I recently moved from Chon Buri to Chiang Mai in Thailand. I have been going to school for a while now and though I am far from fluent I can speak, read and even write the Thai Language. To continue my studies I had to find a new school and start the process of resetting my visa by visiting another country or what many call a border run. I decided to go before a number of changes that were supposed to be happening on August 12th even though my present visa did not expire until September. After some research and talking to my school it was determined that resetting my visa in Vientiane, Laos  would probably be the best choice.

I have not done a visa run for quite some time and the last time I did it I hired one of those do everything for you visa tour mini buses and basically just sat in a van while someone else did all the work. This time I decided to do pretty much everything on my own and wanted to give everyone an idea on what I did and how I spent my down time in Vientiane. After some research I broke it down to three ways I could have gone into Vientiane to get my visa, of course there are probably more but these were the ones I considered.

Queue forming at the Thai Embassy

Queue forming at the Thai Embassy

MY OPTIONS TO ENTER VIENTIANE:

The first was just buying a ticket for a mini bus in Chiang Mai. You would leave in the night and drive for about 12 hours and reach Udon Thani which is still in Thailand by the way. Then you would head for about another hour until you reach Nogn Khai which is the border town before you enter Laos. You then cross what is called the Friendship Bridge where you get your visa on arrival and make your way into Laos. Then from there you travel another 20 kilometers or  so and reach Vientiane and on your way to the Thai Embassy. From there you apply for your Thai ED Visa in the morning from 830 am to 1130 am. You then pick it up the next day between 1:30pm and 3:30pm and hop back on the mini bus and head back to Chiang Mai. The cost was quite cheap for the drive and was quoted about 1500 Baht.

The second option I looked at was Nok Air to avoid the long drive. However, they do not have a direct flight into Laos and you would actually fly into Udon Thani and then almost repeat the procedure above. You would take a couch bus into Nong Khai, a local shuttle bus across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge and then yet another bus that will take you into Vientiane to the Trans Express Office which is in the city centre. The flight is only an hour and the bus system is all set up for you to tell you which ones to take and so forth. The price is more expensive at about 2500 to 3500 Baht for the flight and that does not include the visa on arrival price of course which is about 30 to 42 USD dollars depending on what country you are from. Though you would probably arrive too late to start the visa process that day you could sleep the night and start it the next, the biggest benefit of course is slashing many hours of driving time in a mini bus.

The third option is flying directly into Laos; the only direct flight I could find from Chiang Mai to Vientiane was actually from Lao Airlines. This is the most expensive option ranging from 7000 Baht to 12000 Baht but it only takes about 2 hour of flying time and you can get a Visa on Arrival right at the airport and avoid all the bridge crossing stuff with the other two options. You actually fly from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang which is Laos International airport and then from there you go domestic and fly into Vientiane. The total flying time is less than 2 hours.

I decided on taking option three which was flying directly into Laos. I am sure many of you are thinking that was the most expensive way to go and I should have took the cheaper options. The reason I went this route was this was my first border run going alone and I wanted it to be as easy as possible. I was not in the mood to sit in a mini bus for 12 hours that will surely be driving at light speed and I really was not in the mood to take buses and cross the friendship bridge. I have heard at this time that bridge was extremely busy and even a few people I talked to at the Thai Embassy told me they got stuck on that bridge for 3 or 4 hours and some missed their bus, right now many people are doing visa runs to avoid many new rules coming up and really I just wanted to make this trip as simple as possible. So I booked 4 nights in Vientiane at a hotel closer to the river. First night I would arrive in Vientiane, second day would be submitting the visa application, third day would be picking up the visa application and the fourth day was if there was a problem and I wanted to check out Vientiane a bit more as well.

Thai Embassy Laos Vientiane

Thai Embassy Laos Vientiane

So here is exactly what I did to receive my ED Visa for my new school in Chiang Mai.

