Laos Visa Run #1

October 2012. I'd finished my TEFL course, and needed a job. In order to stay and work in Thailand, I needed a work permit. And in order to get a work permit, I needed a Non-Immigrant B visa. Yes, all very bewildering, especially for an easily discombobulated soul such as myself.

Instead of relaying all my mishaps and learning curves about my first visa run to Vientiane, here is a breakdown of the right things to do, and how to actually get yourself from Chiang Mai to the long line at the Thai Embassy in Vientiane:

Slanting Buddhas. Cool.

What to do before you leave Chiang Mai:

  Go to The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, and read about the requirements and fees for the visa you require.

  Go to The Thai Embassy in Vientiane website, and download the application form for a visa. Fill this out at home before you go. Glue two 3.5cm x 4.5cm passport photos onto the form.

  Make sure you have all your paperwork for your Thai visa. This is especially difficult, seeing as the rules change on a whim at the embassy, and it's all too common to get sent off to another country missing that one vital page still sitting on your employer's desk. Missing a piece of paper is not worth staying a few extra days or, worst scenario, having to go back again empty-handed. 

  Make sure you have everything you need for a Laos visa on arrival. Download this form, now. You also need two passport photos, and your passport, of course.

  Book a bus ticket to Udon Thani. At Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station, go to ticket office number 13 or 14, and buy a night-bus ticket to Udon Thani. It should cost between 800 - 1200 Baht depending on what kind of bus you're after, and leaves CM at 8 pm, arriving in Udon Thani at around 8 am the next day.

  Get yourself US dollars, Baht and Kip. There are plenty of currency exchanges in Chiang Mai. In Laos, you should always try to pay in the quoted currency, which could be either of the three. You can usually work out which currency would be cheapest for you at guesthouses and restaurants. Tuk-tuk drivers always seem to quote in Baht, but then again, all of them are grossly overpriced. One place you do need dollars to save money is at the border, for your Laos visa on arrival - check this page for the latest visa fees.

  Book yourself a room in Vientiane. I know many people including myself who have gone to the city and walked around until they found a suitable place to stay. This is possible because the built-up area is so small, but is also a hassle in the heat, with bags on your back, after a long journey from Thailand. On top of that, many places are fully booked exactly because it's a popular visa run destination. I've listed some recommended places below, but keep in mind my objective was to save money, while also not making friends with bedbugs - a bit of a hard task.

  Finally - print yourself a map. What I do for new places is print out a printscreen of Google Maps on a certain area, then scribble all over it. You could make yourself walking routes, circle restaurants you want to try, or even just to mark where you're staying. Sound complicated? Look at my example below:

    An example map with all sorts of cool stuff drawn on it.

    What to do on the trip to Vientiane:

      Take a bus to Nong Khai. Your bus from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani should drop you at Terminal 2, which is where you'll find the local bus to Nong Khai. This bus costs around 20 - 40 Baht, and it's a 1 hour ride to Nong Khai.

      Take a tuk-tuk to the Thai Border. From where your Nong Khai bus drops you off, you can accept one of the many tuk-tuk drivers' offers to take you to the border, for around 40 - 70 Baht. This is where the Thai Immigration Office will stamp your departure out of Thailand. You'll need your passport, and a departure card which you find and fill in at the office.

      Take a bus over the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge. You will be offered more transport once you've walked through Thai Immigration. I'd recommend the 20 Baht bus, which will take you over the bridge to the Laos Immigration Office. Here you will need your passport again, your Laos visa application form and photos, and a filled-in arrival card which is available at the office.

      Take a tuk-tuk or minivan to Vientiane. Once you've received your Laos visa, you will walk into another gaggle of hollering drivers. At this point, the more fellow travellers you glue yourself to, the cheaper your fare will be. You can get an air-conditioned minivan for around 500 Baht with relentless haggling, and a tuk-tuk for half that price.

      Don't get tricked. There will be plenty of tricksy folk who will offer you all sorts of things along the way. Thai visa? I'm getting one in Laos, thanks. Direct package to Vientiane? I'd rather keep my 2000 Baht, buddy. Just ignore them.

      MORE important stuff to do:

        Don't waste money on needless transport. Everyone is trying to rip you off in Vientiane, because you're wearing that ridiculous sign on your head that says, "I'm here for a visa run, therefore, I'm loaded." Doesn't make sense, right? Well, taking a personal tuk-tuk everywhere at 500 Baht a pop doesn't make sense either. Leave your stuff at your guesthouse, and take an early morning walk to the Thai Embassy. At 6am, Vientiane is much cooler and quieter, and you get a chance to see some sights on the way.

