For those of us living abroad, having to do the “Visa Run” is both challenging yet necessary. We’re not complaining about having to do it, but it sure can be confusing. So here’s our account of our trip to the capital of Laos to apply for new visas at the Thai Consulate in Vientiane. We found someone to help us with this trip, a very unlikely source actually. You’ll see what I mean…
Before we begin this journey, it might help if you understood the types of Visas available, which was nicely summarized in this Thai Visa forum. But if you go there, don’t forget to come back to this post! I hate abandonment…
Oddly enough, M was the first of us to obtain her one year Thai visa. It’s an “ED” visa sponsored by her school, valid for one year. A was obtaining her non-immigrant “O” visa, as the guardian of the child with the ED visa, also good for one year. Only one parent is eligible in this case, so I was relegated to obtaining a regular, run of the mill, Tourist Visa. I was very close to obtaining an ED visa of my own, but a local program that provides ED visas for service work had suddenly shut down. Thus the Tourist Visa por moi.
Here’s what you’ll need to bring with you on the “trip” (Not liking that “visa run” term, sounds like we’re gaming the system, which we are not. We’re getting “new Thai visas”):
- Your passports (that was brilliant, I know), + several copies of your passport (you’ll see why)
- In Laos they will accept both Kips and Bahts. Take some small bills with you in Bahts. They don’t like coins from Thailand. Only bills.
- Also bring U.S. currency, as it may be cheaper than paying for the Laos entry visa in Bahts. At the time of our trip, the Laos visa cost us $35 each. The fees in Bahts were considerably higher, 1,500B each. (We’ve been told it is higher, $1USD extra on the weekend! Whuh??)
- Bring 4 Visa-sized photos (slightly smaller than passport sized) to be on the safe side – you won’t need all four, but it’s a good number to have. We know many travelers who have dozens taken prior to long trips. Get them in Thailand, much cheaper!
- Update: as of April, 2011, we’ve been informed by a friend that the Thai Visa application is no longer free. It’s 1,000 Bahts for a single entry tourist visa, 2,000 Baht for two-entry.
- Bring pens (yes I said it. Just try going without one)
- Mosquito repellent (if you’re traveling from Chiang Mai or BKK, you’ll already have some) for Dengue Fever prevention
- Your phone, with Thai SIM card. Your phone will most likely work from Vientiane with that SIM.
- Pack as you normally would, for either a short stay, or longer, up to you of course.
The exchange rate at the time of our trip was
$1 = 8000 kips 250Kip= 1 Baht (that’s the calculation we used)
No need to do the typical currency exchange booths, you will get Kips back in change when you go spend Bahts at local business and restaurants. Then we made sure to spend those Kips (not hard to do, a smoothie here, meal there) prior to leaving Laos.
Now you’re ready to actually get there- Here’s the procedure, as conveyed to us by our (most unexpected) local “Chiang Mai Visa Sage,” Mr. G.” He’s an Italian (very Italian, as in he uses many hand gestures while speaking) elderly gent who has spent quite a bit of time in CM, and we met him by chance at the Chiang Mai Arcade bus station, buying his ticket days in advance (he’s definitely a planner, as you’ll see). We tried to follow his directions, but relied on another source’s advice to get us there; then tagged along with G. on the return trip when we met again in Vientiane, again, by chance.
Here’s G’s step by step recipe for obtaining a 6 month Tourist visa at the Thai Consulate in Vientiane, Laos:
Step 1: Buy bus ticket at the Chiang Mai “Arcade Bus Station” – destination Udon Thani: “VIP” overnight bus departs 8pm (counter 14), or check other classes (1st, 2nd) at counter 13 (and 14) as well. You’ll arrive in Udon Thani around 8am. Buy a few days in advance to be safe, and buy the return ticket here if you know your return date. The VIP bus, which is comfortable, and you get snacks and drinks, costs a little over 600B. We recommend taking this one. I meant, it’s G’s bus of choice.
Step 2: If you are only going to Vientiane for a short visit, not necessarily for a longer vacation, then depart on a Saturday overnight bus. You’ll arrive into Laos on Sunday morning, then do your Visa business on Monday, and depart Tuesday back to Chiang Mai. It’s the G. “tried and true” formula. We left on a Thursday evening because we wanted extra time there and well, plus our Thai visa expired on Friday.
Step 3: Once you arrive into Udon Thani (small town on Thai side) bus station, DO NOT enter the bus going Nong Khai, the Thai border town from this bus station. Seems tempting, since it’s right there after you get off the overnight bus, but it stopped a lot and took us three hours, instead of the typical one, to get to the border.
