000 THB per family (people travelling together in one party). They will not take this money. They just want to make sure you have enough money. This can be in any currency as long as it is equivalent to the Thai currency above. They do not acknowledge credit or debit cards. In Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) airport there are ATMs before the immigration where you can withdraw cash if you have to. 

A9. Hotel reservations print out -  They do not list this in the official requirement, but I got some emails from travellers who said they were asked to show hotel reservations. I have never encountered this request, so I think they are inconsistent about this. If you have already booked your hotels, just take a print out and keep it with you, just in case they ask to see it. If you are planning to stay with your relatives or friends etc., keep their phone numbers and business cards ready.

B. The procedure 

Look for the Visa on Arrival signs. They will lead you to the Visa on Arrival area.

If you arrive on a plane from China or India, most people will be going to this area. Note the money-changers just before the Visa on Arrival Counter.

Visa on Arrival process. Shown below is the process at Suvarnabhumi Airport, the process is similar or simpler (fewer steps) at other airports or land borders.

Walk to the visa on arrival desk. (point "A" in the figure). Collect and fill the Visa On Arrival form. This counter is open 24 hours. The official at this desk can usually speak some English and Chinese. Give your photo to this official, and she will staple it to your form.

Next, proceed to the queue (B) 

While you are waiting in the queue, make sure you have the following documents 

  1. Boarding pass stub
  2. Passport
  3. Completed visa form (with photo attached)
  4. Return ticket printout
  5. Completed Arrival/Departure form


  1. The officer at (B) will check your documents, collect the fee, and issue you a token with a number on it.
  2. Sit down at the waiting area (C) until an officer calls your number. The office will come to the waiting area and return your passport with the visa stamped on it. Collect your passport, and proceed to (D)
  3. At (D), the officer will stamp the entry date on the page that has the visa, staple the departure card to your passport, and return your passport. They will also ask you to stare at a small camera for a photo for their immigration records.
  4. Once done, you will find the baggage area just behind the immigration counter. (E)
The procedure at Don Mueang airport 

As a precaution, I always take a picture of the Thai visa and the stapled departure card as soon as I get them back. It helps to have this information if you lose the stapled departure card or passport etc.

The above photo shows the visa on arrival stamp. Note that it takes up one whole page on your passport.

Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. How long does the visa on arrival take?
A. My wait times have ranged from 10 minutes to 2 hours. (Though in recent times – in 2017- they have become faster at this). It all depends on how many flights from India and China arrive at the same time as yours. Check web services such as FlightAware for arrivals at the airport you are landing at (example: here are flights arriving at Suvarnabhumi, If you find flights from China/India/parts of Africa and Central Asia landing just before your flight then be ready to wait longer.  

Q2. How long is the Visa on Arrival queue in Don Muang (Bangkok), Phuket, Chiang Mai and other international airports?
A. Faster compared to Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang unless you arrive around peak seasons (long holidays in China). The process is also much simpler. There is often just one or two counter(s) that handles all the process.

Q3. My ticket is from Dubai (or some other city) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi and then to Phuket (or some other Thai city) from the same airport. Should I take the visa on arrival at Bangkok or my destination airport?

As a rule, now you have to get the Thai visa at the first Thai airport you alight at. 

if you already have the boarding pass for your domestic flight.

if you do not have the boarding pass 
Some domestic flights such as Thai Air Asia leave from Don Muang airport. If your next flight is from Don Muang, then you will have to get a visa on arrival before you exit the Suvarnabhumi airport. Getting to Don Muang airport from Suvarnabhumi via shuttle bus or taxi will take you 2 to 3 hours, so keep that in mind when you book your domestic flights.
Q4. Is it better to take a visa on arrival or should I apply for a visa at a nearby Thai embassy? 
A. If you have smaller children or senior folks in your party, I would recommend getting the visa in advance. Otherwise, visa on arrival is excellent. You can only apply for a Thai visa at the embassy if you have a residency permit in that country. For example, if as an Indian citizen, if I want to apply for a Thai visa from their embassy in Tokyo, I would need a residency or work visa card issued by Japan. The exceptions are neighbouring countries - you may be able to get a Thai visa in Cambodia. 
Q5. Are there other options for getting the Thai Visa in India?
A. You can contact the Thai embassy or consulates in India. VFS Global is also able to assist a resident of select cities. See
Q6. Is it fine if I show my bank statements, instead of the spending money?
A. It purely depends on how strict the visa officer that is handling you is. Often, they do not even ask you to show this money, but don't take chances. My adage is always to do exactly what they say on their official visa on arrival rules mentioned at their Visa on Arrival page If you check that page, you will notice that they do not mention bank statements. If the visa officer ignores your bank statements and insists on seeing the spending money, you will spend time arguing with her, and the people in the queue behind you will get angry. I am sure you are planning to take some USD (or INR etc.) to spend in Thailand, just show this money. Having said that, I guess there is no harm in carrying a bank statement printout. 

