Category Archives: Visas

Getting a Visa Extension in Lad Prao

As anyone who is staying in Thailand is aware, the protests have made day to day life hard for expats and locals alike.  Previously its been pretty easy to get a visa extension from the Government Complex in Chang Wattana, but with the Yellow Shirts blockading the area, the immigration offices have “temporarily” closed down and relocated to the 5th floor of the Big C shopping complex in Lad Prao.

What was a 20 minute process, plus the time taken to travel has turned into an all day ordeal as you have to first battle traffic, then venture through the Red Shirt HQ, before being stuck with thousands of Western Expats as well as Laos and Cambodian migrant workers, and indifferent immigration officials who take forever to process anything.

So how does the whole debacle work?

First you’ll need to find the place. This can prove to be a problem as there are two Big C’s in Lad Prao and the one you are looking for is no where near any public transport especially in the April heat of Bangkok. Ask your taxi driver to take you to “Big C Imperial” (or in Tinglish “Imperion Lad Prao”) which is on Lad Prao Road. Trust me, its not as close to the MRT or BTS as it looks!

Leave early, as the place is jam packed with people, and is about as inefficient as it can get, even by Thai standards.  They don’t open until 10:30, but you’ll find people lining up from 9am.  Songkran is coming up so expect lots of offices to be closed over the holiday period so the lines and waiting times are only going to get worse in the waiting period. How to find Lad Prao ImmigrationOnce you get there take the lifts up to Level 5, when I was there two days ago the lifts were out of order, so you’ll have to explore the mall to find escalators that actually take you up to the correct floor.  Once you get to level 5 you’ll be greeted by the local red shirt security guards, who will be wearing khakis and black shirts, carrying walkie talkies.  Ignore them, as they are used to seeing tonnes of foreigners walking past and aren’t really interested in you.  Luckily I was wearing my red checkered shirt at the time!

You’ll be greeted by long lines of Cambodia and Laos workers sitting down in the foyer, ignore them as they have their own process and instead keep going and turn left towards the car park where you’ll be greeted by hundreds of foreigners with absolutely zero clue whats going on.  Remember its going to be very busy with all the migrant workers going home to visit their families for Songkran.

Grab the forms if you haven’t got one already and fill them out on the table at the corner of the class windows. Make sure you have absolutely everything you need at this stage, your forms filled out, photocopies of your passport (these cost a few baht at the various photocopiers dotted around the room) passport photos and of course your money. Immigration Lad Prao 2Then take a quick scouting mission around the room to work out exactly what queue you need to be in.  They are poorly labeled on A4 print outs, there is a different queue for each type of visa being applied for, in my case I wanted a tourist Visa extension and was in a line shared with those who needed to do their 90 day reporting.  Expect to spend about one and a half hours in a line with various people pushing in ahead of the line and generally causing problems.

Once you get to the front of the line the clerk will check your forms to see that they are correctly filled out and you have all the required paperwork. They’ll ask for your immigration fee (mine was 1900 baht), then staple a number to to the cash and give it back to you.

Once you have your number its time to go into the next room, where you’ll see the various counters and a LCD screen.  You can pretty much ignore the LCD screen as the numbers being shown on it have no correlation to whats actually going on in the room. Instead find the counter that applies to your visa, grab a seat and a book and expect a very long wait if you have a Non Immigrant Visa or similar. If you have a tourist visa you’ll be lucky as it seems very few people are extending tourist visas at the moment.  I only had to wait for 4 people to be processed (which still took about another 30 minutes) before I made it to the front of the line.  Others weren’t so lucky however, and had to wait for hours on the day I was there.  Immigration Lad Prao 3You’ll finally get the chance to talk to immigration, who you’ll pay your fee and get your change. You’ll need to leave your passport with them for around 30 minutes (perfect to get lunch) before returning.  That is unless you were unlucky enough to get there around 1pm.  At 1pm the entire place closes down for an hour, meaning you’ll need to wait until then for the process to start up again. That said, with all the chaos going on, the staff were friendly and professional. I don’t envy the workers having to process all these visas and extensions before the holidays.

I was lucky, my visa was ready at around 12:55.  I had other mates who went on the same day who got there at 9am, and didn’t leave until 5pm, while I saw others who got there and were turned around as they didn’t get a number before 1pm.

So, if you are planning on extending your visa at Lad Prao, make sure you eat before hand, bring a book (or a kindle) and expect to lose an entire day in the process.  In this case I’m thinking a border bounce or a visa run might actually be more cost (and time) effective than actually going to immigration in Bangkok.  I’ve read that it might actually be faster to grab a bus from the Southern Bus Station to Pattaya (1.5 hours away) and visit immigration there, before returning than Bangkok, and a lot less stressful.

If you have the ability to go to another office, or send in your 90 day reporting by mail – do it and avoid the hassle of queuing in a non air conditioned building for 5+ hours in the hottest month of the year.  The only upside is, if you look carefully enough, you’ll find a place thats selling either counterfeit or second hand Levis for 150 baht a piece.

I’m glad its the last time I’ll ever have to go through this process, I’m planning to go back to New Zealand in late May.

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 Republic of Myanmar (Burma) Tourist Visa in Bangkok

My girlfriend is off to Yangoon/Rangoon next month with an organisation that she interns for as part of her University exchange programme and requires a visa to enter the country. Today we set off to get her visa and it was (relatively) straight forward.

