Monthly Archives: April 2012
I recently had to do a visa run to Laos. It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do one in three years, and so I was a little confused as to how the process works. I asked ten different people and got ten different answers. But after doing it I can safely say that it’s an easy process and there’s really nothing to fret about. I had to obtain a 60 day visa, but I imagine the information is pretty much the same for a 90 day visa. However, you will probably need to go armed with a lot more paperwork for the 90 day visa. This post is going to be brief and to the point. I will just list out the steps you need to take to get your visa. So here goes!
- Get to Mukdahan. I live in Bangkok so I took the bus from Mochit. Make sure you take passport photos.
- Get a ticket to Laos. The ticket office is located in the Mukdahan bus terminal. Can’t miss it.
- Get your Thai visa cancelled. Everyone piles off the bus at Mukdahan border control. Make sure you’re fast. Don’t be polite or you’ll end up at the back of the queue. You have to fill out a departure card then get a stamp in your passport to show you have officially left Thailand.
- Back on the bus. Over the Friendship Bridge.
- Off the bus to enter Laos. Go to the window to your left, the one where all the other foreigners are going. You will need to fill in a visa on arrival form. The visa costs about 1500 baht. This is where you will need those passport photos. If you don’t have them it’s a 50 baht charge. The man in the office will you give you an arrival card. Might as well fill it out while you wait.
- You now have to get a stamp in your passport. Join the queue, pay the 40 baht fee and enter Laos.
- You will now be approached the by tuk tuk drivers. It’s up to you whether you accept their 2-300 baht charge or wait for some other mode of transport. I jumped on a tuk tuk for speed…well, speed compared to waiting for a bus, if you know what I mean…tuk tuks aren’t exactly known for their speed. The tuk tuk drivers do accept baht, as do most other business owners in Savannakhet. However, just so you know, 25000 Laos kip is equal to 100 baht.
- If you arrive at the embassy before 11:00 am then you’re just in time. Go to the small shop opposite the embassy to buy the visa application form and get copies of your passport. It’s about 20 baht.
- Now enter the embassy, give them your passport, get a receipt and you’re done.
- You now have to pass some time until the next day when your visa will be ready. Might as well book a hotel, have a manicure and enjoy some of the Laos cuisine. I found Laos food to be excellent and cheap. If you’ve missed steak while in Thailand, you’ll be able to catch up with 2 or 3 of them while in Laos. The beer is good too.
- The next day, enjoy some baguettes and coffee for breakfast at the Chez de Bourne cafe about 5 minutes up the road from the embassy. You’ll be able to pick up your visa at 2:00 pm. If you want to use the internet, I found an internet cafe not far from the embassy opposite Savan Auto. From the above mentioned restaurant, go up the road until you come to the cross roads. Take a right then walk for five minutes along the road. The internet cafe is on the right.
So that’s it. A quick, to the point guide on getting your visa in Laos. It’s actually really easy, and a good chance to see another culture.
I arrived at Mukdahan bus station at approximately 8:30 on Monday April 1. I’d managed to get a few hours sleep under my blanket on the bus, but I was feeling pretty groggy all the same. As I said before, I’d been to Mukdahan many times, so I knew the layout of the bus station and where to get the tickets. The bus station is small and the ticket offices are easy to locate being near to the entrance. The ticket was remarkably cheap. I think it was about 40 baht! I bought a strong coffee and went to wait for my bus.
Within about 20 minutes of buying my ticket I was on the way to Laos. We stopped first at the Thai border control to officially leave the country. This is the point where everybody stampedes off the bus and selfishly pushes their way to the front of the queue; me included! When I finally reached the end of the queue, I was instructed by the passport officer to go inside the main building and speak to his boss. As I was cancelling a working visa, I guess he figured I needed special attention. As it turned out, the man in the office looked at my passport for all of two minutes then stamped it to show that my working visa was now officially void. I guess I was lucky. I’ve heard stories of teachers being charged 15,000 baht for similar reasons. Eventually, everybody was through and we got back on the bus. We crossed the Friendship Bridge, which allows some nice views of the Mekong River.
