Just another visa run-day….
It’s not all roses and moonlight on the road. Our momentary stepped up travel pace makes for a lot of (seductive, tummy-twisting) bus station
-and bus journey- snack time
And for a lot of reading and research
(-and anxiety eating?!) on humdrum necessities like where to sleep, onward transportation and a not to be underestimated aspect of perpetual travel- visa rules and regulations.
Here’s an example: We knew we needed a visa extension for Laos. Extending a visa costs $2 a day, or apply for a new 30 day visa for $35. This entails a trip across the border to Thailand and reentering the country. We also knew we’d be spending at least 3.5 months in Thailand this winter, and that the Thai consulate in Vientiane is one of the few embassies which grant the coveted double entry tourist visas. Unmissable opportunities to buy breathing space from visa concerns! (We almost blundered and applied for the Thai tourist visa first– meaning we would have activated it on our three hour border hop to renew our Lao Visa…….Got it?! Exactly!)
Dozens of travelers have described their visa run to Laos for the sought after double entry Tourist Visa (arrive early!). A visa run to Thailand seems less common. Here is how we got a new visa on arrival for Laos out of Vientiane and what the day’s outing cost:
Get yourself to the bus station in Vientiane, right next to the morning market Talat Sao by tuk tuk, (should cost no more than 15’000 kip per person- better 10’000 each), or on foot, depending on your location/energy level. Bus schedule as per October 2013:
The ticket counter is on a platform right in the middle of the station. There’s a sign above the sales window that says International Bus Vientiane Nong Khai. The bus leaves from the same platform, behind the ticket window and is clearly marked as international bus
We got there early for the 9.30 bus, because we’d read it fills up quickly, but there were empty seats all the way to Nong Khai. The bus left on time and after about thirty minutes, it reaches the border and everyone traipses through the short Lao immigration departures obstacle course, which includes an automatic gate, to be activated by the swipe card issued at the first window. There’s actually nothing to it and if you turn up at the wrong window you’ll most likely be sent in the right direction with a smile.
Reboard bus and cross the Friendship Bridge, where you’ll go through a similar process, which allows you to enter Thailand. Re-board bus and on to Nong Khai. Nong Khai was very quiet when we were there, perhaps due to a national holiday, so we only had a quick look around before turning back to the border.
You can not take the international bus back to Laos without already having a visa. We tried to buy tickets and were turned away. This gentleman (black socks, black shoes shined to mirrors and some sound business speak)
drove us back to the bridge for 2x 50 Baht. We exited Thailand with a minimum of hassle. We waited in a group of about fifty people for the bus across the Friendship Bridge, 2x 20 Baht, to the Lao border, where we were issued a new visa, 2x $25, within ten minutes of handing in our application form. We were scooped up by a mini van driver, 2x 100 Baht, who drove us to the morning market (non-negotiable) in Vientiane, where his tuk tuk driving pal was waiting for the gullible. It was almost 3pm, high time for our daily noodle soup.
Total cost of visa run per person: Transport $8.60 and visa $25 (and snacks!)
It turns out we’ll be traveling to Myanmar in November, (stay tuned!). Myanmar Visas are readily available in Vientiane and much less of a hassle to procure than in Bangkok. We missed the opportunity but got lucky: Flying into Burma via Phnom Penh with MAI flight Nr. 8M402 gets us a rare tourist visa on arrival, yay!