Category Archives: Laos

MH370 – Another Reminder Why You Should Never Lose Sight of Your Passport

The tragic loss of a Malaysian Airlines plane between Kuala Lumpur and Bejing with over 200 souls on board is just another reminder why you should always take special care with your passport.

The plane that went missing included two passengers flying on passports that had been reported stolen in Phuket up to two years ago. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said more than 60,000 passports – both Thai and foreign – were reported missing or stolen in Thailand between January 2012 and June 2013. Both corruption and lax application of the law exist at most levels, both here and in neighbouring countries, what I find most concerning especially considering the sheer number of thefts is that Thailand does not check passports against Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database – which has more than 40 million entries worldwide.

Countries in South East Asia have a pretty poor reputation when it comes to passport theft, especially Thailand which receives millions of tourists every year.  Considering how easy it is to get false identification in Backpacker areas like Khao San Road, and that police are willing to turn a blind eye to almost any crime for money – it makes sense that criminal organisations are going to use naive tourists as a source of cash as well as both real and fake travel documents.

What Could Your Passport Be Used For?

Recent examples of stolen travel documents include:

  • A war crimes suspect who tried to attend a conference in Congo, but was instead arrested
  • The killer of the Serbian prime minister crossed 27 borders on a missing passport before he was caught
  • Samantha Lewthwaite, the former wife of one of the suicide bombers in the 2005 attack on London’s transit system, escaped capture when she produced a fraudulently obtained South African passport.

Human Trafficking & Illegal Immigration

Stolen passports can either be used by someone who looks like the person to travel, or can be modified with new photos (depending on security levels on the passport and biometric information).

Many countries are simply too lazy to check Interpol’s database of stolen passports on the border, so the use of stolen documents to move people voluntarily or against their will internationally using stolen passports is common, especially from South East Asia to countries in the EU (which is essentially borderless once you get in, and pretty easy to get into if you come via, say…the Croatian border into Slovenia which I crossed 5 times without a single passport check).

Identify Theft & Crime

The last thing you want is a drug trafficker flying in and out of South East Asia using your personal details, getting caught and ending up with you being on some list of known criminals or drug traffickers.

Again this is quite common when it comes to stolen passports. I’ve read on Thaivisa.com about a guy who had two passports stolen in one year. Later while travelling he was pulled aside and interrogated in Bali, after an African man had been caught smuggling cocaine using his ID and blacklisted.

International Terrorism

Of course the issue that everyone is talking about – what happened to the recent disappearing plane.  As of yet, no one knows but the facts remain that we have a plane with 200 passengers that has literally vanished and two of the passengers were using false IDs and stolen passports.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the risks associated with your personal documents being used by international terrorist groups to kill or harm others in the name of a political or religious message. Not only will this prevent you from ever travelling freely again, but others might be harmed in the process.

In 2010, two Pakistanis and a Thai woman were arrested in Thailand on suspicion of making false passports for Al-Qaeda linked groups, as part of an international operation linked to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai and the Madrid train bombings in 2004.

The last thing you want is a criminal or terrorist organisation using your passport to travel, resulting in your name permanently being on a no fly or similar travel or immigration blacklist.

How Could You Lose Your Passport:

Motorbike & Car Rentals

More often than not you will be asked for some form of deposit when renting a motorbike in Asia.  Sometimes this will be a drivers licence (which is silly considering you need this to ride legally) other times it will be cash, but more often than not it will be a valid passport containing your entry stamp.

There is absolutely zero security with these passports, usually they are kept in a top draw of a desk, a folder, or a shoulder bag.  Rental agencies couldn’t care less as you are just one of thousands of potential customers, you aren’t likely to come back, and you don’t really have any choice.

While there are plenty of legitimate bike rental places that don’t extort money out of tourists for small scratches and repairs that cost a few hundred baht to fix, there are also loads that do. The worst thing you can do is tell them that you have an urgent flight or ferry to catch.

Stories are common of people with dual citizenship ditching a second passport to avoid the overpriced repair fees, or even reporting their passport as lost of stolen after doing a runner.   What do you think happens with these passports afterwards?  Bear in mind that these rental agencies often have law enforcement support in their repair scams as well.

