The so-called “visa run” is a classic for travels that choose to stay for a long time in Thailand. But let’s start with what is a visa run?? Running for a visa? More or less!!! Means go to a nearby country, cross to border and come back to Thailand again, preferentially in the same day!!
Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia are the neighboring countries, but being in the north of Thailand, the easiest way to get a new 60 days tourist visa is going to Vientiane, the capital of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic
Mae Sai, in Myanmar, is also a popular option but crossing by land only give you 15 days visa (NOTE: since 31st December 2016, you can get 30 days tourist visa, on arrival, for free).
Step by step… time and costs:
Day 1: from Chiang Mai to Thai Consulate in Vientiane
- Bus from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani: 545 baht
The best price is from Phetprasert company (good and comfortable buses), that has several buses leaving during the day, but the best option is the on that departure at 7.30 pm, from Terminal 2 of Arcade Bus Station, otherwise you’ll arrive unnecessarily early to the border.
A VIP bus can cost around 800 bahts and is better to buy the ticket in one of the counters of the Terminal 3.
If you don’t carry much luggage you can go on foot from the old town to the Arcade Bus Station, and it will take you between around 40 minutes walking.
- The bus departure at 30 pm and arrive to Udon Thani around 6.30 am. The bus drops the passengers in from of the City Plaza, a modern mall. Watch out because this is not the last stop.
- After the bus leave, you’ll see on the other side of the street a kiosk (with Van Station sign) where you can buy a ticket for the mini-van that take you to the border: Nong Khai
The mini-van ticket from Udon Thani to Nong Khai cost 50 baht. It takes 1.5 hours and drops you at the Immigration area.
- Thai Immigration at Nong Khai: basically you need to wait on the line and show the passport and the departure card.
If you overstay in Thailand you need to line on the counter on the left and pay the fee (500 baht a day).
- After you get the stamp you´ll find a desk outside the room that sells the tickets to a bus that cross the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge over the Mekong. Apparently crossing the bridge on foot is not allowed!
The bus ticket cost 20 baht, and the trip takes about 10 minutes. The bus departure when is full.
The bus will drop you just at the Thanaleng border crossing and you just need to walk a few meters to the Lao Immigration.
- Lao Immigration procedures: when you get off the bus you’ll see a counter on your left side, where you can find the immigration form.
For the Lao visa you need:
- 1 passport photo,
- Immigration form,
- 35 USD (you can pay in baht – 1500 baht – but it will be more expensive). The fee depends on from your country but most of the Europeans countries pay the same. The French citizens pay 30 USD. Check your situation on line.
After you present the document and pay the visa fee (everything in the same counter) you need to wait a few minutes. Every now and then the third window of the counter will open and your name will be called and the passport gave back to you, with a 30 days visa, single entry. A transit visa will cost you the same and will give you more trouble.
Note: the Lao Immigration works from 8 am to 4 pm, so if you cross the border out of this schedule, no matter in which way, you need to pay 1 USD extra.
- As soon you cross the border gate, mini-van drivers that take you to Vientiane or directly to the Thai embassy approach you. You need to wait until there at least 3 passengers.
The mini-van trip cost you 25.000 kip or 100 baht (the driver will be happy to receive baht… so don’t rush to exchange money at the border and just wait to arrive at the Vientiane to get a better rate!!!) the trip takes around 30 minutes.
- If your trip to Laos is just to get the visa, so is better go directly to the embassy, as it closes at noon.
Consular Section: Monday to Friday
08.30 – 12.00: Application for Visa
13.00 – 15.00: Distribution of Passports with visa
Close on Saturday and Sunday (check also Thai and Lao holidays http://vientiane.thaiembassy.org/en/embassy/calendar.php)
- Procedures at Thai Embassy in Laos:
For the Thai visa you’ll need:
- 2 passport photos
- a copy of the last Thai visa and also the page with the stamp of entry in the country
- a copy of the Lao visa
At the Consulate the things are a bit chaotic and busy.
As you cross the Consulate Gate you must go first to the building on your left where you can ask for the application form, and where you can also take the copies of your passport: 20 baht each (you can pay baht or kip).
