Category Archives: Thai Visa Run

Thai Visa Run in Vientiane, Laos

Well, about a few weeks back it was my turn, the first in years actually, to do a visa run to Vientiane, Laos. And I did the visa run on my own and not with some over-priced Visa Run trip company.
Thinking back, the last time I had been to Vientiane was just a year or so ago, that time with a buddy of mine who was looking for someone to accompany him on his visa run trip.

My first venture over the river into the Land of a Million Elephants (compare to Land of Smiles) was way back in the days of 1996 when the only known traffic congestion in the capital was caused by too many half-defunct rusty bicycles breaking down at the lights. And compare these examples for tourist-development: in those days the scenic village of Vang Viang, 3 hours north of Vientiane, was home to 3 or 4 guest houses and a single tin-shack that sold jars of Beer Lao in the evenings. Since then though, Vang Viang has turned into Laos’ equivalent of Khao Sarn Road. Then, in those “good ol’ days”, the only way foreigners were permitted to travel to Luang Prabang was by a pre-packaged airplane tour – now there are air-con buses with bus-hostesses handing out assorted cakes and blaring out the latest in Thai pop music. I doubt that any other country (besides perhaps Cambodia) in the region has developed so quickly over the past decade or so.

Back to me trip info. My first mistake on the visa run was in taking the bus from the Morchid Bus Terminal in Bangkok to Nong Khai on the border. Arriving at the Northern Bus Terminal rather late-ish, I bought a ticket for something like the 9 o’clock departure. Having read up that the trip by bus was around 10 hours, I basically calculated that I would be arriving in Nong Khai at say… 7 in the morning – just in time to have breakie, cross the border and get to the Thai Embassy for opening. Absolutely not – instead our bus driver, thinking he’s Michael Schumacher, decides for himself that we are all in a desperate rush to get to our destination and rips the distance in no time – didn’t even bother stopping for supper (a norm on over-night buses). We arrived at more look 5 in the morning and it was friggin freezing by Thai standards – worse luck was to come, when on shifting through my bag, I finds out that I had forgotten my jacket at home. Shivering away, I could do nothing but twiddle me thumbs and sip hot coffee for the next hour or so before heading to border.

I advise therefore, to sod taking the bus to Nong Khai and instead a train which arrives after daybreak. The train station is also closer to the border (Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge) and there are shared songthaews (passenger pick-up vehicles) which do the run for just 20 Baht a person. From the bus station, I paid 50 or 60 baht for the tuk-tuk to the border – it’s much further.

Through immigration on the Thai side and it’s another 20 Baht by bus across the bridge. Arriving on the Laotian side and in need of a Lao visa (36 pound for Brits) I was met by a hundred or so foreigners also wanting one. Quite a wait altogether, probably about an hour to go through the whole procedure – that is exiting Thailand, going over the bridge and getting a Lao visa.

Now take a hint here – once you pass through Lao immigration you may be bombarded with touts suggesting you take one of ‘their’ songthaews to the Thai embassy in Vientiane. Instead, forget them and walk straight ahead where you’ll find a shared songthaew charging 50Baht each to take you direct to the Thai Embassy or hotel / guest house of choice. If you are looking for even cheaper than that, there are public buses which leave when as full as sardines in a can.

Second mistake – I went straight to the Thai Embassy for opening at 8:30 – and as it was a Monday I ended up getting ticket number about 350. Altogether, it took me around 2 and a half hours of being sat around mostly listening to foreigners about their Visa trip company run so far. Having paid a small fortune for their packaged trip, they had the privilege of being served first, but they also had to wait for ages. Forget it visa-runners, if you wanna do the trip, do it yourself and you’ll save lots of cash and enjoy the freedom of eating and drinking where and whatever you wish – even though you may make a couple of blunders along the way like me! Big Tip: Don’t bother getting to the embassy on time, arrive half an hour before the closing time of 11am when there are hardly any people left.

After the embassy, I took a tuk-tuk into Vientiane at about 40Baht and stayed at a guest house recommended by my buddie here in Suphanburi. The guest house was fine enough mind you, but it was pretty far from the river, a kilometer and a half walk. So, if you fancy being near farang eateries and the bars etc… better you find a place to stay near the fountain area.

There are a few things I love about Vietiane, but tops just has to be the awesome views of the sunset from the banks of the Maekhong River while having a having a Beer Lao and a coupla snacks – absolutely mandatory for anyone on their first trip. Second up perhaps, is the French bread – contrary to popular thought, French bread is a traditional breakfast for many of the locals. As for me, the bread with cheese spread has been a must-eat on ever occasion I been to Laos. Third up is the national female dress. Pop down the river for the sunset, and you can admire the local Lao ladies having a drink after work wearing their sarong (and high-heels#@!). A type of dress which got booted out of Thai tradition during the cultural transitions of the 1930/40s. Even the schoolgirls keep to wearing sarongs – altogether a pretty difference from the so-called Westernization of Thai outfits.

