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.
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.