        Do spend money on necessary transport. Yes, people do walk over the 1km Friendship Bridge to save money. But honestly, who wants to do that after travelling for so long? Just rather take the 20 Baht bus, and watch those sweaty fools walk along the Friendship Plank.

        Have a holiday. Plenty of people go all the way from Chiang Mai straight to the Thai Embassy in Vientiane. In my experience, this makes for a whole lot of grumpalumps and mopeymoaners. Firstly, you'll be getting there when everyone else does, and amazingly, at the exact same time the Thai Embassy employees' stomachs start growling. Everyone is hot, rude and pushy, and already hates Vientiane. Take an extra day to collect yourself and make your visa run an enjoyable trip.

        Get to the Thai Embassy early. If you take my advice, and stay in Vientiane for three days, now's your chance to take that early morning walk mentioned above, get yourself a number, and go and wait about an hour or so in a coffee shop nearby. Much less stressful than standing around in the 10 am heat with a hundred other visa hopefuls, while your ticket says 742 and they're calling out number 515.

        Go and pick up your visa and passport the next day. This should be your third day, and you should have thoroughly enjoyed your stay in Vientiane. Just don't enjoy it so much that you forget to pick up your visa. It has happened.

        Book yourself a bus home. A minivan should cost around 800 Baht, and a night-bus bus home should cost a little more. There are plenty of travel agents within walking distance from one another in the city, who will organize your trip all the way from Vientiane (so much simpler than getting there!). It's also worth asking the person at your reception, because they might just offer to book it for you. I've gotten discounts and deals by being friendly to the tired-looking woman at the front desk, which is the only reason I'm ever friendly, of course.

        My "Vientiane Goodies" map:

        Here I've made you a custom Google map of some places I enjoyed in Vientiane, as well as some guesthouses myself or my friends recommend. It's quite rare that Laotian guesthouses or restaurants have websites, so instead I've included some links I found the most helpful.

        View Vientiane Goodies in a larger map

        And here are my many photos from my first Vientiane trip:

        Sunrise in Udon Thani, straight off the overnight bus from Chiang Mai.
        An overpriced guesthouse we stayed at, where our friends got robbed. Not cool!
        The inside of above-mentioned dodgy guesthouse. Doesn't look so bad, right?
        Tuk-tuks, Laos-style!
        A bowl of chillies drying out on the road.
        Laotian Kip.
        50000 Laotian Kip notes - not that much really.
        No guns, no goats, no smoking, no durian, no drinks, no dogs. Okay.
        The Thai Embassy - fancy!
        Hammer and sickle shirts - so casual.
        Sushi that I never tried. Um.
        More caged birds (I think this one is some sort of Laos Myna?)
        We quickly moved onto Soukchaleun Guesthouse, and this was our charming little room.
        The view from our balcony at Soukchaleun, complete with adorable power cables.
        Laotian cops hard at work.
        A road to nowhere outside the city. (Actually, we were headed to the Buddha Park on a 500 Baht tuk-tuk.)
        A little window in a building at the Buddha Park.
        Inside one of the Buddha Park's big Buddha statues.
        More creepy statues inside the tomb.

        The view from on top of the Buddha statue we'd just been inside.
        Me and my boyfriend.
        Buddha Park sign.
        Our tuk-tuk driver and his bad-ass shades.
        Monks on bicycles.
        People-watching at a restaurant while the sun goes down.
        Our table at Aashifa Restaurant.
        A Chinese building near the river.
        Games at the night market.
        On the river's edge with some Beer Lao. Lovely!


        1. You have a great way of putting things together in a helpful and succinct way. Also, I heard Vientiane is pretty sandy. Is that true?

        2. Thanks! And yes, it's the land of sand!

        3. You're cute, we should hook up.

        4. Thanks, Anon, I guess? But you must have missed the pic of my boyfriend above! And also, I'd prefer to know what you think of my post =) haha!

        5. Аwesome pοst.

          My websіte: Fisher cats animal

        6. Great post - so much of essential information. Bookmarked.

        7. You've no idea how many times I've shared this to my friends when they ask about visa runs, it's been so helpful and I thought I should let you know! THANKS!

        8. I thought you should know this helped me a lot when I had to go to do visa run =] Thank you!