Note: The overnight bus driver from the overnight bus also ran a side business, offering a direct van ride to Vientiane for 150B. Didn’t go for it, but perhaps someone might try it and give a report…) There should be other buses and vans offering border rides, so shop around and give us a report for this leg.
Step 4 UPDATE: Here’s a terrific summary by our friend Dmitriy @Dzema, describing the point of the journey from Udon Thani (UT) to the Thai/Laos border, aka Friendship Bridge: (Thanks, D!)
So after arriving to UT we took tuk-tuk to the “other bus station.” It was 40 baht per person for the tuk-tuk. Originally they wanted 50 and did not want to go for 30 at all. At other bus station we found booths selling tickets for “international bus” but they checked our passports and refused to sell us tickets because passengers required a Laos Entry Visa. It would take a lot of time to get visa on arrival and they have to stay on schedule.
At this bus station we asked a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the “fast bus to Nong Khai.” He took us to the bus waiting for passengers on the side of the road on the way out of UT to NK. They were waiting for an inter city bus (simple, not fancy) arriving from Bangkok. Half of the Thai passengers from it took our overnight bus. Tickets were 25 baht per person and it took us ~30 minutes to go to the place where they drop off everyone who was going to the friendship bridge. At this place we took another tuk-tuk (6 people, 40 baht each again) to the FB. Bus crossing the bridge is 15 baht.
One more option: at the UT bus station there was a guy with a pickup truck quoted us 700 baht to go to Vientiane directly. At the border we met 3 guys who took this truck. They paid 1000 baht, and driver promised to take them to Thai consulate directly so they could apply for a visa on the same day.
Step 5: At the bridge, you get your passport stamped for leaving Thailand, & departure card taken.
Step 6: The bus will then cross the ‘Friendship Bridge.’ Make friends on the bus at this time (optional).
Step 7: Get off bus on Laos side, go to window labeled, “Visa on Arrival.” Fill out the application, and use your 2 visa-sized photos, and pay for the Laos Visa either with USD or Baht (whichever is cheaper for the passport you carry).
Step 8: Once you get the Laos visa (it’ll be @ the window next to the Visa on Arrival window) then you can go–no, not anywhere– just don’t get in the other 3 long lines. Go past them, and have the Laos immigration officers sitting at the desk on the other side of the lines check your Visa, then get back onto the bus, and you’re done. For now. Welcome to Laos (pronounced “Lao” by the way)!! Laos language is fairly similar to Thai, and the greeting is “Sabaidee!” “Kup-chow” is Thank you! Now, you’ll be able to get around just fine! No problemo! 🙂
Step 9: From here, you can take a tuk-tuk, or a taxi (they will fight each other for your business, and we got a taxi for tuk-tuk prices, 100THB) will take you to our guest house in Vientiane. In hindsight, the taxi was more comfortable, as in a tuk-tuk you’d experience more dust (at least it was dusty on the day we arrived).
We stayed at Benacam Guesthouse and Apartment Rental: 021-241538 Look for a Green sign at street corners w the name Benacam. It’s a family owned/run little place. They have a restaurant downstairs. We paid $20USD per night w/o AC, or $25/night with AC. AC’s are in all rooms, they’ll just take your AC remotes. Breakfast is included. You can pay with USD in cash, credit card, or in Kip or Bahts.
It’s a block off the main road next to Mekong River, which is more quiet and less traffic.
If you want other options: (both were recommended to us by Candice of @MomMostTraveled . And btw, she likes tweet-ups especially on weekends! Hint, Hint!).
Youth Inn 2
Francois Ngin Rd. T: (021) 215 131, (020) 780 3919 Email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lao Silk Hotel
Francois Ngin Rd. T: (021) 213 976 F: (021) 222 619
Once you’re by the river, you can find many more guesthouses and nice hotels.
Many places rent bicycles for 10,000 Kip per 24 hrs, don’t worry, that’s only 40THB.
They’ll want to hold your passport – but give them a copy and tell them that’s all you have. You’re there for a visa run for goodness sake!
Now, onto the Consulate to apply for Visas:
Step 41 (lost count): Arrange with a friendly Tuk-Tuk driver to do the Consulate runs for both Monday and Tuesday. Agree on a price –G always starts with, “Tuk Tuk is FREE, yes?” and haggles with a smile, “What? Do I look like I have a money-making machine?” while gesturing with his hands. See? And you thought I was stereotyping G because he’s Italian.
