For those who wish to live in Thailand long term you will inevitably end up doing a visa run to Laos, which is no easy feat and to be honest is far from a relaxing few days away from Pattaya.
Having recently moved to Thailand I looked at my options on how to remain in the land of smiles for good and with my budget decided that an education visa was the best fit for me. The way I looked at it I wanted to learn some Thai and I get a visa out of it so seemed like a win win to me.
Below I will talk about my experience of a visa run to Laos as well as provided a few tips to make the trip as easy and comfortable as possible.
Like I said I opted for an education visa and used a well know reputable school in Pattaya who after paying them a fee totalling 25,000 baht for my visa application, transportation, accommodation and a years’ worth of Thai lessons they notified me of the date that I would be off to Laos.
Not knowing what to expect I asked several friends here in Pattaya who had done the visa run what it was like and all of them had the same look on their face a mixture of happiness and a little pity who informed me that I was not in for a very enjoyable experience.
The day finally arrived and the school presented me with all the required paperwork and notified me that a tour company minibus would be picking me up from my condo in Jomtien at 5pm.
This brings us to my first tip for the expedition; pick your seat on the bus wisely. Those who have been on a minibus in Thailand will know there generally not the most comfortable of vehicles so picking the right seat is crucial for a journey which will take roughly 12 hours. The very back off the bus often the coolest spot to sit when a kid is in my opinion the worst of the seats as the roads are very bumpy and the shocks very springy so after a few hours of driving you will feel like a shook up bottle of soda. The seat to go for if you’re lucky enough to get first dibs is directly behind the driver seat, this row provides a little extra leg room to stretch out and it’s the least bouncy part of the bus. The main seats to avoid are
ones where you constantly have to get off the bus to let others off as you will stop a lot, it felt like we stopped at all of Thailand’s 10,000 7-elevens so if you want to try and get some shut eye best to pick a seat where you won’t be disturbed too often.
Tip two take a pillow I forgot and after the few hours of sleep I did manage to obtain I awoke with a very stiff neck so a pillow is definitely high on the list of things you want to be taking. I also took my I pad which now thanks to the wonders of technology had tons of movies stored on it and kept me entertained until I was ready to try and sleep.
We arrived at the border at about 5am and a crowd had already begun to form at the border which doesn’t open till 6am and here comes perhaps the most important tip for the whole experience you need to be wearing trainers because once the border opens it’s a 250 metre dash to the immigration point and it’s like a scene from a zombie movie as everyone starts sprinting in a mass three for all trying to be first in the que to get through the border so here’s what you need to do, when you’re driving to Laos make the effort to talk to everyone on the bus especially those first timers and tell them what to expect when you arrive and tell them to run!
If like me you have several elderly travellers on your bus your just out of luck and are in for a long wait as while several of us did run and managed to be in the first 25 percent or so of people through the border we then had to wait for the rest of our tour group which in our case took about an hour and a half before they made it through.
Like I said very important as once you get to Laos the first thing you do is go to the Thai embassy to hand in your documents like nearly everyone else there but as we were held up getting through the border we were now at the back of the que at the embassy meaning another long wait was on the cards.
When you arrive at the embassy it’s not open so you join a cue stretching in our case about 200metres down the street and once it opens you filter into the outside courtyard area and wait to hand in the relevant paperwork, this brings us to my next tip pack sunscreen you will be outside for several hours and it gets hot, there is a small stall that sells drinks and snacks which are very welcome as it gets rather warm waiting to get your paperwork sorted.
Finally we handed all the documents in which get processed overnight and left the embassy at about 1pm by this point I had little sleep was quite red as a result of a lack of sun screen and was more than ready to get to the hotel.
After a short 15 minute drive I was more than pleasantly surprised by the hotel we arrived at it was about a 3-3.5 star hotel, far better than anything I had imagined that I would be staying in.
After a quick bite to eat I jumped in the shower and got my head down for a couple of hours of shut eye the only downside to the hotel was that my room had twin single beds as opposed to double but by that point any bed was a welcome site.
I awoke to my alarm several hours later and after another shower went down to dinner which was provided as part of the package and ate with a couple of the people from my tour group before going on google to find where the best place to drink was in Vientiane.
The hotel where we were staying had a karaoke bar which the guys I was dining with were going to check out but not being much of a singer I decided to check out the city and two seconds after walking out of the hotel was asked where I wanted to go by a took took driver.
I headed to the Vientiane equivalent to Walking Street which is a stretch of bars along the Mekong River well worth checking out if you don’t want to be stuck in the hotel all night especially if like me you’re traveling alone. They use different currency in Laos but everywhere I went the excepted Thai baht and just gave me the change in local currency.
Knowing that I had another long gruelling day ahead I only had a couple of drinks before heading back to the hotel and got some more sleep.
The next morning we ate breakfast and checked out of the hotel at 12pm and were back on the minibus to the embassy.
Upon arriving I was dreading another long wait but to my pleasant surprise there was no long que like the day before and after about 25 minutes my receipt number was called out and my paperwork handed back to me all stamped and ready to be handed in at the border.
After a quick drive to the border I joined the cue with the rest of my tour group and after a short wait was at the counter with the immigration officer a little nervous at this point hoping that everything was in order and I would be allowed to re-entre Thailand.
After a thorough examination of my paperwork my passport was stamped and my education visa approved and I was allowed back into Thailand, massively relieved my first thought was to find the
minibus and try and get a good seat for the return journey home.
We left Laos at about 3pm and began our journey home shortly after leaving we were stopped at a police checkpoint and asked to present our passports for inspection but everything was in order and we were allowed to continue on our way.
The journey back to Pattaya was much the same as to Laos, frequent 7-elleven stops and very bumpy but the thought of soon being back in Pattaya seemed to make the 12 hour trip seem a lot more
pleasant than the trip to Laos.
Arriving back in Pattaya at about 3am we dropped a few members of the group in town before it was my turn to disembark and after gathering my belongings it was all over.
Hopefully this will be of some help to any first timers doing a visa run to Laos in the future.