Q7. My travel agent or someone told me that you have to show 1000USD (or some other amount) Is it true?
A. You only need the documents that I listed in the section A5 on top. If your travel agent does too much drama, show them the official Thai Ministry of  Foreign Affairs Website page on Visa on Arrival (link at the bottom). 

Q8. Where do I pick up my bags? Before visa on arrival or after?
A. After. The baggage area is immediately after the immigration counter where you get your visa stamped. If you find that your baggage belt is already assigned to a more recent flight, check the floor near the belt for your bags. Usually, the airport crew will unload the unclaimed bags and place it next to the belt. Thailand is warm, and it is much cheaper to buy clothes locally, and there are laundromats a plenty everywhere. Avoid bringing a big bag; it will slow you down. 

Q9. I am going to Cambodia/Lao/Malaysia or other neighbouring countries from Thailand and returning to Thailand for my return flight back home. Can I get a multiple or double entry visas? Can I leave Thailand and enter again in a day or two with a new VOA? How easy is it to get the visas for neighbouring countries?

A.  Thailand no longer issues a double/multiple entry tourist visas. You will only get a single entry visa, valid for 15 days. You need to get a visa on arrival on every entry to Thailand. Get your first visa on arrival at the Thai airport where you enter the country. Exit Thailand to visit the neighbouring country. Then get your next Thai visa on arrival when you re-enter Thailand. I have applied for a visa on arrival at several border posts and airports (often within one or two days of my last exit from Thailand), and it is not a problem as long as you can show a  flight ticket out of Thailand to another country (and pay the visa fees, etc.). A list of border posts where you can get the visa on arrival is at Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Website page on Visa on Arrival.

For Lao, Cambodia, and Indonesia, you can get the visa on arrival at most international borders and airports. For the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, and Malaysia, it is better to get the visa in advance. Malaysia offers visa on arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The Philippines offer visa-free entry to Indians and Chinese citizens who have long term visas (or a yet unused visa) from the US, Japan, EU and a couple of other rich countries. 

I have had Indian travellers tell me that they have had trouble getting the Cambodian Visa on Arrival while crossing into Cambodia via land border at Poipet (if you are taking the bus from Bangkok).  To avoid the hassle, get the Cambodian e-visa in advance from

Q10. Do we need to show a marriage certificate to prove that we are a family
A. You do not need any documentation to demonstrate that you are a family. Thailand is not that fussy. 

Q11. Are the counters open 24 hours?
The counters are open as long as they have international flights at that particular airport (or as long as the land border is open).

Q12. Is there any particular procedure or forms to fill while flying out of Thailand?
Nothing, just get your boarding pass from the airline counter, and head to the immigration. The officer here will detach the stapled departure card, stamp the exit date on your passport and return you the passport. You don't need to fill any forms etc. on the way back. 

Q13. What happens if I live and work in Malaysia, Singapore or Cambodia and plan to travel to Thailand via land?
The process is similar. Show your work or resident visa issued by the neighbouring country in addition to rest of documents. You have to fill in the bus number or your car number on the arrival-departure card. It is also advisable to carry a photocopy of the first page of your passport and the work/resident visa of the neighbouring country. If you are driving from Malaysia into Thailand, there are some other documents that you need to fill in - related to car insurance, and certifying that you are not importing the car in Thailand.

Q 14. Do I need to book hotels? What if I am staying with relatives or friends?
As I mentioned before, I have never been asked to show the hotel reservations in my 19 years of travels to Thailand. But once in a while, I get an email from some tourists stating that they were asked to show the hotel reservations.
These are my suggestions
1. If you have already planned your trip in detail, just book the hotels and print out the confirmation and keep them with you.
2. If you want to be super flexible backpacker who wants to travel without a plan, better get the visa in advance from the Thai Embassy in your home country (If you still want to use the VOA, better book the first one or two hostels and print out the booking confirmation)
3. If you are planning to stay with friends or relatives, ask them to email you a scan of their Thai ID cards and business cards. Print these and carry them with you. Have their local phone numbers ready. 