Step 42: Arrive early on Monday morning to the “Thai Consulate,” which accepts visa applications from 8:30am to noon. Following G’s directions, we met up with him at 7:00am (he insisted) and arrived at the Consulate gate (via Tuk Tuk) around 7:30am…. to wait. Your Tuk Tuk driver will wait as well (not with you in line-are you crazy? He’ll hang and relax in his ride).
Step 43: The one hour hanging outside the Consulate is worth it (don’t forget the umbrella, so you can stay in line and not run for cover when it rains). Once you’re inside, the line will move and you’ll be given a number. Try to stay calm as some will inevitably cut in line at the last minute, causing you to lose all hope with humanity. Or you can do what M did, “Hey Mister, go to the back of the line!” while pointing to the back (with A coaching her every step of the way). Nothing like being shamed by a 7 year old…
Step 44: While waiting for your number to be called, get a form (near the counter) and complete it with your handy pen that you were so clever to bring with you. You’ll think of me and THANK ME at that moment, won’t you?
Step 45: Here’s G’s magic visa trick: If you plan to stay longer than 3 months in Chiang Mai, write in the number “2” (two, dos, sung, deux…) next to “Number of Entries” on the Tourist Visa Application. Or “six months” under “Duration of stay.” Most assume you can only get a 60 day Tourist Visa, (I.e., 2 months, then you go to the CM Immigration office and pay for the extension of one more month–very routine). By writing in “2” you are in essence getting a 6 month Tourist Visa, or two back-to-back 2 month Visas with 2 extensions. So, in 2 months, you get the one month extension in CM Immigration, then when that 3rd month expires, you just take a day trip to Mae Sai, cross the Thai/Myanmar border, visit for a little, and return on foot, and you’ll get the visa stamped for 2 months (instead of the usual 15 day entry stamp). This activates your second entry. Then after 2 more months, get the extension in CM Immigration again, and then after the 6th month, you’ll need to leave the country and apply for another tourist visa at a Thai Embassy/Consulate. We don’t know for sure whether all Thai consulates approve the “2 entry” visas, but Vientiane does. That was clear as mud, eh? Took G several attempts (with more hand gestures) to explain this.
Note: Be aware that Thai Immigration may deny your visa application (single or double entry), if you have too many consecutive tourist visas. Read the forums and see what others have experienced prior to your trip, so you can plan accordingly. You are getting a ‘tourist’ visa after all, so it makes sense that the Thai government enforces these visas as they were not intended for long term stays (get non-immigrant visa if possible).
Step 78: Your number gets called, you submit your application, then you follow others to another room, where you wait again for your number, to pick up your receipt (for Tourist Visa, it was free, for others this is where you pay your visa fees). You’ll see a Visa Number on the receipt. Now, you’re basically done, and you can enjoy the day in Vientiane and see the sites.
Step 79: The Consulate opens for pickup in the afternoon at 1pm the following workday. You can only pickup the visa in the afternoons, so plan to arrive at the Consulate around noon, again, to wait outside the gate. We did so with G. You’ll see the same cast of characters as from the day before, so let’s hope you didn’t make any enemies, or cursed at someone who cut in line… Makes for quite an awkward moment, except for M!
Step 80: The gate opens, people again rush in, and you get a number. You’ll wait in the same room as the day before where the receipts were handed out. Nicely air conditioned! This time, you’ll receive your passport with a spanking new shiny visa within it. Congrats, you’re DONE!
Step 81: Now, if you are planning to head back, take your trusty Tuk Tuk from the Consulate to the bus station, say goodbye to the driver, and buy the 90B bus ticket from Vientiane to Udon Thani. (you could also buy this ticket ahead of time before heading to the Consulate- your choice!) If you’re taking the 8pm overnight bus from Udon Thani back to Chiang Mai, you’ll have plenty of time if you take an afternoon bus from Vientiane.
Steps 82-99: You’ll cross the “Friendship Bridge” border in roughly the same fashion: on and off bus, repeat, etc.
Step 100: Once the bus arrives to Udon Thani, get another Tuk Tuk (I’m assuming your Laos Tuk Tuk driver didn’t tag along) to take you to the “Other bus station” again, and tell them you’re going on bus to Chiang Mai. Once there, you’ll see the Chiang Mai bus sign, which is located along the row of small restaurants adjacent to the main ‘terminal’ of the bus station. Just hang, grab a bite to eat (or in G’s case, 3 meals. Don’t ask…), and relax.
And that, boys and girls, is how we managed to obtain our new, shiny Thai Visas, with the assistance of our unexpected new friend, G (who also recently helped us get a Thai bank savings account… I see another 100 step blog post for that…).
Ciao! (Thanks again to G, without whom we would have taken the extremely inefficient route, and end up with only a 2 month Tourist Visa!)