In Phuket, Luigi Maraldi lost his passport this way, by giving his passport to a rental agency as collateral on a motorbike, which then managed to get “lost” somehow by the rental agency. The passport was later used to board flight MH370.

When Maraldi asked for his back at a bike shop hugging Phuket’s western coast, the owner told him she’d forked it over to an Italian who’d “said Mr. Maraldi was his husband.”

After all, all us Farang look the same

Kiwis – the NZ Embassy is quite clear regarding this.  Do not leave your passport with rental agencies, and if you get into trouble doing this, they will not step in to help.

Hotel & Guesthouses

You are required to submit your passport details and immigration information when checking into any hotel or guesthouse in Thailand.  Some might take your passport as a bond to prevent damage or “for safe keeping”.  I’ve seen guesthouses where passports are literally sitting in a basket on the front desk where anyone can take them.

Of course there are other reports of break ins to hotel rooms where passports and other items are stolen to order.  So always make sure you have your passport safely and securely stored when it is not on you.

Other Travellers

One of the biggest causes of theft to travellers is other travellers. There are plenty of backpackers travelling on ultra low budgets with absolutely zero respect for others. Security at guesthouses and dormitories is often low, and people are often under the influence of booze and other substances. Its not hard for someone to go into your bag and steal your travel documents, especially if they can sell them down the road to a willing buyer.

Roadside Theft

I’ve even seen someone lose their passport on Koh Phangan after leaving their backpack unattended on the side of the road for two minutes while they went back into a guesthouse to drop the keys off. Two ladyboys on a scooter sped past and stole the pack containing the travellers passports.

Visa Services & Agencies

Up until recently I would have recommended using Visa agencies to speed up the acquisition of getting visas from Thailand and surrounding countries.  Now that I’ve lived here longer and heard all the horror stories I’d advise against it, unless you personally know the owners of the agency, their couriers and everyone else involved in the process.

Remember agencies that take your passport out of the country for a visa stamp are illegal.  I’ve got a friend who lived on one of the Islands who used an agent to do their visa runs, one time the courier got busted running drugs on a ferry to the mainland with 20 passports in their possession.  Long story short, none of those passports ever returned to their owners and he ended up overstaying illegally for two years until he got his passport sorted out and enough cash to pay the fines on the borders.  He’s lived here for two decades, and now knows better!

Immigration & Embassies

You’d think it would be safe to give your passport to a government agency, think again.  I’ve been into various immigration departments to get extensions to my Thai visa, and while the main complex in Bangkok has always done things correctly and above board – others are slightly more lax in their approach to passport security.

While getting a re entry permit I saw just how relaxed they were, as passports that had been processed were left in a plastic basket for foreigners (or Thais) to pick up, no ID required.

I’ve heard similar horror stories in Laos at certain relaxed embassies where if you don’t pick up your passport straight it can be picked up by locals who claim to be your “agent”.

Remember Thai embassies have a pretty poor reputation with this sort of stuff, recently staff have been involved in Visa theft in the Savanakhet, Kuala Lumpur & Hague embassies – one of my mates even got caught up on this after the visa he arranged through an agent turned out to be illegitimate – he ended up dealing with legal issues for 6 months while on bail for visa fraud.  Of course no Thais were found at fault.

Thai Law

Thai law technically requires all foreigners to carry their passport at all times, where ever they are. This means when you are at the beach, night club, anywhere.  How many passports have gone missing while swimming or drunk in some bar.

Personally I never take my passport with me unless it is absolutely required or I’m out of town.  I take photo ID with me as well as a laminated copy of my passport and a copy of my latest visa and entry stamp – my passport stays locked up at home.

So far I’ve never had any problems… yet.

Stupidity

There are even reports of broke tourists selling or renting their passports for $1-2000 USD.  I’ve never heard or seen this first hand, and the reporting on it seems a bit dubious, but one thing I’ve learned while travelling is never to underestimate the stupidity of backpackers while travelling.  Apparently this happens reasonably often in the Khao San Road area, where the tourists will report their passport stolen, claim the costs on travel insurance and travel on documents provided by their embassy.  It all seems a little fish to me however, as generally speaking you need to travel back to your home country when on emergency travel documents – maybe they just use it for a one way ticket home!