1. Got all my paper work from my school and made extra copies of my passport and brought a few passport photos.
2. Went to Chiang Mai airport and got my plane ticket.
3. Went through immigration and gave them my departure card and headed to Luang Prabang, Laos Airport
4. Filled in my arrival card for Laos on the plane
5. Plane was nice with good service and it took about 1 hour to land in Luang Prabang.
6. From there got off the plane and was handed a visa on arrival form for Laos
7. Only a handful of people on the plane so it went rather quick. The Visa on Arrival is between 20 USD dollars to 42 USD dollars depending on which country you are from, but most of them are about 30 USD. It is wise to have the money ready and the correct change in USD, so research before you leave how much you have to pay. You also need one passport photo and if you do not have it they will do it for you for a charge of 1 dollar USD. I did not need one but when it came time for me to pay I actually had to pay an extra dollar, at the time not really thinking i thought it might be a processing fee but looking back at it I think they just charged me an extra dollar for the passport photo even though I gave them one.
8. From there you do the typical stuff of going through security and being asked why you are coming to Laos and how long you staying.
9. I got on my next flight about 2 hours later that took me to Vientiane. That flight is super quick only taking about 35 minutes and you arrive at the Vientiane airport which is not even half as nice as the Luang Prabang airport. Both airports are nothing to write home about but the Vientiane airport is kind of a dump.
10. Got a taxi to my hotel and got some food and went to bed as I knew I had to get up early to go to the Thai Embassy.

Tuk Tuk To Thai Embassy

Tuk Tuk To Thai Embassy

Thai Embassy Process

1. Thai Embassy actually opens at 8:30 AM but was told it was best to get there quite early even 6:30am as it can be quite busy and you want to get a number from the queue as fast as possible.

2. I ended up getting there at 7:30 AM as I wanted to get breakfast and honestly didn’t have the best sleep as getting the visa was on my mind. I took a Tuk Tuk from my hotel at the river and arrived at the Embassy in about 15 minutes. Also, before you go to the Embassy take a photocopy of your new Laos Visa Stamp that you received when you got your new visa; they will ask for that at the Embassy, if you do not have it you got to run upstairs at the Embassy and make a copy.

3. Was pleased to see that the line was not long at all. There were dudes outside that greeted me as I got out of the Tuk Tuk. I was expecting this, there are guys that hang around the Embassy and for a fee they will help you with your paper work and even do everything for you completely. A couple guys told me in the line they will do all the work for you for about 2000 Baht (not including the visa fees) and you do not have to lift a finger. However, I was already prepared and wanted to do this on my own and told them I did not need their assistance. To be honest I am not big on handing my Passport over to random strangers that work on the street anyway.

4. I was number 11 in line and talked to a few foreigners in line all doing similar things. A few of them telling me they been denied at other Embassies for their visa which does not give you a lot of confidence but hey it is out of my hands at this point. I think I was lucky as the queue line was only about 100 people, the next day the queue was over 600 people so I think I picked a great day. I know Monday and Fridays are the busiest days and I was there on a Wednesday.

5. At 8:30 the doors opened and we were instructed to get our numbers at a table in front of the building towards the back on the right hand side. I thought there would be a ticket machine but there was just someone at a desk handing out numbers. They quickly scan your documents and give you a number and then you were instructed to sit down at some chairs outside the building. When your number was called you went up to one of the windows and turned over your paper work to see if you were approved.

6. At this point I was ready to be asked some questions in Thai since I was studying the Thai language but he said nothing, flipped through my paperwork and said all was okay and to go inside the next building and pay the visa fee of 2000 Baht and pick up my passport tomorrow afternoon between 1:30 pm and 3:30pm.

7. Moving to the next building using the same queue number you sit in some air conditioned chairs. You are called up and you pay the 2000 Baht. The Embassy wants you to pay in Thai Baht so make sure you bring the correct payment fee to make it easy. The employee  gives you a receipt and tells you to come to this building again in the afternoon of the next day to pick up your passport. Do not lose this receipt as this is the receipt you need to get your passport back, if you lose it, I am sure that will cause many headaches.  The Thai Embassy opens at 1:30 to 3:30pm to pick up your Passport.  So make sure you understand that.  You apply for the Visa in the mornings from 8:30am to 11:30am and you pick up the completed Visa and Passport the following day in the afternoon.

8. Next day I came back at about 1:00pm and got back in line in front of the building. I did not think there would be a huge line as it was not busy the day I did my visa submission. I was number 28 and we were let into the Embassy at 1:30pm. Once again I was greeted by guys looking to help me in line but I told them I was already set and they moved on to the next guy. A couple guys in line told me that for 100 Baht these guys can get you in front of the queue to get your passport quicker, so I suppose if you were number 400 or something it might be worth it.

