I had passed a one-month probation period with my school, the paperwork for my Thai non-immigrant B visa was done, and the only thing left to do was make the trip to Laos. Its not a great trip, certainly wasn’t a holiday, however the reward at the end was worth it.
The long trip to Vientiane
I needed to be back at school on the Thursday for a parent’s day activity, so we got in and out. However if you have the time and the spare cash it would be great to spend a few extra days exploring Laos.
1st stop: The Bus Station
We purchased our tickets on the Saturday and left Sunday evening at 8:30. Make sure you arrive 30 minutes before your departure time.
To buy a ticket, head over to terminal two of the Chiang Mai bus station. Tickets for a VIP bus to Nong Khai cost 888 baht each. We were expecting to get a ticket only to Udon Thani, but ended up all the way to Nong Khai, which saved us some an extra trip later.
Travelling on the Bus
The bus heading to Nong Khai was fantastic. Plenty of leg room and large adjustable seats. They serve water, yoghurt drinks and orange juice, as well as some sweet bread/cake things… turned out to be quite yum. The ride was comfortable, however you are still trying to sleep on a bus, so the trip doesn’t fly by.
At about 7am, just before arriving at Nong Khai bus station, they stopped the bus to let passengers off and a tuk-tuk driver asked if anyone was going to the border. We took this opportunity to head to the border, without making the detour to Nong Khai bus station.
80 baht and a 10-minute ride later we arrived at the Thailand-Laos border at Friendship Bridge.
When you arrive at the border look out for Immigration Checkpoint signs (there plenty of people around to point you in the right direction). There were plenty of people when we arrived, however after standing in the queue for 5 minutes we discovered that they were all overstays. Once this was discovered we flew through the checkpoint. Your passport will be stamped and your departure card collected and then you are on your way.
As you walk out you will see tickets on sale for the buses that run across the Friendship Bridge to the Laos border. 20 baht each and a 10 minute bus trip over the Mekong river and we arrived at the Laos border.
Visa for Laos
After your quick trip across Friendship Bridge, you will see signs for ‘Visa on Arrival’. Collect a Laos tourist visa application form and a Laos arrival/departure card.
Be sure to bring blacks pens with you, as these were scarce. You will also need one passport photo.
Complete the documents and hand them in, together with your photo, passport, and the visa fee. The cost for a 30-day Laos visa is 1300 baht (they will also accept US Dollars).
You will then go around the corner to counter three and wait for them to call your name. Once you get your passport (with Laos visa) back, you will head through and get your entry stamp.
You will then be swamped my tuk-tuk and taxi drivers all wanting to take you into Vietiane. They will initially quote ridiculous prices, so make sure you bargain or be prepared to walk away (no shortage of options).
We spent 200 baht on a shared minivan to the Thai Consulate.
NOTE: The Consular Section of the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane is open from Monday to Friday. You can only submit visa applications in the morning between 8:30 and 11:30, so make sure you arrive in time. Also make sure you check that there aren’t any Thai National holidays.
Its address is No.15 Ban Ponesinuan, Bourichane Road, Vientiane Capital (near Lao-Singapore Business College).
Applying for your Non-Immigrant B Visa at the Thai Consulate
We arrived at the Thai Consulate at 9:45 and were greeted by a horribly large amount of people. The queue extended out of the building and down the road. The thought of getting into that queue was slightly nauseating, but it needed to be done, so we joined the queue.
While in the queue there will be people trying to sell you an application form. I fell for it and paid the 20 baht. It did save me some time, but you can easily just get the free one when you get to the front of the queue.
When you get to the front, they will check your passport and give you a number. I was an unbelievable number 469. The long wait began and it sure was a long wait.
Luckily they don’t stop serving at 11:30, that is merely the cut-off for new people arriving to get a number. There are cold drinks, water, chips, muffins and pizza to buy outside the Consulate. They also don’t mind you drinking beer on the premises, so Collen and I, and many others took full advantage of this.
My school organised all my paperwork for me, which should also be the case for you. My pack included:
- An official letter from the Ministry of Education of Thailand,
- Recommendation letter addressed to the Embassy,
- Certified copy of the ID of the endorser,
- Employment contract,
- Employment Certification,
- Copy of registration certificate of the concerned academic institute
- Copy of applicant’s academic certificate/record (Note you need to have a bachelor’s degree to be eligible for a Non-Immigrant B visa),
- Copy of the recent police clearance or certificate of no criminal conviction (I got this while I was still in South Africa)
You will also need to have two passport photos, a copy of your Laos visa and entry and departure stamps (you can get copies done upstairs for 5 baht per copy). Upstairs you will also be able to find some glue to stick your photos onto your application form (make sure you do this or they will send you back).
After the incredibly long wait, my number was called. I handed in all my paperwork (was sent upstairs to stick my photos on and make copies of my Laos visa and entry/exit stamps) and then was sent to the next building to make my payment.
Once again, you will wait for them to call your number and then you will pay a fee of 2000 baht. Get a receipt and off you go.
After interrupted sleep and a very long day in the sun, we finally won. We ended up leaving the embassy at 2:30pm and walked in the rain in search of a comfy bed.
Collecting your Passport
You can collect your passport the following day between 1:30 and 3:30. Obviously when we arrived there was a queue of people, everyone from the day before returning. You will get a new number and once again wait for them to call you.
The Even Longer Trip Back to Chiang Mai
Once you step out of the Consulate there will be plenty of drivers around willing to take you to the border. We bargained with a driver who took us to the border in an air-conditioned car (together with another passenger) for 200 baht.
Once you arrive at the border you will be stamped out of Laos and cross the Friendship bridge back into Thailand.
NOTE: Once going through passport control in Laos there will be plenty of drivers willing to take you across the bridge and to Udon Thai bus station. One quoted us 1000 baht. We were almost tempted, but thankfully we declined, crossed the bridge using the normal buses and got a minivan to the bus station for less than half of this.
Strangely the buses heading back to Chiang Mai aren’t as nice as the ones that take you to Nong Khai. They are smaller and older and our ride was much less comfortable and longer. Probably explains why the tickets were cheaper at only 666 baht per person.
Even though we were tired when we got home and we ended up spending a large amount of money (9574 baht to be exact, which included a night’s accommodation, food, transport, visa fees and adult beverages), we had achieved what we had set out for with minimal effort.
Hopefully these details will help anyone travelling to Laos to apply for a non-immigrant visa. Have you gone through the process? Or are you planning a trip shortly? Leave us your comments or questions here.
All figures are correct as at August 2014.