Those of you who have been to Thailand likely already know the obvious about time durations for Thai Visas. If you fly in, you have 30 days in the country on a tourist visa. If you come in over land, you only get 15 days.
Therefore, to stay in Thailand – Visa “runs” are required. If you want more than 30 days in the country, you have to go to a Thai embassy outside of the country and obtain a tourist visa — this will allow you to stay 60 days in Thailand, and you can add another 30 on top of that by renewing at the Thai immigration office.
I embarked on my first Visa “run” from Chiang Mai a couple weeks ago to Vientiane, Laos (March 9th to be exact since I flew into Thailand from Cambodia on February 10th). Below is my personal experience — no guarantees yours will be exactly the same, but it’ll be pretty dang close if you choose to take the bus (cheapest option).
You can really book your visa run anywhere in Chiang Mai. Just look for the tourist booking agencies on every other corner. They will all sell you a bus ticket to Vientiane. I paid 1000 baht for a mini bus — it might be slightly different depending on which booking agency you use. You can likely get the ticket cheaper if you go straight to the bus station and buy a ticket there. But I chose to just book it in town and not worry about saving the extra money.
Chiang Mai to Vientiane
The bus will pick you up at your hotel around 6:00, so no need to worry about finding the bus station. The 14 hour mini bus trip began about 7:00 pm, with little leg room to stretch in all but one of the seats in a full mini van (a seat which I did not have). We stopped twice for bathroom breaks at two different 7 Eleven’s (one longer stop of about 20 minutes and a fill up). After arriving about 5 am for coffee at a small restaurant a few minutes from the border, we transferred into a larger bus for the final border crossing. That took about 45 minutes end to end to get through the border. To enter into Laos, the fee was $36 in US Dollars. On the Vientiane side of the border, we had to wait for another 45 minutes for a different bus to come pick us up and take us into town (15 minute drive). The bus dropped those of us visiting Vientiane about 2 blocks from the river in the center of town, while those going to Vang Vieng stayed on the bus for the rest of the journey.
You’ll need to stay at least one night in Vientiane since you have to leave your passport at the embassy overnight, so find yourself a decent hotel. I stayed at Riverside Hotel for about $20 per night.
At the Thai Embassy In Vientiane
If you take a tuk tuk or songthaew (which I’d recommended) to the Thai Embassy, there is a really good chance they will drop you off right across the street — smack in front of a little table where someone offers to help you get your Visa paperwork correct. The man at the table offered to help me with all my paperwork and drop off my Visa at my hotel for 3,000 Baht. He told me the paperwork I had was wrong, because the back of my application form (which contains the terms) was not photocopied and that I did not have a photocopy of my Laos entry stamp. I told him no and kept asking him why I can’t just walk inside and get it done for 1,000 baht. I have to admit, he almost had me (they are really good about making it appear this is the best option) — but then I got wise and realized they were just trying to scam my money. I believe the process would have worked, provided you are willing to trade an hour or two of waiting time and not have to return to the embassy the next day to pick up your Visa for 2,000 baht (about $60), then try it. Time was on my side, so there was no need to pay $60 so I could be ultra lazy.
What you DO need:
- Your passport
- 1000 baht (2000 baht for a double entry)
- A photocopy of your passport
- Photocopy of your Laos entry stamp from your passport (I didn’t realize this, but there is a photocopier upstairs at the embassy for 5 baht per copy)
- Completed Visa application
The actual process:
- Get a number — you need to either walk up to the office door (to the left of the service windwos) and knock to get them to give you one, or just cut to the front of the line of people submitting their paperwork and ask for a number.
- Wait for them to call your number. If you wait forever and don’t hear your number, just walk up and stand in line. Their numbering system doesn’t work so well for some (like me) — I sat there an hour before I realized that people who arrived after me had got called and I hadn’t.
- Submit all your required paperwork
- Go to the next building and pay your fee
- Return the next day between 1 and 3 in the afternoon to pick up your Passport/Visa
Note that the embassy is closed on the weekends, so you do not want to drop your passport off on Friday unless you are okay sticking around Vientiane all weekend and picking your passport up Monday. Related to this, realize you are going to be stuck with a few extra days of hotel costs if you leave Chiang Mai on a Friday (like I did) since that means you arrive Saturday morning and can’t drop off the passport until Monday.
The Journey Back to Chiang Mai
For a “VIP” bus trip back to Chaing Mai, the cost was 1200 Thai baht from the tourist shop I booked at. My “VIP” bus trip to Chiang Mai begun at 3:00 with a small songtheaw picking me up from my hotel. It proceeded to drop me off at the Vientiane bus station, where I waited for 40 minutes for the next international bus to take us across the border into Thailand. Note that you’re going to have to pay a 9000 Lao Kip as an exit fee.
That international bus took a mixed group of us all the way to the Thai city of Udon Thani, where we were to transfer to buses to take us to our final destination. When we arrived at that station there, they told me to “sit down” and someone would help me find the bus to Chiang Mai. “Someone helping me” turned out to be a tuk tuk driver who drove me across the entire city (15 minute ride) to the bus station on the far side of town to catch my double decker VIP bus to Chiang Mai.
The VIP bus was great — free snacks, water, AC, a seat at the very front with tons of legroom. But then it stopped being great when it broke down at about 3:00 in the morning. We were stuck on the side of the room for 2 hours until two replacement mini buses got there to pick us up and finish the journey to Chiang Mai.
So I paid an extra 300 baht for a VIP bus — for all of about 3 hours of actual bus time. That’s Thailand for you I guess.
I think that about covers it. Good luck with your visa run!