More and more I hear of foreigners in Thailand making their visa runs – the process of leaving Thailand’s borders in order to obtain a new visa or extend an entry on their existing visa – going across the border to Laos. Traditionally, this has been done more often by crossing into Malaysia or Cambodia.
Each one of these places has its own pros and cons.
- Cambodia is closest to Bangkok and and a trip to and from the border can be made in a single day.
- The Cambodia border, on both sides, is notorious for scams and corruption. If a new visa is needed, one must go all the way to Phnom Penh, as there is no Royal Thai Embassy near the border.
- You must purchase a Cambodia tourist visa for US$20, even for a 2-3 day stay to get a new Thailand visa.
- Malaysia has a Thailand consulate considerably nearer the border in Penang.
- There is no visa fee for most western nationals to enter Malaysia.
- The journey from Bangkok is considerable longer than either Cambodia or Laos.
- Very relaxed, hassle and scam-free border crossing.
- Must buy a Laos tourist visa for between US$30-40, depending on nationality. This price increases if you do not use USD currency.
Before the border.
I got off the bus from Bangkok in Udon Thani – an hour before the border – because after 10 hours on the cheapest bus from Bangkok to Nong Khai, I was just sick of riding. Udon is the big transit hub of the region, but the buses to Laos from Udon require that you already have the Laos visa. Despite the fact that you can get one at the border, the buses leaving for Vientiane from Udon will not wait for you while you sort out immigration.
Instead, I took a tuk-tuk from the Nong Khai bus station to the border for 100 baht. Checking out of Thailand was simple enough. Afterward, we all loaded into a bus to go over the Thailand-Laos Friendship Bridge, since walking over is not allowed.
At the Laos border, you are given 2 forms to fill out: the standard arrival card and the Visa on Arrival application. Once all the data is filled out, you return to the counter and pay the fee. They prefer you pay in United States currency, but will accept Laos kip or Thailand baht.
Vientiane Embassy – Day One
The moment my tuk-tuk pulled outside the Thai embassy, I was approached by a man offering to help my application along. Unsolicited as it was and seeing his table outside and stack of applications; I passed and went inside instead.
Inside the gates of the embassy was a large white building much more akin to French colonial architecture than anything Thai. Next to it was a covered open air waiting area where the visas were handled.
I got an application, but pens were nowhere to be found. After reading the application and its requirement of 2 passport photos and a copy of the passport, none of which I had in me, I exited and went back to the man on the street could offer.
He asked for my passport to begin filling out and that his brother would take me somewhere to get the photos taken. As I tried to get my passport to take with me, he was reluctant, prompting me to have to actually grab it from him.
His ‘brother’ led me to another covered table across the road where he took my photo with a point and shoot against a white wall. After, he plugged the SD card into a small printer and gave me 8 small pictures, 2 of which were glued to the application.
Once back at the first table, my passport was taken to make copies while I started filling my information on the application. Compared to my bad handwriting, his handwriting was nearly illegible. Several of his numbers when writing my passport number (before I could get to it) looked more like other digits. But, one of first things I was told when I arrived in 2011 was to fill out everything on paperwork, even if not entirely accurate. A passport number is probably a little more on the important side though.
The whole street deal cost me 220 baht ($7). Not too bad overall.
Back in the embassy, I was given the queue number 92 when they were only at 63. It was going to be a while’s wait. When I finally got to the counter, the attendant looked over the application without any issue, confirmed that I wanted a double-entry visa, and told me to go inside to pay the 2000 baht ($60) fee.
The main building was comfortable, air conditioned, and dimly lit. Rows of the same plastic chairs outside stood opposite the sparsely staffed counter. After a quick series of payments, they suddenly stopped and took no one else to the counter for close to a half hour.
Once they started again, I was up within ten minutes, given a receipt and told to return in the afternoon the next day.
Vientiane Embassy – Day Two
The next day was a stormy one, and despite my desire to rather walk to the embassy, it wouldn’t have been the best option. So, this time getting a 35000 kip ($4.50) tuk-tuk to the embassy.
The hours of pick-up for visas are between 13:30 and 15:30. Despite this, people were already making their way into the main building at least 15 minutes beforehand and the seats were nearly full by the time I entered.
The room was better lit than the day before and the air-conditioning was still quite active, giving most of the foreigners a level of comfort on this muggy day. Once again, the counter seemed minimally staffed.
Despite this, it ran much more quickly than the day before and the numbers rapidly cycled through. I was at the counter, handed my passport with no issue, and out the door in less than a half hour.
To work out the total expenses from my trip:
- US$ 15.00 (450 baht) bus from Bangkok to Nong Khai, Thailand
- US$ 3.00 (100 baht) taxi to border
- US$ 0.50 (15 baht) bus over the Laos border
- US$ 35.00 Laos Visa
- US$ 6.00 (200 baht) tuk-tuk from border to the hostel in Vientiane
- US$ 5.00(40000 kip) tuk-tuk to embassy
- US$ 4.00 (120 baht) passport-sized photos
- US$ 3.00 (100 baht) copy and application fillout
- US$ 64.00 (2000 baht) Thailand double-entry tourist visa fee
- US$ 5.00 (40000 kip) tuk-tuk to hostel
- US$ 4.50 (35000 kip) tuk-tuk to embassy
- US$ 3.75 (30000 kip) tuk-tuk to hostel
- US$ 10.00 (80000 kip) bus to Nong Khai, Thailand
Total: US$ 158.75
This total is without food and lodging, which are inherent travel costs wherever you are and vary so much by preference of the traveller. I stayed at the Sihome Backpackers Hostel (50,000 kip / US$ 6), which is nicely located near the river and about a 15-20 minute walk to the Thailand Embassy.