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Monday, 9 March 2009

Laos visa run - March 4-7th, 2009

This post is a record of my recent trip to Vientiane, Laos for a Non-Immigrant ‘O’ family visa.

I left early morning on the Wednesday of the 4th March. The taxi came at 5:30 am and miraculously we were at Suvarnabhumi Airport 35 minutes later. Eat your heart out Scumacher!

I had booked and paid for a return trip to Udon Thani via Air Asia. The cost was 2,099.83 baht for the return journey. The flight, FD 3360, was on time and was over before it began – only one hour in duration.


At Udon Thani Airport, I waited at the carousel for my bags, which came with the minimum of time wasted, and I was soon off to find a mini bus to take me to the Nong Khai border. The cost for this is 200 baht and you can buy a ticket before you leave the airport terminal (opposite the baggage carousel).

The journey was a pleasant one and I chatted to an English lady traveling in the country with her husband. The only event that stands out here was when we saw a guy on the ground who’d obviously been involved in a fairly serious motorbike accident and there was a fair bit of blood. If the state of his bike was anything to go by, he must’ve been in a bad way. An ambulance soon shot past us in his direction much to our relief.

At the Nong Khai border there were quite a few people intent on crossing – most of them were foreigners with a sprinkling of locals.

The process itself took about an hour or so and was relatively painless. First you had to go through the Thai side, which just simply required you to present your passport to get an exit stamp.


Then a 15 baht bus came and over the Laos Friendship Bridge we went.
There wasn’t much room on the bus so it was a bit of a squeeze especially if you have heavy bags to carry and/or take care of.


At the Laos side, we filled out the entry forms and paid the money in Window 1. Window 2 is for asking for forms and Window three

is for receiving back your passport after about 20 minutes.

Then I hooked up with a couple of English guys who had booked a taxi to take us into The Royal Thai Embassy, Vientiane for 200 baht. It was imperative that we submit our passports before 12 O’clock so we didn’t lose a day.


We went to the first counter just inside the embassy and is really nothing more than a courtyard area. We submitted our carefully prepared documents. I was very surprised to find that they were not interested in my financial statements as that was the reason Suan Phlu in Bangkok rejected my application before for the Non O visa e.g. that all my money was in GBP in an offshore account and not in Thai baht. The only thing they queried in terms of my application was my photos (you need two here) as I hadn’t had time to get more printed professionally and resorted to printing out two from my computer via my colour printer. I really hadn’t expected to get away with it and they were pretty scrupulous about this.

After all the documents were submitted, we headed for Mongkol Hotel http://www.vientiane-hotel-link.com/Mongkol_Hotel at the recommendation of the taxi driver. It’s on the river about a 20-minute drive from the embassy. The view from the hotel road is pretty awe inspiring as it looks over the Mekong rive onto the Thai side and the sunsets are pretty spectacular.

As I was the main Thai speaker, I negotiated three rooms all for 800 baht each. This included 2 doubles and a twin. I took the twin. After a quick wash and brush up, we went off to sample some of the local ‘amber nectar in’ the form of Beer Laos. Several bottles later we hit the hay.

The next day we had the hotel breakfast which is available between 7-10 am (included in the 800 baht price) which was really nice and consisted of the usual and ubiquitous American breakfast delights: eggs, ham, bacon, salad, fruit, orange juice, toast and coffee. To look at, the coffee is like treacle though, but tastes ok.
After that, we went for a walk and toured the local scenery along the main arterial road that brought us to the hotel the day before. We then stopped and had some snacks in a nearby ‘ran ahan-cum-noodle shop’. The great thing about Laos is that everyone speaks Thai so if you have a smidgeon of the language it goes a long way in Vientiane.
At about midday we headed back to the embassy and as it was not open till 1pm, we imbibed a few drinks in the little ‘ran deum’ shop across the street from the embassy. At about 1:15 the embassy gates opened (apparently the rumour was that the chubby Princess was visiting that day hence the delay).
The process for reclaiming your passport complete with stamp is that you get a laminated card with a number on it from the guard just inside the embassy gates. There were about 100+ of these cards given out so that should give you an indication of a normal day’s traffic there to collect passports.
I’d say it took about 30-40 minutes to get my passport back, but I was one of the later ones to join the queue. If you want it faster, then get there early is probably the best bet. I wasn’t in any hurry as I was planning to stay another night in the hotel.
I said goodbye to the English guys I had met and headed back to the hotel. The following morning I arranged for a taxi to the border by talking to the tuk tuk guys outside the hotel. If you book a taxi from the airport, they’ll charge you 400 baht irrespective of whether there is one person or 4 so take the tuk tuks outside. I got mine for just over US$7 (about 250 baht). We then headed for the border again which took exactly 45 minutes and was pleasant drive with a strong morning breeze.

At the border, I filled out the exit/departure card for Laos and submitted it. Then it was just a matter of paying 10 baht to cross over the bridge again to the Thai side which took about half an hour in total. I then filled out the arrival’s card for the Thai immigration. Make sure you have one of these if you can as they don’t leave them out and you have to find the right person to give you one. This is on top of trying to regain your position in the queue, which is pretty long. Fortunately for me, I had helped a girl with her bag to get into the bus and she returned the favour by moving my bag up a place whilst I ran around looking for the arrival’s card giver-outer!