How To Keep Your Passport Safe When Travelling

  • Always know where your passport is, keep it safely on you while travelling or under lock and key when not
  • Invest in a Travel safe, as many hostels or guesthouses do not have secure storage
  • Do not give your passport out as a deposit on vehicle rentals
  • Do not use agencies or third parties for Visas
  • Use common sense when getting visas from foreign embassies and pick your passport up as soon as its ready
  • Report your passport stolen to the police if it goes missing and contact your embassy straight away.

How to Get a Thai Double Entry Tourist Visa in Savannakhet, Laos

So its that time again, my Thai Visa is expiring and I needed to work out what the best course of action is.  I’ve been in Thailand for a bit over a year and plan on staying till around June 2014 (Which is when Sarah finishes here exchange at Thammasat University and we will fly back to New Zealand for a while).  This means I need to spend approximately 4 Months (give or take a bit for travel) in Bangkok with the minimum amount of hassle.

I had the following options:

  • Border bounce on a monthly basis (British passports get 30 days on Border crossings currently).
  • Get a Single Entry Tourist Visa
  • Get a Double Entry Tourist Visa

I’ve been in the country long enough to tire of the forced nature of visa runs, and travelling when I really don’t feel like it, and I really can’t be bothered getting Single Entry visas that take up potentially 4 pages of a passport (1 page for stamps on each + the Thai + Laos or Cambodian visa) due to the visa free destinations in Malaysia being just too far away.

This left me with two options, both in Laos: Vientiane or Savannakhet.

Pros & Cons of Vientiane in Laos

  • All inclusive trip for 6500 baht for double entry or 5500 for single entry
  • Everything arranged including transport, border crossings (Laos Visa) accommodation and breakfast
  • Consulate is very strict on giving out additional double entries if they have already issued one, or visas if you have multiple back to back ones – there was a strong chance I might get denied
  • Long waits (though less if using a visa run service)
  • I’ve already been there!

Pros & Cons of Savannakhet in Laos

  • Consulate is more relaxed about previous Visas and are unlikely to decline you
  • Its not very busy, so you aren’t waiting in any queues
  • There are no organised Visa runs so you have to do everything yourself
  • Theres not really much to do there
  • Its slightly cheaper

In the end I decided on Savannakhet due to my previous visa from Vientiane and 3 from Penang (including a Non-B) after being told by the visa run crew that I might get declined in Vientiane.

  1. Single Entry Tourist Visa Issued In Penang, Malaysia – Nov 2012
  2. Double Entry Tourist Visa Issued in Vientiane, Laos – Feb 2013
  3. Single Entry Tourist Visa Issued in Penang, Malaysia – July 2013
  4. Single Entry Non-B Visa Issued in Penang, Malaysia – 2013
  5. Plus a couple of entry stamps without visas.

Laos26

Getting to Savannakhet

The easiest way to get to Savannakhet is to take a bus from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Station (Near Mo Chit BTS) to the border town of Muhkdahan in Isan.  The buses range in quality, but all take around 8-12 Hours to get there. I took a VIP bus from 99 Bus company that left at 8pm and arrived in Mukhdahan at around 6am costing approximately 830 Baht.

Laos23

Once you are in Mukhdahan you have a few options for getting to Savannakhet, but considering the time, I probably chose the most difficult.  Taking a Tuk Tuk to the Friendship Bridge crossing I hopped off on foot and went to clear immigration and customs. This was fine until I actually tried to cross the bridge by foot when I was stopped. It turned out that you are not allowed to cross by foot, so I ended up hitching across on the back of a Thai factory owners ute with another guy from Switzerland.

Once you arrive on the other side you must apply for a Laos visa on arrival which costs either $35 USD or 1500 Baht (this varies based on the nationality of your passport – the Swiss guy got 15 days visa free) and requires a passport photo as well. At this stage (about 7am) there was no-one else there so my Visa took around 2 minutes to process.

After that you proceed through Laos immigration, who require you to pay a 40 baht “paperwork” (I’m thinking beer money) fee when stamping your passport. I’m not one to argue at land borders of communist countries when there are soldiers about, so we paid the fee and entered the country.

