I Was an Illegal Immigrant in Thailand

I arrived at the Suvarnabhumi Bangkok airport on an afternoon in early August 2008. My parents and I took an Air Asia flight from Penang, Malaysia, to Kuala Lumpur before departing for a few days in Thailand, which was my second trip to the country.

While most people have horror stories associated with the budget airline, I’ve never had any major problems with them. Almost all of my Air Asia flights have been delayed, but nothing major — never more than 45 minutes. My two mishaps have been more comical than horrifying. On this particular trip to Bangkok, Air Asia’s mistake caused my parents and me to be illegal immigrants.

bangkok thailand

The problem began when we landed at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. My memory of the first flight into Bangkok in 2007 is hazy as we arrived late at night, but I vaguely recall getting off the plane and boarding a bus that took everyone to the terminal. This time, however, we entered the airport through an actual gate direct from the plane. Air Asia saves money by not using the gates. Of course, no one seemed to notice this because why would passengers complain about avoiding the sun and heat of Bangkok before entering the airport?

phra kaeo
I don’t think I’m supposed to walk in there.

The last time I arrived in Bangkok, I remember going through customs almost immediately. This time, I didn’t even see a sign for customs — it was unfamiliar, but I chalked that up to not remembering anything from the previous year. We followed signs for baggage claim for nearly 15 minutes — it felt like a rather long walk through the terminal, and I grew confused by the fact that we hadn’t noticed a sign for customs.

It was at about that point that an Air Asia representative approached us and asked if we just arrived on the flight from Kuala Lumpur. She directed the group of us (a few people in front of and behind us) to follow someone else. We were led outside to a waiting bus that took us to customs and baggage claim.

The airline had let us off at the domestic terminal. Had we made it to baggage claim (which would not have had our luggage), we would have been able to exit to the taxi stand and enter Thailand without ever going through customs.

I’m sure that would’ve caused an issue on departure.

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