Leaving Laos – in the most complicated way

Posted from Mueang Nong Khai, Nong Khai, Laos.

Vientiane – Nong Khai – Udon Thani

While most people only visit Vientiane to do visa runs, my visit was for the sole purpose of getting a visa at the Thai consulate. So, in a way, I suppose I’m not far off the mark. Flying into Thailand is the only way to get a free 30-day visa, otherwise, if you cross by land, which I was doing, you will only be granted 15 days entry. But I wanted a 60-day visa so I could avoid doing a visa-run while I was exploring Thailand’s southern beaches. I also didn’t want to have to pay for a flight. So while I was venturing through northern Laos I decided to hit up Vientiane, even though so many people told me it was a boring town.

The Thai Consulate (not the embassy) allows visa applications from Monday to Friday between 8:30 a.m. and noon. You can arrive after these hours and pick up an application form, but you will not be allowed to submit it until the next day. I learned this by arriving at 3:30 p.m. While someone was there to tell me what I needed and give me a form, that’s as far as I got.

A tuktuk ride to the embassy will run about 30,000 Kip. Otherwise it’s an easy bike ride from the river area. Rent a bike for 10,000 Kip and you can keep it for the entire day.

Upon arrival at the consulate you will be given a number (or ask for one at the counter) and will have to wait your turn. At some point the numbers turned off while I was there and it became a free-for-all. No biggie. The people behind the counter don’t really give a damn if you’re not in order. The people in line might. I jumped the que and no one said anything.

Here’s what you need to apply:

–       your passport
–      a copy of your passport page
–      copy of your Laos visa
–      copy of your Laos stamp
–      two photographs
–      Baht, and only Baht to pay your fee (1,000 for 60-day single entry)

(There’s a copy machine at the consulate you can use for about 1,000 Kip a page. I had my copies made in town for 1,000 Kip for all pages.)

On the application form:

–       you will be asked for a Thai address. Just give the address of your first hotel or any hotel where you may be staying.

–       Your local guarantor is where you are staying in Vientiane. Just write the name of that hotel.

–       Your Thai guarantor. I left this blank. No one asked for it.

–       You will be charged more for a double entry visa. If you really know you want to leave and re-enter it’s probably a good idea to pay it. A double entry is 2,000 Baht.

Mondays are the worst day to apply as you will have to contend with the throngs of people who were waiting all weekend. Likewise, if you apply on a Friday you’ll have to wait until Monday to pick up your passport. Also, the consulate isn’t open on holidays. I applied on Wed., March 6 and would pick up on Thurs., March 7. But the 8th was International Women’s Day and the consulate was closed. So all the people who applied on the Thursday would have to wait until Monday to get their visas. Talk about lucky.

After you’ve submitted your application you need to pay for it. That is performed by entering the building to the left of the outdoor application area and then waiting for them to call your number … again. It won’t be in order.

My single entry 60-day visa was 1,000 Baht. I was called rather quickly, about 10 minutes or so after I got inside. I paid for my visa, got my paid stamp on my number (also my receipt) and left. Presto. Hang onto that receipt and your number. You need it to get your passport. That’s their filing system.

Picking up your passport and visa

The next day I decided to bring my backpack and things with me to the consulate so I could leave directly to Udon Thani (about two hours away in Thailand) after getting my passport and hopefully my 60-day visa. I was flying to Chaing Mai from there. (Flights from Vientiane to Chaing Mai were more than double the price.) (Also, I spoiled myself with the flight. I’d had enough of bus rides through the mountains.)

I walked to the consulate from my backpackers – 35mins. Free.

Some of the people waiting outside the gate.

Some of the people waiting outside the gate.

I got there for around noon. There were already some people in line and the gates didn’t open for another hour. It’s a good idea to show up early so you can get a number quickly, get in and get out. Otherwise you may find yourself waiting more than an hour. Many of the people in line also had their luggage.

Whilst in line I met three lovely girls from the Philippines. They all work in Thailand and were on a visa run. We got to talking a little and exchanging our stories, and before I knew it we were in league to get through the throng and get to the border together. Phew. Travelling alone is always difficult when there’s no direct route so I was happy to have a group to share tuktuks with. Also it was nice to be with people who knew what they were doing.

The rush for a number.

The rush for a number.

When the gate opened it was a bit of a rush. Some people butted in line and jumped the que (there were 100 people waiting already) and some ran for the ticket counter. I got number 15 and me and the girls all had our passports within five minutes. Quickly, we negotiated (okay, they negotiated) a lift and we were in an AC van on our way to the border for 50 Baht each. Yeehaw.

There’s vans and tuktuks waiting outstide the embassy. Make friends in line if you’re alone or just find a van that needs someone else and negotiate your price. You shouldn’t pay more than 50 Baht.

There is a bus that goes from the Morning Market in Vientiane to Udon Thani that costs about 40,000 Kip. In the afternoon they leave at 2, 4 and 6 p.m. The tickets can sell out quickly, so either buy one ahead of time or take your chances.

Once at the border we had to get a smart pass, which included them checking to see if we over-stayed and paying any relevant fees there. They give you a card that you slide into a gate to exit. Then we had to officially check-out of Laos. This was fairly easy. Give the official your departure card. Stamp. Stamp. Stamp.

The gateway marks the beginning of the Friendship Bridge.

The gateway marks the beginning of the Friendship Bridge.

From there we get on a bus to go over the Friendship Bridge. The bus is 4,000 Kip. They will charge you even if you walk, so just take the bus.

Next everyone rushes off the bus and to the Thailand entry gates. Some people already had entry/departure cards filled out and were first in line. We didn’t have any. Oops. We found some and filled them out. Then we had to wait in line and, of course, chose the wrong line. So 15 minutes later we were through. Bags through an x-ray machine.

Jaki, Christy, Christine and I after I triumphant crossing.

Jaki, Christy, Christine and I after I triumphant crossing.

From immigration we had to get a tuktuk to the Nong Khai bus station – 40 Baht. The girls were keen negotiators.

You can take a taxi straight to Udon Thani from here, but they will want 200 Baht or more and it’s unclear if they will drop you off at your hotel. I was up for the adventure with the girls, they got me this far, even though 200 Baht is only $6.

Then we got on a bus to Udon Thani – 40 Baht. The bus got packed. We picked up hordes of people along the way and they crammed into the aisle. Then they exited along the way. The ride took well over an hour, while a taxi probably would’ve been 45 mins.

In Udon Thani we went our separate ways. The girls had to get a bus to another town and then another bus to Lomsak. They helped me get a tuktuk for 80 Baht to my hotel before they left though.

My taxi to the airport in the morning was a standard 150 Baht. Or $5.

So here’s the breakdown:

–       10,000 Kip to rent a bike
–       1,000 Baht for visa
–       50 Baht to border
–       4,000 Kip across Friendship Bridge
–       40 Baht to bus station
–       40 Baht to Udon Thani
–       80 Baht to my hotel

In total it was about $42 – visa included.

So the journey from Vientiane to Udon Thani isn’t so bad. It could be made simpler, but I’ve been finding that most of the border crossings in SE Asia are a complicated mess. Nothing runs smoothly and there’s a large number of entrepreneurs that are ready and willing to take advantage of this inconvenience to their own good fortune. If you’re not in a rush you can take the slow method, but if you try to rush there’s plenty of people who are willing to help make your crossing easier – for a price.

 

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