Q15. Can I enter Thailand via one VOA location and exit at some other location?
Yes. You can enter from any VOA post. You can exit from any border crossing point, same as your point of entry or different, even if the exit port does not have VOA. 

Q.16 Do I need to take VOA for kids below a particular age?
Yes, every member of your party, irrespective of the age, needs a VOA.  Each traveller, even minors need to have the VOA form filled. You can sign on behalf of younger children. 

Any other question? Email me at I will try to reply within a day or two. Have a safe trip.

Thailand's Embassy in Singapore, page that shows Visa on Arrival requirements

Eating in Thailand

Like most of South East Asia, Its pretty inexpensive eating in Thailand. You can eat at the street-side eateries for 1 to 2 USD. The food is good and safe (just make sure that you find a place where the locals are buying food too). 

There are many such places with a spread of local vegetables and meat dishes. Just point and choose the dish that you want. This is my regular eating place just next to Phrom Pong station in Bangkok - I pay about 60 THB for a portion of rice and 3 other side dishes.

This plate of Phad Thai (stir fried flat noodles) costs around 40 THB. 
If it rains or you want a more comfortable setting, head to the food courts at shopping malls. You will spend a bit more here.Restaurants are more expensive, depending on the venue and service - prepare to spend about 150 THB and more. Bangkok is a good place to try cuisines from all over the world as there are people from all over the world living here.  

Huddlespace – the oasis of modern age

Many years back one morning, in the far north of China, I hitchhiked from Yinchuan, in Ningxia province to the border of Inner Mongolia. Nothing but wilderness and crumbling ruins of a wall (part of the series of walls that make the great wall). There were no tourists here, hardly any traffic, and the landscape was all mine to wander about.  I thought about all the people who had traveled though here to the west along the silk route. Places like these where the travelers may have camped – someone makes a fire and that becomes the resting places of several caravan headed in different directions  – Persian, Koreans, Chinese and a dozen other nationalities that no longer exist.

Wish I could go back in time to find out what stories they exchanged. These days the nearest I can get to the silk route camp experience is the huddlespaces I find in airports – around power plugs and wi-fi points.This is one place, strangers become friends, share chargers, only momentarily, but still friends. 

Should everyone learn to code?

I watch with amusement many hopping on board the “learn to code early” bandwagon. Nothing against coding, I myself spent hours writing code on a Commodore 64 and a Sinclair Spectrum. I still miss the exhilaration of overnight coding sessions where we pushed the 8-bit machine to its limits in late 1980s Bombay.

Then why am I against making coding workshops compulsory in schools?

I feel that once you mandate something, the joy of discovering something is gone. What is going to happen is that a large number of teachers (who may not be enthusiastic about programming) will be trained in a hurry and unleashed on kids. It will be just like any other school subject where a set syllabus will be developed and kids will go through it half -heartedly.

Many of the enthusiastic programmers I have met have come to computing, trying to solve some other problem. They see programming as a tool and are not dogmatic when it comes to programming language or tools.

So what is my solution?

We should encourage spaces where local tech folks, artists, writers and musicians donate some of their time. If a dedicated building is not possible then perhaps a local school can donate some rooms on the weekends. Kids and everyone else in the community who is keen on these things can drop in and learn and teach whatever they are interested in — writing, coding or hardware. Kids must first wander, get curious about the world and when they develop interest in something, they should be able to have access to a space and mentors. In many places in this world, the answers to some of the local problems is not just in code but also in things like designing a better dustbin or how to create a community cleanup group. Code is just a glue. When someone gets fired up to make something better, we should make sure that we have people they can turn to for guidance and suggestions.

A Family Mart in Vietnam and a Korean movie

There is a 2009 Korean movie called Bandhobi. It is the story of an unlikely friendship between a Korean teenager and a Bangladeshi immigrant worker. The reason I like this movie is that I can identify with the characters. The girl, when she misses her Bangladeshi friend, goes by herself to a South Asian restaurant, and to the surprise of the staff, orders many native food and proceeds to eat it like a native. 

