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LAOS - Visa runs

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Laos (Thai pronunciation - Laow, as in cow) is of course a different country but I have included it here in the Thailand section because I only ever go there to get my Thai visa renewed. I have not ventured out in to the country, just stayed in the main city Vientiane about 35mins taxi ride from the border (depending on how mad the driver is).

The border on the Thai side is just outside of Nong Khai which is about 40 minutes drive from Udon Thani. So for me it is very handy for tourist visa renewals which is why I have never bothered getting a full Thai visa.

Getting out of Thailand is easy and quick. Getting into Laos is a totally different story.

There is a single window where you have to submit your application plus the 1500 baht fee (about 35 quid). If you don't already have a form you'll have to go to another window to get one. I always get everything filled out beforehand by a travel agent on the Thai side near the border. It costs 200 baht (about a fiver) but it saves a hell of a lot of messing about and you get a ride across the Friendship Bridge to the Laos immigration, which saves you having to cram into a bus. The Laos visa and stamps will take up a page and a bit of your passport so doing several trips quickly fills it up.

So back to the single window, yes it's still there but you haven't moved.

It takes the officials approx 2-3 minutes to deal with each person. If this doesn't sound too bad then just imagine a queue of 30 people (as is often the case) where you are at the back and just as you are about to move forward some selfish AH pushes in the queue at a point where he/she thinks there will be least resistance. I am not racist but through observation I can say that without exception the people that do this are not from Western countries.

On my last trip I managed to arrive at a time such that I was 3rd in the queue - "Excellent" I thought. But then I noticed the sign on the window - 'Closed for Breakfast'. So I still had to wait for almost 40 minutes because the little darlings were hungry.

So you have to be prepared for at least an hour's wait, usually more. It can be frustrating, especially if you plan to get a 2 month Thai visa at the embassy in Vientiane. The embassy closes at mid day so you have to get there before then or you'll be spending another day. You have to pick up your visa the next day so you could be spending a whole weekend in Laos if it's a Thursday and you miss the 12 O'clock deadline. The embassy is closed at the weekend so if you submit your application on Friday you won't get your passport back until Monday.

There is a scam whereby you can pay about 5000 baht (120 quid) and you'll get your passport back the same day. I tried it once but I didn't get my passport until after 5pm so I may just as well have spent the night. It would have been cheaper. Also, doing this is illegal and the immigration officials at the border may question you as to how you got a visa so quickly. This could cause problems for you if you happen to get an officious jobsworth immigration official.

Whatever happens, if you plan to do this trip you must keep a chilled out attitude. I have seen people literally shaking with frustration and I must confess I have been there too.
So just chill out and enjoy the chaos.

The pics here are from various trips I've done in the last few years.

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