Before you know it, your Thai visa will be ready in a jiffy – next afternoon to be precise. Not being so daft this time, I got to the embassy well after opening hours and received my passport back in literally 2 minutes. Having done the trip on my own and not with a visa tour, I had plenty in my wallet left over for another fun day in the capital. Unlike the package tourists who get hauled back to Thailand as soon as they collect their visas.

After a memorable coupla days in Vientiane it was time to head home. And it was very simple indeed. I just walked to the Talat Sao (Morning Market) and hired my own songthaew to take me to the border for a more than reasonable 100baht. There are direct Vientiane – Nong Khai buses which do the trip for slightly less, but they drop you off at the bus station. But I had thought sod to the bus and opted for the train instead. Going on your own like this, you also get the chance to wander around duty free where you can pick up bargain-priced imported French wines and premium whiskeys for your Thai friends and family.

Arriving on the Thai side, you once again get approached by tuk-tuk offering you a pricey ride; be adamant that 20baht is enough to get you to the train station and you’ll soon be pointed to a shared songthaew. I had no bother whatsoever getting a train ticket back (to Ayutthaya for connection to Suphanburi). Even if you gotta wait around a bit waiting for the train, there are a few restaurants just opposite dishing up eatable munchies where you can hang around till your train leaves. I had such a fine time altogether that I’m tempted to go back to Vientiane as soon as I can. Do the Vientiane visa trip on your own, don’t rush it, and it can certainly turn into an enjoyable mini vacation.

Thai Visa Border Run (Burma)

(Victoria Point)

Well, since the area is full of foreigners getting stamps back into the Land of Noodle Soup & Nose-jobs, Aranya Prathet and it’s neighboring cross-border town of Cambodia’s Poipet happily secured most of the first of this two part blog. Now, if Cambodia’s sombrero carrying urchin beggars (or actually cheap holey brolleys), Macau style casinos and one of the sleaziest border towns to the east of Tijuana, isn’t your cup-of-tea, then head somewhere else instead; take your choice: Burma, Laos or Malaysia. Contemplating where you are actually are at the time of deciding on your border destination however, will hopefully comes up in yer decision making too! Let’s do Burma this time around.

Ranong / Victoria Point (Kawthaung)

Coming from Phuket (especially) or even Krabi or even Surat Thani or even Bangkok, this border-crossing can be ideal for spending an extra stint actually hanging around the place before getting back. Getting stamped outta Thailand at the border (short songthaew ride from Ranong Town) you’ll have to take a long-tail boat to Victoria Point on the Burmese side. Be warned, if the sun is out, then by the time you get back your face could resemble an extremely fresh home-grown beetroot. Ask your boatsman for a parasol or splash on the sunblock. The journey there and back isn’t that much of an epic journey, but it’s long enough.

Don’t get suckered (unless ya wanna flash that is) on chartering your own boat. Sod that and adamantly explain to the touts or actual boatsmen at the pier that you had been robbed by some dodgy ladyboy the night before on Patong Beach and you are left with only a couple of hundred baht to share a boat with other passengers. In fact, two hundred baht return is still paying a bit more than the locals.

Arriving at the Burmese crossing, you will have to fork over 500 baht for the privilege of helping to finance the leading Junta’s golfing vacation fund before getting a stamp in. Actually, the real charge is $10 but if the US note has even the slightest fold or wrinkle, your smiling official will explain that shoddy looking banknotes are not accepted by the glorious National Bank of Burma. Walking out of the office just five foot away, there is a decent enough chance that you may be accosted by a bunch of delinquent looking lads wanting to sell you the likes of Viagra, ganja, dirty movies, bootleg cigarettes and perhaps even a rubber sex doll.

Most visa-runners (including everyone who comes with visa-run tours from Phuket) sadly miss out on Victoria Point as it is a lovely place to hang around for a short while. Instead, they just get their stamps and do a complete u-turn. Do what’s best (since you come all that way anyway) and spend a short time in Victoria Point. The small town isn’t that great but it does have that Burmese feel too it. Then, for those who fancy some cheap booze and cigs it’s all there in the market (buy yourself and not from some shabby hawk).

Some beautiful views of the surrounding Andaman Sea can be had from at least a couple of restaurants (left to the pier). So, what better can be had than having a drink, sitting back and enjoying the hills of Thailand over the Andaman in the background? Well worth a short visit for the afternoon. And don’t forget Ranong province itself which is renowned for some lush unspoiled off-the-beaten-track islands (not forgetting, Ranong town is worth spending a night in too)
Ranong Town is a 5 hours bus trip from Phuket or if you are coming from Bangkok, 9 hour over-night buses can be found in the evening leaving from the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai)

(Get over that bridge into Burma)

Mae Sot / Myawadi (Burma)

If you are in the lower northern region of the country and in search of a new visa stamp, Mae Sot in Tak province could certainly be your best option. This may also be your favored destination if you are hoping to enjoy a wee bit of mother nature. Not too far from Mae Sot is undoubtedly Thailand’s most beautiful and famed waterfall, Tilosoo.