Today,  when I spotted a Family Mart in Saigon, I walked into it. I bought  Oden - a Japanese winter dish containing radish, fish cakes, boiled eggs.  These are usually skewered on a stick and dipped in a spicy soy based broth. Eating Oden takes me back to those freezing  days in Japan. On our way walking from the train station to some place, we would always stop by a Family Mart. The hot oden is always a welcome respite. Often in random cities, you will find me at a random ethnic food place - a Korean place in Phnom Penh, a Vietnamese place in Taichung, a Russian place in Bangkok or a Sichuan place in Manila. You know that I am just missing all my friends and conversations from these places.

The last days of Zone 9

Some of my friends from Xian always admonished me about not visiting the fames terracotta warriors. Splendid they may be, but such buildings fail to rouse my interest much. I spent most of time in the market that grew around the old muslim quarter - for I am a fan of spaces that grow up organically. 

I was lucky enough to visit the local art space called Zone 9 in Hanoi just before the area was closed down.  The back story is that there were these factory buildings that were lying dormant. Some local artists moved in and set up their studios. Soon there were cafes and bars. Soon the students started to hang out. The zone turned into a vibrant night spot.  The prime location attracted developers and it was bought out. The new owners want to dismantle the units and build anew. I hope the artists find a new place to transplant this space.

I travel to Vietnam couple of times a year but I am coming back to Hanoi after 12 years. It is nice to be back, and I can finally appreciate the different characteristics of the people here. It is often said that the pace of life in Hanoi is slower compared to the south. I agree with this. I found that I was able to make more random friends in Hanoi as they had more time to talk to strangers. 

Perhaps the visit was also made special because my guide was PHM from Hanoi Grapevine. She is so passionate about the art scene in Hanoi and had many interesting anecdotes. 

Some reading about Zone 9

(Thanks to PHM from Hanoi Grapevine for showing me this place)

Some pictures from Zone 9. You can see the bars, the artists at work and the shops. Hanoi Grapevine is a good site to learn about the events happening in the city.

Tips on booking tours, hotels, currency exchange and avoiding scams for tourists

Visitors to my blog often ask me about booking tours , currency exchange, hotels etc, buying souvenirs etc.. I am consolidating all the tips from those replies here. 

How to find a tour company or a hotel or some other travel service?

Open on your browser. Run a search on the service that you looking for (say island hopping tour) and the destination (perhaps Phuket). 

Look for the search results and read the reviews. Often hotels and services hire "fake reviewers". If you find a overtly positive or negative reviews, looks for other reviews by that reviewer, just to make sure that they are not a "fake reviewer".

While you are at it, run a Google search for the tour company you end up picking with the word "scam" next to it. 

Also, run a search for the scams in the destination you are going to. This way you'll be prepared when someone want to sell you those gems.

For currency exchange, check the rate on Google. You can type in the currency codes and the amount of money you want to change, for example if I want to know how much Thai Bahts will I get for 5000 Indian Rupees, I will type in the following in Google search box.

5000 INR to THB  

I usually Google for the price of meals, cafe, hotels or hostels, local transport and add a buffer of around 20 USD per day. For example for a city like Bangkok, I can live comfortably on 30 USD per day.  I will add a buffer of 20 USD to make it 50USD per day. So for a four days trip, I will carry 200 USD. 

Using Credit or Debit cards In most of South East Asia, China and India, you can use the ATMs to withdraw money as a backup. Myanmar is probably the only place where I still carry extra cash when I am visiting smaller towns. However, the exchange rate that you get at the ATM is pretty bad. And usually the banks charge you a transaction fee for using a foreign card on their ATM. Call your bank to enable your credit or debit card for overseas trip before you leave.  While paying with credit card, insist that they do the card transaction in front of you. If the shop says that they do not have the machine and have to go next doors to do the transaction, ask to go with them. There have been cases where naughty employees copy down the card and cvv numbers and later use the data to buy stuff online. Once you are back home, pay extra attention to your credit card bill to see if there's is some charge that you don't recognize. 

Buying stuff for back home (AKA souvenirs)

Don't waste your money, most of the souvenirs are a racket. Don't even indulge the folks selling precious stones etc. If you really need to buy something precious, get a local friend to recommend a place where they buy thing from. 

Another option to go to a local supermarket and buy some local sweets, coffee or tea - the packaging is attractive and it is something unique and hopefully the people you are gifting to can actually consume the stuff.