Now I had to get a visa on arrival for Laos. I suddenly felt like I was in a foreign land. Seems strange to say it, but I actually feel quite at home in Thailand these days. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Laotians. The bus stops at the border control, and once again it’s out for stamping and all that kind of stuff. I went straight to the window where I saw other foreigners. Usually the best course of action. The guy gave me a form to fill out and an arrival/departure card to fill out. The arrival cards in Laos are actually rather nice and they have a few useful phrases for you to use while you stay there. Sabai dee bor means the same as Sabai dee mai, or How are you? The Laos actually understand Thai as their language is very similar. I guess it might be like the difference between Spanish and Catalonian Spanish.
Your visa on arrival will cost about 1,500 baht. Make sure you take passport photos along with you. I was lucky, I had some in my wallet, though I had completely forgotten about this point. Once you have all your documents stamped and signed just go to the window where all the other foreigners are standing and get a stamp in your passport. You have to pay 40 baht for this, I’m pretty sure they’re just skimming money off of you but it’s not too much.
The time was now 10:40. Remember the Thai embassy closes at 11:00. I felt a bit like James Bond making a last minute dash to save the entire planet from imminent destruction as I jumped into a tuk tuk and sped off for the embassy. I had no idea how far away it was, but I was putting my money on it being close enough to get there in 15 minutes.
To be continued…….
When I first discovered TEFL teaching back in 2007 I was like “Wow! you mean I can travel the world on the strength of my native language skills?” I knew I wanted to travel to Thailand but TEFL teaching provided me with the ticket to stay there on a long-term basis. After doing all the paper work – TEFL courses, criminal record check, visa – I was ready to go. I landed in Bangkok on June 22, 2009. By July 1 of the same year I had a job at Patai Udom Suksa School in Laksi, Bangkok. The interview went remarkably smoothly. In hindsight, I would say too smoothly. The “nice woman” who interviewed me just seemed to be saying “When can you start?” But I wasn’t complaining. I wanted to be in Thailand and she wanted teachers. Seemed like a fair deal to me.
My starting wage was 27,500 per month – about £550. It wasn’t a lot, but Bangkok is a lot cheaper than England in many ways (just as expensive in many others), and my girlfriend had a job at the time, too. We managed to get by month to month but weren’t able to save any money. I was going through my honeymoon period with the school and was still a starry-eyed newcomer who only saw the good in everything. Teaching seemed easy enough and I was having great fun with the students. I also really liked my boss. She seemed to be always smiling, and her quirky English gave her a funny quality. Perhaps I was blinded by the newness of it all, or perhaps she just changed at some point, but I remember one day realizing that we didn’t like each other anymore.
From that point on I began to realize that she was absolutely loopy. She was manipulative, had favourites, picked on those she didn’t like, ran us round and round in circles with her meaningless English, and held long pointless and repetitive meetings every week just for the pleasure of getting the attention from her adoring minions. She believed somewhere in her deranged mind that she was some kind of mini queen in her own little “Queendom”. She ran the whole English program in the most random and haphazard way you could possibly imagine. Things were thrown on us at the last minute, changed at the last second. We were given 12 hours notice to prepare for events, phoned at 7 in the morning to tell us we had to be in early for this or that special event. Basically, she didn’t have a clue what she was doing. Not a clue!
I worked at the school for almost three years, in part because I had a family to provide for (we’d since had a son), and in part because I was putting off the inevitability of change. In my final year, the boss relayed a message to everyone via one of her messengers: “If [Ms. Fish] doesn’t speak to you regarding your contract by the 29th of February , you must start looking for a new job.” I knew she wouldn’t offer me a new contract, but I didn’t care – I’d already been offered a new, better-paid job. I was going to have the last laugh, or so I thought.