Inside this building there are some desks where a few consular officials can help you to fill the forms and glue the photos… you must pay 4.000 kip for this service, but filing the form has no big issues and you can save time and money doing it by yourself!!!
Note: you must write an address of a place or the guest house where you plan to stay in Thailand… don’t need to make proof of any reservation but you must provide a valid name and an address.
With all this paper stuff ready you need now to join the long queue that zig-zag under the shed, that you see as you come out of the building. This part is fast, as is just the time need to the consular officials check your documents, and give you a number, that you’ll use next day to pick the passport with the new visa stamp, for 60 days with a single entry.
Watch out: when you come off the mini-van, maybe someone forward you to one of the improvised offices where someone fill the form for you, make the copies and arrange everything for you (4.000 kips), even with the promise that paying an extra you can get the visa on the same day… don’t trust in this touts! The consular officials reject the forms that they have… and then you need to do it by yourself inside de consular services.
Exceptionally, from 1st of December 2016 until 28th of February 2017, the 60 days tourist visa is free. http://vientiane.thaiembassy.org/en/news/announce/detail.php?ID=362
Now that you have you have the ticket with the number is time to find a guesthouse, have rest and some food in the sleepy Vientiane.
You can reach the center of the city on foot, which that take around 40 minutes walking slowly.
In Vientiane, you can get a bed dorm for 40.000 kips (Garden Hostel, Sihome), get street food for 10.000 kips and watch the time pass by near the Mekong waters.
Day 2: from the Thai Consulate in Vientiane to Chiang Mai
- On the next day, after 1 pm you can go the embassy to collect your passport. The officer behind the counter will calls people by the ticket number given to you the day before. But don’t worry, is ok if you arrive later (2 pm is a good time), as this way you just need to go to the counter and show your recipe, no matter if it already call your number. This is super fast.
- Outside de Consulate the mini-van driver will be waiting to take the foreigners back to the Thai border. Again you can pay in baht or kip the mini-van ride: 100 baht.
- Arriving at the Lao Immigration you must get your passport stamped.
- Take the bus to cross the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge: 20 baht
- Fill the arriving/departure card and get your passport stamped with the day that you must leave the country.
- After the Thai Immigration procedures, you must walk out the border crossing area, until you pass under a big gate decorated in gold. Many taxi and tuk-tuk drivers will approach you to take you to Nong Khai (if you are going to the south, like Bangkok) or Udon Thani if you are going back to Chiang Mai, for a big amount of money. Ignore them!
Keep walking a bit further after the gate and you’ll see a few tuk-tuk line up on your left (if you arrive at a 7 eleven, you walk too much), behind them is the office of the mini-van company that takes you to Udon Thani for the just 50 baht! Just need to wait a bit, as the mini-vans run every hour.
- Probably you’ll arrive in Udon Thani around 5 pm. At Udon Thani Bus Terminal you need to find the counter that sells tickets to Chiang Mai… the buses departure at:
17.45, 18.45 and 20.45h.
Depending on the demanding you may have the lucky to get a ticket for the first bus… otherwise just need to wait a bit for the next one. There a nice café in the opposite of the entrance of the bus terminal or you can enjoy the air-conditioner of the Central Plaza, a mall very close by.
The bus will pick you at the entrance of the Central Plaza, at the same place where they drop you in the morning of the day before…. just wait there patiently because the bus can arrive a bit later (I wait 30 minutes)…. but no worry because at the kiosk in front (van Station) there a bus company official that can help you.
The bus arrives at Chiang Mai in the next morning, 11 hours later.
And here you are again in Thailand for a couple of more months… and you can even extend this visa for more 30 days!!!!!
Costs of the visa run:
Transportation: 1430 baht (considering not using tuk-tuk in Vientiane)
Sleep: 40.000 kip (dorm with breakfast) (approx. 175 baht)
(The cots of the food in Vientiane are not included as you send more or less the same as in Chiang Mai).
So you will spend minimum 1600 baht plus the 35 USD of the Lao visa.