Here are the steps you need to take to get a Myanmar visa directly from the Embassy in Bangkok. Burma8First you need to get some passport photos sorted for your visa application, these are your standard sized passport photos used in most countries.  If you are travelling SE Asia or living in Thailand I suggest you get some spares made up, as you’ll always need them when doing a visa run or travelling overseas. These are cheap and can be done anywhere in Bangkok (we got ours on Khao San Road as it was a Sunday and it cost 150 Baht for 8, or 100 Baht for 4).  Burma6Make sure you get a photocopy of your passport ID pages as well.  If you forget to do either of these there is a van outside that will arrange this for you and also offers some form of visa service (we used them for some glue and paperclips). 

To get to the Embassy of the Republic of Myanmar, simply take the BTS to the Surasak station, and get out on the exit by the Mode Sathorn Hotel.  Walk up the street about 500m, crossing one Soi in the process.   You will come to the official entrance (132 Sathon Nuea Road, Sathorn, Bangkok, 10120) to the Embassy – this entrance is for Myanmar nationals only. Burma2Back track a bit and go down the side road (Pan Road) where you will find the entrance to the visa section of the Embassy, and probably a huge line.  Myanmar is slowly opening up to foriegn visitors again, and they are seeing far more visitors than they used to.  Burma4The visa office officially opens at 9am, and we arrived at about 9:10am – there was already a massive queue, I’d recommend coming early, or waiting a bit and coming later (say 11am and chancing it – it closes at midday) to avoid the queues. Burma3Skip the line and go inside and to the left.  Walk directly to the front counter and pick up a visa application form.  You’ll need to fill the form out completely including employment details at the back – be careful with this part, as obviously they don’t want a load of journalists, government employees or cameramen in the country considering its current status.  I’d suggest that your current employment be “unemployed” or “tourist”. You’ll need to glue one photo to the application, and paperclip the other one to it – this is where you’ll need to run back outside, to the car parked next door, and ask politely for some glue and a paperclip, they didn’t charge us for this. Burma5At this stage, you’ll jump into a line, that is basically lining up to get into another line.  Expect to wait 30 to 40 minutes to get to the front of the queue, pass them your paperwork, then have them give you a number where you wait to go join another queue to pay for your visa. Burma7You’ll be given one of these cards, and then have to sit down and wait for your number to be called, once its called you can go to the cashier and pay for the visa application fee, and leave your passport behind at the embassy.  Upon this you’ll be given a yellow receipt for payment and your passport – don’t lose this, you’ll need it to pick up your visa.

You’ll have to wait a few days for your visa to be processed, depending on the type of visa and how much you’ve paid, but typically its around 810 baht for a standard tourist visa. Next day is 1035 while same day is 1260 baht.  Pickup times for visas are between 3:30 and 4:30 pm.

Myanmar Visa options include:

  • Business Visa: 1440 Baht, stay in Myanmar for up to 10 weeks, valid for 3 months from date of issue.  Two business day processing time (7200 Baht for Multiple Entry)
  • Tourist Visa: 810 Baht, stay in Myanmar for up to 4 weeks, valid for 3 months from date of issue. Two business day processing time.
  • Social Visa: 1440 Baht, stay in Myanmar for up to 10 weeks, valid for 3 months from date of issue.  Two business day processing time.
  • Visa on Arrival: $40 USD, stay in Myanmar for up to 28 days. Available in Yangoon/Rangoon Airport only for nationals of 26 countries.

What if you don’t want to line up?

It is possible to use an agent for a Myanmar visa, and there are plenty to choose from.  Many travel agencies around tourist hubs such as Khao San Road offer such as service, which is usually same day, and around 1800 baht, so once you factor in the cost of taxis and your time – can be quite cost effective.

That said – there is some risk in doing so.  I don’t trust embassies in South East Asia with my passport at the best of times, let alone agencies where I’ve never met the people I’m dealing with before. Thailand has a massive problem with stolen passports (two were used on the recent plane that went missing from Kuala Lumpur – Bejing this week), and they often involve theft from dodgy car rental companies, motorbike companies or visa agencies.  Buyer beware in this situation.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

Visa Running from Koh Phangan to Penang

Previously posted on Living Alpha, visit their site for more interesting travel stories. 

After arriving at the station we came across the famous “orient express” luxury train that one can only dream of travelling through Asia, and had enough time to take some photos and fantasise about the idea of spending thousands of dollars for a train ride up country. But we were on a budget so we went off by foot to cross the water by ferry before walking to Penang’s backpacking street “Love Lane”.

PN4

We settled into our 80 Ringitt a night guest house, before dropping off my passport for my visa at Jim’s Place (the best place for Thai Visas in Malaysia) before dinner at my favourite Indian Restaurant in the world Sri Anwar Bandan in China Street, Little India (yes, it is weird having a China street in Little India rather than Chinatown). This place is simply the cheapest place I’ve ever eaten good “western” style indian food, and Sarah absolutely loved it because of the vegetarian options. We both ate huge meals, and the bill came to only 23 ringgit (230 baht) when in Bangkok a similar meal might cost closer to 100 Ringitt/1000 baht. Simply amazing!

PN3

The next day we spent waiting for my visa, while Sarah needed to be back for school, so off we ran to the Air Asia Penang offices, which are little more than two staff with laptops and a printer. It turned out we couldn’t actually book flights there, so into a taxi she went, and managed to get a ticket back to Bangkok in time.

I had one more night to spend in Penang before hitting Koh Phangan, so checked into the Reggae hostel, which was slightly cheaper at 23 Ringitt a night including breakfast before hitting the local bars for the evening.

The next day was simply waiting around for a visa, before grabbing the minivan to the border, then off to Hat Yai in Thailand and realising that I was travelling to Koh Phangan the day before full moon without organising anything in advance. End result – having to spend 6 hours in the aisle of an overbooked bus to Surat Thani with zero sleep while the bus tried to make it in the pouring rain. Never again.