On my final day, I discovered that she had offered a bonus to one of the other employees, one that had worked at the school for about a year and a half. Remember that I’d been there for two and a half. I was pretty annoyed as I was planning to pay her back an 11,000 baht loan that the school had allowed me for paying down on a rented house. I decided I was going to ask for a bonus too. She obviously hadn’t planned on telling me that I was entitled to one.
In our final meeting I handed over all the paperwork she had asked for. In return, she would hand over my salary. It turned out that the administrative staff had made a mistake with my wages and only deducted 3,000 baht instead of the 11,000 baht I owed them. I was all but ready to walk out with the money. I brought up the bonus that she had offered the other teacher and asked her if she would allow me to keep the money that was now in my hands. She suddenly came across as the caring boss who would gladly help me. She made phone calls and within 10 minutes she offered a bonus equal to 50% of my usual salary. I believed she would play fair and give me the bonus she had offered me so I handed over the extra 8,000 baht that I owed the school.
About a week after leaving the school, I paid them a visit to talk about my work permit cancellation and to see if my bonus was available. When I walked in to her office she looked at me as if to say “what are you doing here?” and said: “Is there anything you need from me?” I said, in the nicest way possible, that I’d come to see about my bonus. She basically shot me down saying it was up to the staff in the main school – those mysterious people who I never saw but often heard of. She then contradicted herself saying that I’d ended my contract early and that I hadn’t told her which school I was moving to, so she wasn’t so sure any more if I was going to get the bonus. I humbly walked out of the office, wishing her well and saying take care. She asked me to email her about it. I knew she would ignore the email.
About a week later, she paid another teacher a bonus. Seemingly the “main school” had already made their decision for this teacher. Mine was obviously taking longer to think through. Now, there’s one thing you should bear in mind here: I’d worked at the school for almost three years and my contract entitled me to a free flight home every year. I’d never used it. What with my family and all, I’d never found time to go home. Therefore, the school had saved a lot of money on me, around 60,000 baht. What was a measly 15,000 baht to them when it was going to a teacher who had helped them for three academic years?
The last time I contacted her, she told me I was strange for calling her on a Sunday. Okay, perhaps I did pick the wrong day, but hardly the sort of thing you say to someone you respect. Why couldn’t she just have said something to the effect of: “oh sorry, I can’t do anything for you now but if you call me back next week we can talk then”? Because she had the mini queen mentality. What was a lowly slave doing calling her in her free time. But as I said before, she never liked me. As of now, I have decided I don’t want her bonus. I don’t need it and I will be very glad to be rid of this awful woman.
I won’t say anything bad about the school in general. The kids are lovely, I made some great friends there (not her, of course), and I had many great experiences during my time at the school. The only down side to the school is that awful, confused excuse for a boss. The funny thing is, after leaving the school, I met a guy who said he’d worked at Patai Udom Suksa 9 years ago. He said the school was great; until the new boss started. Guess who the knew boss was? Well, I learned a good lesson about Thailand: always take the small amount of money while you’ve got it, because there’s no guarantee that Thai people will honour their word to pay you back at a later date.
After feeling like I’d overstayed my welcome in Dunkin’ Donuts, I went downstairs to the dreaded bus station. If you’ve ever been in Mochit bus terminal, you’ll know what I’m talking about. As you travel down the escalator you look out over a sea of people, all haphazardly standing around waiting for a bus. The place is dark and dingy and makes you think of things like rats and cockroaches. In the middle of the aisle are numerous shops that sell drinks and snacks at inflated prices. On either side are the bus parking bays. Around these are hoards of people crowded together, hoping to be the first to get on the bus. In front of the parking bays sit representatives of the respective bus companies, occasionally speaking over a loud speaker to announce that the bus will be late. In fact, buses are often late.