To get to the border, instead of taking the pricey advice of a tuk-tuk or motorbike-taxi geezer in town, simply pop on a songthaew in Mae Sot’s market area. So full of Burmese folk, you could imagine that you’d already arrived in Burma. After getting a stamp out of Thailand, you’ll have to walk over the seemingly never-ending border bridge before getting to the Burmese town of Myawadi. Take my word for it, it is a bit of a hike; up and over. Like at the Ranong/Burmese border point, the very much hassle free officers will much appreciate an old 500baht note to a crisp-fresh 10 US dollar one.

Myawadi isn’t too exciting but it’s worth having a nosey around. Under the actual bridge are a couple of nice restaurants where, again like in Victoria Point, you can enjoy a dish of Burmese curry or/and a glass of Myannmar Special Brew. In fact, you’ll probably be crying out for one of the latter after you think of the long stint back. Ok..ok… I suppose it isn’t that long; just that living in Thailand so long your legs get as lazy as a locals.

Mae Sot, like its Burmese counterpart, maybe not be a riveting place but its certainly worth staying the night. You may not get much of the opportunity to experience the eye-boggling sight of too many scadly-dressed Coyote singers in a local disco, but you may instead be enjoying the company of local acoustic music. There is some great Burmese munchies in town too, so don’t miss out on the opportunity. The DK (Duangkamol) Hotel probably offers, without a doubt, the best budget lodgings in town. If you were recognizing the name Duangkamol or DK, then yes, it’s the same family which runs DK Books, Thailand’s original English language book publishers. There is a nice lobby and a branch of DK Books downstairs.

Oh yes, just across from the entrance of DK Hotel is the lovely Café Corner run by Dan a journalist specializing on Burma and the plight of the Karen people there. Not just coffee of course, Dan and his wife dish out pizzas, lasagna, pate and even relishes and chutney. The last time I was there I had the homemade Burmese curry which went down real well with the statutory beer. Dan’s just the person to catch up with if you need any info on travelling around the area, and even into Burma.

Buses to Mae Sot leave from Bangkok in the evening from the Northern Bus Station (Morchid) and arrive in Mae Sot in the early hours. From Nakhorn Sawan, the Gateway to the North, there are buses going via Tak provincial town (Chiang Mai bus); the first one leaves extremely in the morning. Ask at the station in advance. From Tak bus station there are rusty old passenger vans which do the trip to Mae Sot in about an hour.

Mai Sai / Tachilek

Poor old Mae Sai, when I was first there 18 years ago the place was packed out with backpackers. It was in those days that just to get over the border into Burma on your one day visa there, was like ‘Wow… I’m in Burma!’ Nowadays, however, since the country has more than open to foreigners, very few folk actually bother staying in Mae Sai anymore – sad sight seeing decrepit guesthouses which have been left to rot. In fact, there are hardly any places left for backpackers to stay anymore, but you will find a couple of cost-effective places – just to the left under the bridge and along that road. As for nightlife, Mae Sot is virtually dead.

This border run though, is absolutely the quickest. Stamped out of Thailand, it’s then a two minute walk over the bridge to the Burmese check-point. Again, they too will be preferring a 500baht note to a ten buck one. Tachilek is one huge market knocking out a plethora of counterfeit Chinese goods. If that takes yer fancy, then go for it, otherwise after a quick look around you’ll be wanting to get back into Thailand.

This border-crossing is ideal however, for those in the north-north of Thailand. From Chiang Mai it’s about 5 hours by bus; there are also agents specializing in a passenger van visa run service; there and back in half a day. From Bangkok, buses leave in the early evening from the Northern Bus Terminal and take around 13-14 hours; yes, Mae Sai is quite a distance from the capital.

Happy visa run!

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Thai Visa Border Run (Part 1)

(As you can see, Thai immigration excels in its knowledge of the English language)

Scouring the Internet for Thailand related websites, one of the most talked about issues you’ll come across is none other than the legendary or perhaps infamous, (whichever way you wanna look at it) ‘Thai Visa Border Run’.