9. Moving to the same building that I paid my visa fee yesterday I sat in the chair and waited for my number to be called. You could tell today was much more busy as the people from the morning were still paying and they were on number 600 or so, a lot more people. It took about 45 minutes for my name to be called. I handed her the receipt and she flipped through the passports and then opened up and showed my main page so I said yes  that person is me and she handed over the passport with the new visa stamp. I checked it to make sure it was correct and jumped into a tuk tuk and headed back to my hotel.

Thai Embassy Laos Vientiane

Thai Embassy Laos Vientiane

Going Back To Chaing Mai Thailand With New Visa:

1. Heading back to Chiang Mai was similar to coming in. I took a taxi to the Airport. Took a plane from Vientiane airport domestic to Luang Prabang. Then handed over my departure card and flew from Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai internationally.

2. I filled out my new Thailand Arrival Card on the plane. Got directed to the immigration and they saw my New ED Visa and gave me my 90 days stamp. Everything was pleasant and no questions were ask, though yet again I was prepared to be tested in the Thai Language but I never was.

Patuxai is a war monument in the centre of Vientiane

Patuxai is a war monument in the centre of Vientiane

 

Things you can do while you wait for your Passport in Vientiane:

Vientiane is not a party city like Pattaya, Thailand for instance it is more laid back with a few bars, tourist sites, nice restaurants and even a couple of discos. You have some options when you are in Vientiane, you can stay in the many hotels around the Thai Embassy for easy access to the location or anywhere else in the city including down by the river which was my favorite area. You can find very cheap hotels to very expensive ones and it all depends on what you plan to do while you are there.

I personally stayed closer to the river which is still only a 15 minutes Tuk Tuk ride to the Embassy. Along the river and the side streets that flow up from it there are several hotels and restaurants that are a mixture of cheap and expensive and you have lots to choose from. It is probably the best area for eating in my opinion and they have a wide range of different cuisines for you to enjoy. Laos, Thai, Italian, French, Western and much more can all be found all over the place and from what I have seen even the cheaper places had pretty good food and the staff was friendly and delivered good service. I went to several restaurants during my stay but there are many I never got the chance to visit. Some of the best bread I have ever eaten I got from the Bakery, perhaps the French influence.

view at the top of Patuxai

view at the top of Patuxai

As for bars there are a few here and there including the Belgium Beer Bar which was kind of a laid back place with food and a nice selection of different beers from all over the place. I am not sure if it was because I arrived in low season but the bars were pretty empty with just a few foreigners and girls but nothing I was too interested in. Even the disco I visited only had 8 people inside. Bars also close at 12pm in Vientiane but a few of them stay open a little later.

Night Market

Every night along the river they have a huge night market. I really enjoyed this market; it was quite long, clean and not very crowded. The prices were pretty good and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I actually liked this market better than any market I have been to in Thailand. It is easy to find you just walk towards the river and you will see a huge number of red tents set up.

Night Market Vientiane Laos

Night Market Vientiane Laos Open Every night

Tourists Sites

The city has a number of tourist’s sites to check out. I hardly got the chance to visit all of them and the ones I did visit I didn’t really research. Just like most Asian cities there are temples, statues, buildings, views and so forth that are all worth a look. I included a few photos in the post to give you an idea.

Vientiane is growing I can see it from how much it has already grown from my last Visa Run a few years ago. It still lacks a good mall, movie theaters and a lot of the Western basics you might want to see but it is a nice laid back city for enjoying a drink, having a nice stroll to see the sites, eating good food and of course visiting a few bars. You will find a lot of tourists in the city including a huge number of Back Packers. I enjoyed my time there but will admit if I stayed any longer I might have started to get a bit bored, especially when you are alone on a visa run.

Vientiane Laos Tourist Sites

Vientiane Laos Tourist Sites

 Some other quick tips:

1. The Laos Currency is Called Kip
2. Most of the restaurants the bill is broken up into Baht, USD and KIP options
3. You get the best bang for your buck using KIP, best exchange
4. Almost every Tuk Tuk driver gave me the smoke some weed body action, not my thing but it seems like it is pretty easy to get
5. Be aware of Ladyboys around some of the streets they looked pretty rough
6. Gets hot in this city make sure to have some water at all times
7. You can haggle the Taxi Drivers Down In Price
8. Many cars park on the sidewalks which is annoying
9. I found the best tasting places to eat were closer to the river area
10. You can rent Bicycles and Motorbikes but I didn’t myself
11. Try a bakery delicious Bread, French Influence
12. Found prices for food and drinks cheaper on average from Thailand

Vientiene Laos

Vientiene Laos

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