Vientiane and the Thai visa run

by Travel Paulie on February 12, 2010

Children playing in the water

Do you need to renew your tourist visa for Thailand?  Perhaps Vientiane is a option if you are travelling nearby.  I’ve just returned from neighbouring Laos on a so-called “visa run” and I’m going to lay out just some of the details you may be interested to know in case you need the same thing.

Thai visas

When you fly into Thailand you will typically receive a visa-on-arrival and for me holding a UK passport I get a 30 day tourist visa.  If you come overland, they’re not quite as generous and you receive only 15 days.  There’s not a lot you can do with that, but it might be all you need.

If you want to stay a while longer as a tourist, you must leave the country and come back again through immigration.  If you only need 15 days or less, you could just pop out overland to Cambodia or Laos and back in again.  If you require much longer than that you will likely need to go through the process that I’ve just undertaken, detailed below.  This will afford you a tidy 60 day tourist visa versus the 30 days you’re allocated with visa-on-arrival.

A basic how to on the Thai visa run via Nong Khai

I’ll lay the steps out here and elaborate on them a little as I go along.  One point in particular I’ll note first is… don’t stress!  This is easy and shouldn’t tax you hardly in the slightest – jot down the details, or print them so you have a reference but don’t worry about this, that, and what ifs, as I’ll try to cover all the main points here you need.

To do all that I’ve laid out below, you will need to bring with you the following items (of course you can generally get most of them for a fee at the locations where they are required):

  1. 3 passport sized photographs (you can pick these up also at the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge (฿100 for 8 pieces)
  2. A photocopy of your passport identity page
  3. Cash for the Laos visa (~฿1500, ~US$35) – if you can, bring LAK as it’s cheaper
  4. Your Passport =)

Here goes…

  • One of the best points to cross into Laos for access to Vientiane is over the Friendship Bridge at Nong Khai.  There are several places along the border to do this, but Nong Khai, with the Friendship Bridge that spans the Mekong River, is a sensible option as Nong Khai is very accessible by public transport and Vientiane is only 30~60mins from the border.  However you get to Nong Khai, it’s unlikely directly to the Friendship Bridge, so wherever you are hop onto a tuk-tuk and it should cost you no more than ฿60~100 (if you’re alone).
  • Fill out your Thailand departure card and pass through immigration on the Thai side of the border – this should be straight forward if you haven’t over-stayed your welcome in Thailand.
  • Buy a bus ticket and cross the bridge into Laos.  At the time of writing this was ฿25 or so, and will take a whole 2 minutes (not counting the waiting time for the bus to fill-up).
  • Go to the visa-on-arrival section (counters #1 and #2) and retrieve the necessary forms to apply for your Laos entry visa.  There should be 2 – one is your visa application, and the other is your immigration departure-arrival card.  Here you will use a single passport-sized photograph to attach to the form.  Submit your passport, photo, application form, and fee in Thai Baht, US dollars, or Laos kip (LAK), and wait to receive it after processing just around the corner at counter #3.
  • The Laos visa takes up a whole page on your passport so ensure you have enough room, and bring your passport through the immigration booth.  If you haven’t already arranged your transport to Vientiane via the many tuk-tuk drivers that swarm both the Thai and Laos sides of the bridge, now is your chance to sort your ride.  It cost me ฿100, but I was teamed up with 4 other people who paid the same.  Use ฿100 as a decent benchmark and don’t let them charge you extravagant prices.
  • The Thai tourist visas are issued from the Thai Consulate in Vientiane – not the Thai embassy.  Most tuk-tuk drivers will know where to take you if you tell them you want a Thai visa anyway, or you can look at the map where I’ve labelled both.  You will need 2 passport photographs, a photocopy of your passport (your photo page) and a completed visa application form.  Outside the consulate you will find lots of people there actually selling the forms that you can get inside for free – don’t fall for it.  If you haven’t got your photographs prepared though, you can get them taken and printed outside the consulate also… for a fee.
  • Visa application process is done in 2 stages.  The 1st is to submit all the forms etc., the second is to return to the consulate the following day and pick up the merchandise.  Stage 1 is available in the morning between 8:30am and 12:00pm; stage 2 is in the afternoon between 1:30pm and 3:00pm.
  • A few notes about stage 1: you will find people queuing up outside the consulate from as early as 7:30am if not before.  You have the option to stand out there if you want or need to be served promptly after opening, because otherwise once you arrive you will be waiting for quite a while to get served.  Once inside the grounds of the consulate, head towards the tents outside on the far right and pick up your numbered ticket from the machine, grab an application form, fill it out and wait to be called.  They will stamp your numbered ticket once they have received your application – hold on to it as you’ll need it to pick up your passport the following day.
  • A few notes about stage 2: it is the same story as with stage 1 with regards queuing and waiting etc.  Get inside the grounds and pickup a numbered ticket from the same place as before, and wait.  Once your number is called, head inside the main building and hand over your numbered ticket from the previous day and you should get your passport without a hitch.

I’ve opted to split this article into two parts so that this one alone will deal with the visa experience, while the following will contain just a brief account of my time in Vientiane.

Some other links/info

P.S. On my travel map, I’ve put some of the points of interest that I would go back to again if I visit Vientiane.

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