After pushing myself through the sea of people, I bought some watermelon in a plastic bag (so convenient to eat healthily in Thailand) and stationed myself near to the stop where my bus would be coming an hour later. Luckily, I got a seat. Most of the time, you end up standing in one place for hours. Apparently the bus was delayed by half an hour, and so I’d have to wait until around 10 pm to get on it. I was hoping that the late bus wouldn’t drag out my stay in Laos. The Thai embassy in Laos stops receiving applications for visas at 11 am in the morning. Therefore, if you get there after 11, you have to wait unit the next day just to make the application.
Eventually, after the slow inexorable grind of time, I was getting on the bus. I sat down by the window, even though my seat was next to the aisle. I had to sit next to some random Thai guy, which is never what you want, but that’s just the way it is. I read my book while the light was still on, then tried to get some sleep once it went dark. I used to think the four-hour trip to London was long. Since then I’ve become accustomed to ten-hour trips to Mukdahan to visit my wife’s family.
On Sunday (April 1), I left my new apartment in Bangbua Thong to make the 700km (approx) journey to Savannakhet, in Laos. The reason for going was simple: I needed to change my visa type before I could begin my new job. I kissed my wife and son goodbye, then headed off to catch the bus to the Mochit bus terminal, where I would then take a bus to Mukdahan on the border with Laos. As I had never actually taken a bus from that stop before (we had just moved into our new apartment on the very same day), I asked the guy standing next to me if the 134 passed. He said it did but told me that the minivan was a quicker way to travel. I decided I would take the minivan afterall. I waited for the minivan but I didn’t see any coming that were headed for Mochit. After a while the guy asked me if I wanted to split a taxi; the fare, that is. At first I said thanks, but no thanks. The minivan is cheaper, and plus, I didn’t want to get in a taxi with someone I’d just met on the side on the road. After a while, though, I realized we could be waiting for a ages if we wanted the minivan, so I decided to take a “risk” and go with the guy afterall.
We jumped in the nearest taxi and set off. The driver and my new friend got off talking as though they were old friends, and I was beginning to wonder if I’d been set up. I had visions of them taking me on a wild goose chase around the city until I owed them about 600 baht, then throwing me out and saying “oh, sorry, we can’t find it.” As it was, I just went with the flow. The driver was asking me all kinds of questions about who I was, and where I was going, and did I like Thai girls (of course I did, doesn’t everybody?). He seemed friendly enough, and I decided they weren’t going to mug me afterall.
We arrived at Mochit bus terminal, paid our “split” fare, and got out. Me and my new buddy walked into the bus terminal together, shook hands, and said good luck. I’ll probably never see him again. Such is life. I realized I was going to have a three-and-a-half-hour wait on my hands, so I went to get some food outside the bus terminal.
Thailand has loads of great little restaurants (if you can call them that) on the side of the road. They usually have plastic chairs and tables, with some kind of plastic canopy in case it rains, which it often does. The guy cooking the food is stationed at a little foodstand on wheels and takes orders from a million customers, just remembering everything in his head. I ordered beef noodles, something I rarely eat. The Thais eat a lot more pork pound for pound than any other meat. The Chinese Thais don’t eat beef, and this affects the culture in general. No beef means no red meat, means not much iron.
After eating noodles I wanted a place to pass the time before I got on my bus. I had seen a Dunkin’ Donuts inside the bus terminal and so I decided to set myself up there with a book, coffee, and a few donuts. The place was jam-packed with people trying to do exactly the same thing as me: pass the time until their bus arrived. I read this book I’d found in the office at my old school before leaving. As I was leaving, I guess that technically meant I’d stolen it, but I didn’t care. The book was by Nick Hornby (first book I’ve read by him), and was vaguely about a teenage skateboarder who got his teenage girlfriend pregnant. If it had been more about skateboarding, and less about teenage pregnancy, I might have enjoyed it. Not a bad book to pass some time on a long journey, but definitely not the type of thing I usually read.