For these couple of blogs, I’ll stick to the issue of running to the border for a re-entry stamp, whether it be for a multiple-tourist, multiple non-immigrant or that more than dreaded 30 day Visa on Arrival one. Oops forgot…. since the authorities-in-charge have recently deemed such a length of stay rather too long for ‘bedraggled pot smoking’ farang backpackers or ‘more than dodgy’ Pattaya expats, your only gonna get a 15 day Visa on Arrival (overland) these days. So, where to go for that re-entry Visa Run? Let’s have a look at the most popular place of all to start off with, and that is:

Aranya Prathet / Poipet (Cambodia)

There is the Ban Laem border point, but by far the most popular one is at Aranya Prathet in Sra Kaew province. To get there takes about 4 and a half hours by air-conditioned bus from the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok and costs about 200 Baht one-way. Better to go in the morning as that’s when the buses leave frequently. Once you get to Aranya Prathet Bus Terminal, jump on a motorbike taxi or tuk-tuk to the border point for about 60-80Baht.
Next, get stamped outta Thailand and apply for a Tourist Visa on the Cambodian side (office on right-hand side just after bridge).
The real cost of a visa is $20US, but since the hard-working Khmer immigration officials are fond of a few Scotch on the Rocks after work, you’ll be left sat for hours unless you donate something to their over-flowing Whiskey Fund Account. A nice 1,000 Baht banknote instead of a 20 dollar note does the tricky very quickly indeed. It’s not unheard of, of foreigners giving a 20 dollar note and a 100 Baht ‘tip’ for their visa on the spot service. Up to you if you wanna try it.

Warning! There is now a expansive Cambodian Visa Scam syndicate operating in Aranya Prathet. It goes like this – you take a tuk-tuk or moto-taxi from the bus terminal to the border or a bus from Khao Sarn and you get dropped off at a travel agency specializing in Cambodian visas. An ‘assistant’, probably some dodgy Khmer geezer with a fake Tourism Authority of Thailand licensed badge hanging from his neck (The TAT does not give such a license to foreigners) explains that Cambodian visas can now only be issued from travel agents like his. If you aren’t so dumb and explain that you know that the border issues them, he’ll next tell you it’s an excruciatingly long hot wait on the Cambodian side. The price for his service is 1,200 – 1,300.

Forget it! The time you wait in his so-called ‘travel agency’ for your passport back with the Cambodian visa inside, you would have been on the Poipet side by then. Ignore what any of these touts tell you – go alone, do it yourself. The queue up for the entry stamp on the Cambodian side can be a bit of a wait, but still better than paying someone off (yes, dodgy geezers on the Khmer side too offering you a ‘speedy under the table stamp service’ into the country too for the likes of 200 Baht).

(Slots, blackjack, roulette? Come join dozens of Thai politicians and even a bunch of Thai fugitives at one of Poipet’s groovy casinos)

Hate to say it, but Poipet simply has to go down as one of the seediest border towns on the planet. Having visited (and once lived) in Cambodia a few times, I’ve had the not so exciting opportunity to enjoy this not so captivating place quite a few times. I’ve read others’ reports on the Net that the place does have a bitta heart but I’ve yet to experience it. Personally, I would not recommend staying over night there, and folk I’ve known who have done it suggest the same thing.

What is worth experiencing in Poipet (actually between the two countries in supposed no-mans land) is one of the casinos. These flashy well-to-do Macau-type gamblers’ havens are in sheer contrast to the 3rd world surroundings one witnesses after coming through Thai immigration. Yours in name here admits to having placed a few bets on the roulette table himself and proudly rejoices at the little winnings that have come his way. With minimum bets at just 5 Baht, 500 baht can go a long way!

In fact, there are casino buses which leave daily in the morning from Lumphini Park in Bangkok and the return trip costs only 200 Baht. Arriving at say 11 o’clock the return bus leaves at 3 or 4 o’clock. So, if you take this cheap visa run transportation, be prepared to hang around a bit. If you ask on the bus in the morning, you should also get a free lunch voucher for the casino. Ask a Thai friend to Google Search “Casino Bus Poipet” for you in Thai language for all the relevant info.

On the Thai side of the border is the one and only Rong Kleau Market which is beyond a doubt the most famous market outside of the capital and very very arguably the cheapest in the land. Yes, this area is a massive source for much of the inexpensive (often low quality though) products sold all over Thailand. Sunglasses, wallets, t-shirts you name it…. Cost-effective, prices can be less than half of what you pay at tourist orientated stalls in Bangkok and Pattaya etc… Definitely worth a good look around and if you take yer Thai wife/girlfriend, you can be rest-assured she’ll love it.

The last bus back from Aranya Prathet to Bangkok is at 7pm but if you wanna stay overnight then there is some real value for money accommodation available in town (lots of Thai-style resorts near the border). Personally, i recommend the Aran Garden 2 Hotel, a bargain at just over 200 a night with fan and TV. Even though the town isn’t exactly the most exhilarating place in Thailand, it’s worth a stay over night – there are a few decent enough places to eat, and of course, to sing…..karaoke.