Once getting in we had to negotiate a Tuk Tuk to the Thai Consulate, which of course at 7:30 am there was only one, and we probably paid far too much.

The other more sensible option is to wait at the bus station for the International bus which is considerably cheaper, takes you direct to the Savannakhet bus terminal (with other people who are heading to the consulate, many of which can speak Laos and Thai) where you can share a Tuk Tuk.

Getting Your Visa

Of course we arrived at the consulate far too early (it doesn’t open until 9am, even though it says 8:30 on the gate!) so ended up waiting. While you can get all the paperwork free of charge inside the consulate once its open, and fill it out yourself it is far easier to get a local to do it (who will also photocopy your passport as required) and give you something to do while you are waiting.  This costs 40 baht.

Laos22

Once the gates open at 9am its a bit of a stampede of Farang and Laos people applying for visas, though they end up in a fairly orderly line, which is far shorter than that you’ll see in other embassies and consulates.  To make your visa application you’ll need (for a tourist visa): 2 Passport Photos, a completed application form, a photo copy of the information page of your passport and the 2000 baht fee.  Visa applications must be placed before 11am on weekdays.  You will be given a number (don’t lose it) and then you are free to do as you please until 2pm the next day.

Laos5

Finding Accommodation in Savannakhet that isn’t a brothel

My Swiss friend that I’d met on the border had arranged a nights accomdoation that sounded reasonable, so we decided to go check it out.  BIG Mistake, the Tippaphone guesthouse is no where near where it is shown on google maps and is at least 4km from the township.  We took a very expensive Tuk Tuk there, took one look at its Bates Motel vibe (very common in guesthouses there) and hightailed it out of there.

After a long discussion trying to explain to our driver that we wanted to get dropped off by the river and find our own accommodation he finally relented and took us in the general direction of where we wanted, dropping us off at what must be a popular guest house with the local Tuk Tuk drivers. I’m not sure if the place charges by the hour for locals, but I’m 99% sure we were dropped in some sort of sketchy brothel from the looks of it complete with stained sheets, VIP karaoke room and wonderful posters of STD infected genitalia decorating the walls.

Back to the Old Town

Laos4

At this stage I decided to take control of the situation and we walked towards the old town, stopping off at a bank (by now I only had 100 Baht bank notes and I wasn’t too confident in getting correct change for them from the locals) where I ran into a Canadian guy who recommended we visit a place called Lin’s Cafe.

Lin’s Cafe – The First Place You Should Visit in Savannakhet

Laos21

Lin’s Cafe was an oasis in the middle of Savannakhet, especially after ending up in the brothel come guesthouse earlier in the morning. This place is literally the first place you should visit after going to the consulate, with fast free wifi, excellent local and western food, Lao cooking courses, accurate tourist information, souvenirs and an exhibition of the historic downtown buildings upstairs.

Laos20

The staff were able to recommend some decent places to stay The Souannavong Guesthouse, Leena Guesthouse.  Leena is apparently popular with backpackers and those doing visa runs, but can be a little messy at times, so after escaping from the Laos version of the Bates Motel down the road we settled for the Souannavong Guesthouse.

Souannavong Guesthouse

Laos9

Upon arrival we were greeted by the owner or manager of the guest house (who I think runs it alongside his sister) who stays in room number 11 in the building.  The place has a bit of a reputation for the reception being unattended if Tripadvisor is anything to go by, but was there when we arrived and was easy to get hold of by phone.  He speaks clear english, and was happy to show us around the guesthouse.

Laos10

You can get a fan room for 300 baht and an air conditioned room for 400 baht per night.  Both were in plentiful supply and include televisions with a mix of Thai channels in both Thai and English, free wifi (that works at reasonable speeds, but not too fast) and most importantly after a day travelling – hot showers.  A scooter is available for rent, or if you prefer so are some older bicycles (most had flat tires when I was there) which is great as the roads are flat around and the temperature is fairly mild (cold even in the mornings) making it easy to ride without breaking too much of a sweat.

Laos11

Rooms were clean, came with decent bedding towels, toiletries and were nice and secure. I’d definitely recommend staying here to anyone doing a visa run.

The Dinosaur Museum

Laos16

Yes, they have a dinosaur museum (and not much else) to keep you occupied while you wait for your visa to be processed.  Literally right around the corner is a relic of the French colonial days in that it still has the odd French palaeontologist working there tidying up the bones.