From there I got the single entry stamp as expected, which gave me 90 days. I crossed over no problem onto the Thai side and had an annoying pick up driver trying to badger me to taking a 700 baht trip in his truck. I had to be rude just to get rid of him. The best way is to take a tuk tuk outside the Nong Khai border. They come every few mins, fill up quickly and take you to TESCO lotus in Nong Khai. The cost is only 50 baht each person.

From there you can walk through the TESCO car park, then across the main road opposite and wait for the blue, inter city ‘rot tooa’ coaches which go by pretty frequently. I got one to Udon Thani in about 20 minutes and arrived in Udon about an hour later after picking everyone along the way except for a few camels!

The bus then rolled in to Udon Thani bus station and I took an 80-baht taxi to the town center (‘klang muang’) on the recommendation of a local ran ahan lady owner and her son who recommended Udon hotel.

The hotel was cheaper and nicer than the hotel in Laos. It was 520 baht including a nice breakfast. There are nicer facilities too like three Riley snooker tables at 80 baht per hour and there’s a great spa place on the second floor where you can be entertained by 4 ladies chatting throughout the foot massage. The foot massage was 200 baht but the bellboy told me earlier that it was actually only 150 baht but I didn’t query it given the cheapness of the price.

That night I slept like a baby. The room was clean and had a huge bath tub as well which I took advantage of after my massage. I had the fabulous breakfast and took a tuk tuk outside the hotel again for 80 baht. The airport is only about 6 kms from the hotel or so the reception staff told me. The driver wanted 120 baht to start with but I bargained him down and gave him the 80 baht plus a 10 baht tip.

One thing I will say about Air Asia though is that if you wanted to check in your bags early, you can’t as the check in desk doesn’t open till two hours before your flight which means you have to check out of your hotel before 12 and hang around for a few hours. Still, I didn’t mind and knocked a few balls around on a snooker table to kill an hour.

The return flight was as easy and relaxed as the original one and the airline staff were friendly and chatty.

All in all I would fully recommend this trip to anyone intent on getting a new visa as I have been to Cambodia and Penang and neither compare with how easy this trip was for me.

Good luck. Do post your comments and questions on my blog if you have any or need further clarification. And feel free to check out other photos, which I have put on Photobucket. See the link below.

Bon voyage!

9 comments:

Woody said...

SOunds like a pretty painless experience, sounds a lot more interesting than the Cambodia visa run. Looks like some nice weather too...it just snowed here...haha need to get to Brazil so I can start my own blog...Nothing much to report in the great white north...Anyway, cheers..
P.S. one day I want to return and head up to the north of Laos...I hear it's pretty amazing too! Adios

cos67 aka costick67 aka cosine67 said...

jeez man. I guess with your mind on your paperwork, this trip was kind of a drag. Your story sounds more like 'a day in the life of a mandarin' than a tourist blog. Like the funny vehicle, though and all that raucous bargaining.

Cos67

Cleanse Control Plus Treatment said...

What was the total cost?

Urban Crazy Man said...

Cleanse Control Plus Treatment,

I never got round to adding it all up though wherever possible, I quoted my own negotiated and set costs in my blog entry (above).

Depending on the size of your individual pocket, I think it could easily be done for about B 7,000 baht.

That includes 2,000 for the Non Imm. O visa, 2,000 for the flight, 1,000 for the hotel and the rest for food and travel expenses e.g. bus, tuk tuks etc.

UCM

Urban Crazy Man said...

Woody,

thanks for your comments. My blog has received unprecedented traffic since I posted the Laos Visa entry - over 400 additional hits compared to the norm.

Vancouver must be cold this time of the year eh? Would be great to see you come back here to Thailand. Good chatting with you the other night, too.

The Brazil trip sounds like a great adventure. And you'll be able to see the best football players in the world to boot! Can't be all bad eh?!

Did you check out my pics on Photobucket? The link's after the entry for the Laos visa.

all the best

UCM

Urban Crazy Man said...

Cos67,

Yeah, it was good to get away from the daily grind of the PhD and writing of one sort or the other. The Laotians were great and friendly and very helpful all along the way.

thanks for your comments thus - 'Your story sounds more like 'a day in the life of a mandarin' than a tourist blog. '

Is that good or bad? I tried to deliberately keep it factual so that people on the Ajarnforum.net site can get concise, up-to-date, accurate, information should they be planning a journey of their own in the not too distant future.

Apologies if it reads in a matter-of-fact, unemotional way.

UCM

Urban Crazy Man said...

Cleanse Control Plus Treatment,

Scrub that - I forgot to add the US$35 for the Laos entry visa so may a little over 8,000 should do it methinks.

UCM

Nagman Bangkok said...

You could have saved yourself a lot of hassle by taking the international bus from Udon to Vientiane (and back) for only 80 baht. Leaves from Udon central bus station and arrives at Vientiane's Morning Market.

Only drawback is that you need a Lao visa in advance or you won't get on.

Urban Crazy Man said...

Nagman,

thanks for your comments. However, if I can just correct you on a couple of things. Firstly, I wasn't doing the trip to 'save' myself 'a lot of hassles' as you put it.

I deliberately took the flight cos (a) over the years, I've been and done the Thai visa thing 'on the fly' e.g. overland many times before, and this time I wanted to do it in comfort, and (b) as you said, I didn't have the visa, so this really was a better option.

I also had plenty of time to take a comfortable journey, and I also wanted to do it this way and record it for the benefit of others on ajarnforum.net.

Those people who read my blog entry are free to choose which way suits them best and matches the size of their budget.

UCM