How my Thailand vacation turned into a Hong Kong vacation, or the importance of keeping your crap in order: part 1.
Apparently, a passport that is valid for the duration of the stay with enough blank pages for stamps is not always good enough. I hope, my story will help and inform those in situations similar to mine. Let my mistakes teach you a lesson, because I sure as hell am learning a good one.
Thursday, February 5th, 2015.
Around 10 PM.
My family: the parents, brothers, grandmother, my cousin, her husband and their newborn baby George, and I have anticipated our Thailand vacation since the dates were booked earlier in January. My plan is to meet them in Koh Samui, stay there until the 16th, then fly to Hong Kong for 4 days, and then back to Vancouver. I booked my 2 weeks off work, and was lucky enough to purchase my tickets right before the Canadian dollar made an unpleasant dip, and sunk down to around 75% of its US accomplice. Both of my brothers, who have oddly left one and two days respectively prior to my departure, have already started their journeys, not without issues – bot did not have a sufficient amount of money on hands, relying solely on magnetized plastic: credit and debit cards, so my mom was already having a minor freak out; and now, to top it off, after browsing through the document list just to double-check that I am aware of all the requirements (this was my second trip to Thailand, and the last time I had gotten my Thai visa right at the airport within 15 minutes) I have found myself realizing that Thai authorities require a passport to be valid for 6 months or longer.
A wave of cold sweats, and my stomach making a flip. My flight is already booked, and I have a little over 12 hours to departure. Trying to cancel my flight is pointless, as my tickets are non-refundable. Changing the date would not do any good, as renewing the Kazakhstani passport takes 6 or more months. After checking official websites of Thai consulate in Vancouver, Thai Immigration websites, and a few others, things do not start looking any better: every single one mentions the 6 months requirement. At that point I am already imagining being turned away at the airport, losing all the money spent on tickets, and having to go back to work after the weekend. Then I came across this article on Ryan Kononoff’s website, who was having a similar problem, and he and a few commentators have reported that they were let inside the country even though their passports were expiring in less than 6 (but no more than 3). So, there seems to be hope!
After having my mind eased a little, I decided to try my luck, and head to the airport the next morning.
Friday, February 6th 2015.
After a night of not a very good sleep, I wake up, take a shower and brush my teeth. I finish putting my luggage together, ensure that my passport and PR card are with me, and head to the airport.
The first alarming sign I get at the self check-in where it is not letting me print all of my boarding passes and refers me to the check-in assistance booth. The Air Canada attendant checks me in onto my Hong Kong flight, and I think that my headache has ended; but the lady seems to be having problems checking me in on my connecting flights to Bangkok and Koh Samui, which is my intended destination for the next 8 days. What an emotional roller-coaster! I stand there while she researches the explanation to the error code the computer gives her, and there it goes: “I’m sorry, your passport is expiring soon, and it seems that you need at least 6 months to visit Thailand.” Then she tells me that I can still board the plane to Hong Kong, and if I’m not let to board the plane to Bankgkok I would be able to stay in HK for up to 2 weeks without a visa, since I am a citizen of Kazakhstan, and HK only requires your passport to be valid for 1 month beyond your expected departure date. So, it appears, that the worst case scenario is me staying in Hong Kong on my own from the evening of the 7th until the morning of 16th when my parents arrive; which is not that bad of a situation. As I have lived away from my family since I was 15, I was no stranger to having to stay in a foreign country by myself.
I check my bag in, get a Venti matcha latte and a lemon loaf at Starbucks (wow, that latte is much sweeter than what I make myself at home), and go online to research affordable accommodation in Hong Kong. Since we already have hotels booked from the 16th to 20th, I just need a room for 8 days. Hostel options start at around $12 a day; and a descent guest house stay was quoted at $300 for the entire period.
My flight finally leaves 1.5 hours past the schedule, which still gives me about 4 hours to pick up my bags in Hong Kong, and try to board my flight to Bangkok.
Saturday, February the 7th 2015.
Hong Kong International airport.
I go through Hong Kong customs to pick up my luggage, and head to the check-in booth for my next flight. Upon looking at my passport, I am denied boarding onto my flight to Bangkok, the expiry date being the reason. I call my booking agent in attempt to get my connecting flights cancelled, Skype my father to give him the news, and start looking for accommodation close to the hotel. After getting quotes for $600 and $500 rooms at adjusting hotels, I decide to stay the night at the waiting area. Luckily, I was Russian enough to sneak a blanket from the airplane foreseeing a similar situation.