Laos15

It costs around 10,000 kip for a foreigner to enter the museum, and tour its (not so) many exhibits. If you are lucky you’ll get an eager guide who will attempt to explain the exhibits (as all signage is in Lao and French), buy mainly tells you how many fists a dinosaur has and when the photo was taken, that and he uses the phrase “I recommend you” a lot.  Anywhere else and I wouldn’t bother, but considering the complete and utter lack of things to do here, its worth doing.

Picking Up Your Visa

The consulate shuts up for lunch, and opens again at around 2pm.  When we got there we found approximately 100 people waiting around, which is considerably less than the other consulates in the region.

As soon as the gates open there is a mad rush to the service window where passports are issued first in, first served (as opposed to how it previously was by number on your ticket), so get in fast to get your passport, check the visa to see you have a correct one, and then get out!

Even after having 4 previous visas, I was still able to get a Double Entry Tourist Visa, no questions asked.

Getting Home

The next step is getting out of Savannakhet as fast as possible.  Share a Tuk Tuk (around 10,000 Kip) with other people from the consulate to the Savannakhet bus station.  Once you are there you will be able to get  the International Bus to Muhkdahan for 13,000 kip which leaves every hour.

Laos2

At the Laos border you’ll have to pay a 40 baht fee (again probably some form of bribe) to the Immigration to stamp you out of the country, so have that ready, and pass but a rather interesting mafioso type military guy before jumping on the bus to cross the Mekong at friendship bridge.  Entering Thailand only takes a minute as there are no queues and the staff are friendly (for once) making a hassle free entry into Thailand.  As always check that your stamp into the country is correct and they don’t stamp a double entry visa as “used” by mistake (it happened to out Canadian friend in Bangkok).

Laos1

Once arriving in Muhkdahan, you can book buses around the country, we were able to get on a 5pm VIP bus (which was pretty standard really) that arrived back in Bangkok (Mo Chit) bus terminal around 5am the next day, this was including the hour that the bus spent broken down on the side of the road in Northern Thailand.

Actual Visa Run Costs: 5702 Baht

  • VIP Bus: Mo Chit to Muhktahan 829 Baht
  • Tuk Tuk: Muhktahan – Thai Border 150 Baht
  • Laos 30 Day Visa on Arrival 1500 Baht
  • Immigration fee (before 8am) 50 Baht
  • Tuk Tuk: Lao Border – Thai Consulate 100 Baht
  • Photocopying of passport, processing of paperwork 40 Baht
  • Thai 2 Month Double Entry Visa 2000 Baht
  • Accommodation Souannavong Guesthouse A/C Room 400 Baht
  • Tuk Tuk to International Bus Station 20 Baht
  • International Bus to Muhkdahan 40 Baht
  • Exit payment at Laos Boarder 40 Baht
  • Bus: Muktahan -> Mo Chit 533 Baht

Thailand: Bangkok to Vientiane Visa Run with Thai Visa Service

So, I’ve been in Thailand a few months, got my Visa extension in Chang Wattana and have decided I want to stay longer – all of which requires a Visa run.  A visa run for the unitinitated is a trip to cross the border, and in my case to a local embassy to get a new tourist visa.

There are 3 main types of visa runs:

  1. A return flight overseas that gets you a free 30 day visa on arrival 
  2. A “border bounce” where you literally drive to the border, cross, then re enter thailand minutes later, getting you either free 15 days visa on arrival (30 days if on a Malaysian Passport), or counting as an “entry” on a double or single entry visa and reseting your days back to 0
  3. A trip to a nearby overseas consulate, where you apply for whatever the most appropriate visa is (usually a tourist visa, work permit, etc).  Certain Embassys/consulates have a certain reputation for whether they can get a double, single visa or not.  The best place to check is Thaivisa.com, currently Vientiane, Laos is supposed to be the best place for a Double Entry tourist Visa, while Penang, Malaysia is more convenient for a Single Entry Tourist Visa (due to being able to use an agent).

My friends typically have organised the runs themselves, but after looking at the web I’d found that Thai Visa Service provided what appeared to be a reasonable priced service, that I basically didn’t have to plan anything on, if anything it appeared too cheap (6300 baht for me, including transport, accomodation, food and both Laos + Thai Visa applications).  So I decided to give it a go to let friends know what the service was actually like, and whether it was value for money.

Screen Shot 2013-02-16 at 9.04.40 AM

I’m back in Thailand now, arrived home an hour early, still alive and with my visa, so I’d say it was definately worth it.  Heres how it works:

Visa Application – Bangkok to Vientiane/Lao PDR.
To apply Thai Tourist Visa OR Non Immigrant Visa (requirements on the visa rule page) our confirmed trips for February 2013: Sunday 17th, Wednesday 20th, Monday 25th and Wednesday 27th.

March 2013: Sunday 3rd, Tuesday 5th, Sunday 10th, Wednesday 13th, Sunday 17th, Wednesday 20th, Sunday 24th, Wednesday 27th and Sunday 31th.

April 2013: Wednesday 3rd, Monday 8th, Wednesday 17th, Sunday 21th, Wednesday 24th and Sunday 28th.

In case you hold a temporary Passport you can apply for a 30days Transit Visa only

Due to recent incidents we reserve the right to drop drunk/ intoxicated and other trouble makers at the closest bus station. The Royal Thai Embassy refuse Visa if you turn up drunk.

“Warning: DO NOT purchase, possess, consume any illegal drugs while in Thailand and Laos”

Meeting is 07.30pm (evening) corner of parking lot Tesco ON NUT, next to the BTS Station ON NUT, beneath the Tesco Advertisement board.
08:00pm (evening) is the departure for Vientiane/Laos, one way appr. 9 hours.
The Exit/Entry point of Thailand is Nong Khai, the border operate from 06:00am to 10:00pm. Enforced by Thai Immigration Nong Khai, in case of Non-Immigrant Visa Type “B” with work permit and you resign before the expiration date, you must immediately cancel the visa at Thai Immigration. In case your visa and work permit is going to end it is not necessary to cancel the visa or to return the Work Permit, however the company must issue a letter confirming the last day of your employment. The cancellation will be done at Thai Immigration Nong Khai Head Office, which is about 2km from the border away.You will not be able to leave without the cancellation stamp or the letter. Transfer of stamps from old to new Passport is also done at the Head Office, which opens 8am only, but we shall arrange transport and assistance for you.
At Thai/Laotian Border and Royal Thai Embassy, we assist with visa formalities, everyone has to apply now in person. Upon completion we check into Nakhonesack Hotel III,(856-21)265 133 with Swimming Pool and breakfast buffet will be provided. At 05:30pm we invite for Dinner, buffet style.
Next day breakfast buffet and 12:30pm check out, we’ll pick up Passport and head straight to Thailand, on the way back Dinner. We expect to arrive Bangkok around midnight. If you have to sleep over, nearby is the MADEE HOSTEL, Sukhumvit Soi 50, 02-7428066, http://www.madee.hostel.com.
VIP VAN – 9+1 seat, THB 2,750.- include transfers, Single/Double Room, 3 buffet meals and 1 dinner.

Filipino: Group Van- 14+1 seat, THB 1,800.-include transfers, Shared Room, 5 meals. As of 1st February 2013 Filipino will be issued Single Entry Tourist visa only.

Laos Arrival Visa, for Visa and entry stamp pay THB 1,550.-(Canadians THB 1,800). Payment in USD is possible, but only recommended if we arrive early, in that case hand in the Laos Visa form by yourself, depending of Nationality you pay between USD30.-to42.-. Exempted are: Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, S’pore, Switzerland, Thailand and Vietnam.

Thai Visa Fees: THB 1,000.- Single Entry Tourist, THB 2,000. – for Double Entry Tourist and Single Entry Non Immigration Visa. (Yearly Multiple Entry not available.) Exempted are: S’pore, Malaysia and Korea.

DUTY FREE ALLOWANCE: Per Person 200 Cigarettes and 1 Liter Alcoholic Beverage, heavy fines are imposed if caught and we can not help you pay the fine.

Note: Trips to Vientiane/Lao PDR. require Passport, 3 ID-pictures , 1 copy ID-page. Passport: remaining validity, at least 6 month prior to the Visa application and has 2-3 blank visa pages reserved for VISA application!Citizens of a total of 29 countries, mostly Africans and from Middle East need to get the Laos Visa at the Laos Embassy in Bangkok prior to travel, include Turkey.

My experience:

I left home at around 5pm, in heavy Bangkok traffic, deciding that a taxi was too risky I took a motorbike taxi to our local (which isn’t really local) BTS station in Wongwin Yai and then rode the BTS to Siam and then on to On Nut.

The meeting point is by the “Big sign outside Tesco Lotus”  which if exiting the BTS on the Tesco side of the road should appear on the right hand side in the large carpark.  There are two “large” signs, the meeting point is at the larger of the two.

You should notice a large amount of white late model Toyota minivans, as well as foreigners (usually a lot of Filipinos + white english teaches) milling around with their passports.  At this stage you hand over your passport to the Visa service who will prepare some of the intiial paperwork (including Laos and Thai Visa Applications + Departure cards) and you will be directed to a Van.  You are not given your passport untill just before leaving, and this isn’t clearly communicated.  Don’t worry – this appears to be normal.

Visadrive
Being Thailand – everything happens on Thai time, so don’t expect things to leave on time, but be ready just in case.  The vans are large comfortable minivans with good airconditioning, bring something warm, and a pillow/eye covers for sleeping.  Just before leaving a staff member will come with your passport, and documents to collect the money before leaving – all up including all costs my visa + transport and accom was 6300 baht.

We left Bangkok at around 9pm, took a few bathroom, food and fuel breaks along the way and arrived on the Thai/Laos border at around 5:30am the next day.  Getting out of the car and it was COLD! I’m used to Bangkok’s 30 degree weather and I’m sure it was 12-13 degrees and the air was clean.  Bring something warm!  The border doesn’t actually open until 6pm, so its a bit of eating, milling around and filling out paperwork before lining up for Thai immigration.

MekongOnce you clear Thai immigration all passports are given back to the Thai Visa service, and everyone goes on a bus across to the Laos side of the friendship bridge.  You clear the border as a group and are able to skip the queue (one of the benifits it seems of the organised group) and are then given your passports with your fresh Laos visa (if you go by yourself you have to line up to the Laos visa Application, do this individually, then line up for immigration – we just walked through en masse).

ThaiembassyThen onto a new set of minivans (Laos drives on the other side of the road) and off to the Thai Embassy.  Staff jump off on the way to a local copy shop to photocopy your passport pages for the Visa app and necessary paperwork.

Thai Embassy 2For the Thai embassy the only formality is that you have to apply in person, so everyone is given passports back, then line up and hand in the application.  At this stage one person was told they would be denied a visa due to too many tourist visas (and possibly not enough blank passport pages) in the past.  Suggestion for Thailand is use the smaller passports (rather than the large 50+ page ones) and if you start to get a lot of visas – then get a new passport from your embassy.  She was just given a border crossing, but did get a partial refund from the visa service for the Visa app fee.

NakonsakOnce this was done it was off to the Hotel, which from the outside looks nice if a little run down (but to be expected for a developing nation – but definatley was nice enough for the money spent.  The only downside was the Wifi was down for everyone but one of us at a time (somethign weird on settings maybe) and while the rooms had hot water, it appears that if you are at the end of the hallway the pressure is non existent.

Tuk TukWith nothing else to do, we started to drink, at 11:30, then swimming followed by more drinking and hitting Viantenne for more beers for a Valentines day in town.   The night is a bit of a blur but I’m assured it was fun.  It turns out Tuk Tuk drivers won’t let you drive, even if you offer to pay more!

Visa CrewThe next morning it was the included buffet breakfast, then waiting, almost getting killed by a drunk russian who took offense to something I said, then more waiting until finally we were ready to go.  Off we went in the minivans again to the border (still no passports) and were told to check out duty free for 30 mins.  We were taken out of Laos, and into the no mans land (again skipping the queues) and then given our passports.  We had our visas.

We left at around 1pm, and arrived back in Bangkok at 11pm.  All in all a pretty painless exercise, communication isn’t the best – but everything works out in then end and for 6300 baht for a double entry you can’t complain!