Before my experience, I cringed when the phrase visa run was mentioned.
I kinda hesitate to do visa run because it seems so complicated and god knows anything could happen in SE Asia. But now that I'm actually liking Chiang Mai so much I want to stay longer, so I decided to do the easiest & cheapest visa run to Vientiane, Laos.
Now...let me tell you, I realized I left my contacts at home when I was already on a Uber heading to Chiang Mai Arcade bus station.
You see where I'm going?
Yes, my Vientiane visa run experience turns out to be a blur (literally) and of course it was comical. lol
Despite a lot of squinting and guessing my way into the Thai embassy and my hotel in Laos, the Universe was good to me as I was fortunate to have a travel partner on the way back so I made it home in one piece with my passport + new visa.
Thank you Universe, I am grateful, and I know you are probably sighing and shaking your head going "what am I going to do with you, Vivien..."
Well, you should know me by now.
Anyways, I'll share my visa run experience with the exact step so you can do your Vientiane visa run successfully even if you are blindfolded lol
Simple Step-by-step guide for Vientiane visa run
Step 1: Transport yourself to Udon Thani
To do so, you have two options.
One is to fly Nok Air, which is the cheapest direct air to the destination.
Two is to ride an overnight bus, which is cheap and can save you one night of accommodation.
And you can book bus ticket at Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station. One-way bus ride to Udon Thani usually cost around 575 baht/$16 USD.
Uber or Grab can get you to either Chiang Mai Airport (CNX) or Chiang Mai Arcade Bus station, depending on your choice of transportation.
You can purchase your tickets in advance at the Chiang Mai Arcade bus station or did it the adventurous way like I did where I just pack my bag and went to the bus station, purchased ticket on the spot and depart within half an hour (I'm just a tad bit spontaneous).
The bus station has service clerks who are very friendly and can speak some English to help you purchase the right ticket. They've seen enough Vientiane visa run foreigners to know exactly what you need, don't worry.
There's plenty of snacks, food, juice, water, and stuff to buy at the Arcade bus station. If you don't have time to pack, now it's the time to grab some food.
AC gets quite cold in the two-deck tour bus.
The bus supplies blankets, water, and some simple snack. I sat in the last row of the bus with no seat in front of me.
The seat is very spacious.
There is an aircraft-alike restroom available on the bus, it's clean enough to do your business.
There's room fragrance and toilet paper available, but I highly recommend you bring your own tissues because most public restrooms will not have any available. You've been warned.
Here's a list of what should be pack in your backpack:
● Tissue (wet ones for hands and bathroom ones)
● Mosquito spray
● Some healthy snacks like rice ball (onigiri), apples, boiled egg.
● Bottled water
● Changing clothes like t-shirt, leggings/yoga pants for a night
● Jacket (it may get too cold on the bus)
● Phone and laptop charger
● Electronics if you wish (camera, tablet, laptop)
● Money in baht or USD
I also brought my eye mask and ear plugs, because I'm a pro:)
Don't overpack, it'll be a burden.
The bus departs on time and makes about 3-4 stops to pick up more people or rest area before arriving Udon Thani.
Step 2: Arriving Udon Thani, depart to Nong Khai
My bus departed around 5:30 pm and arrived at Udon Thani at around 6 am. I was instructed by a local Thai on where to go (Google Map) and waited a bit for the minivan to start servicing.
There was a lot of mosquitos while waiting. I went to 7-eleven to pick up a pack of tissues and a cup of coffee. The restroom was quite a cultural shock, but I survived.
At around 8 am, the minivan drove from Udon Thani to Nong Khai and picked up a couple more people along the way. It's about 1-1.5 ours, depending on how many people being picked up and your driver. Minivan to the border cost around 60-80 baht.
Step 3: Arriving Nong Khai, go across Friendship Bridge
When the minibus drops you off right close to the border, you have two options from there.
1. Take a local bus that cost around 20 baht to get to the Nong Khai Customs
2. Walk to the Nong Khai Customs (less than 10 minutes)
DO NOT USE TUK-TUK, they rip you off, charging you 300 baht for a 2-minute ride.
At the Nong Khai Customs, you'll get a stamp for exiting Thailand on your passport. Proceed to the next step.
Step 4: Entering Laos
After you get your stamp for exiting Thailand, you'll then proceed to get on the bus again to cross the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge into Laos.
At the Laos Thanaleng Border Crossing, you'll need to grab the long piece of arrival-departure card and Laos application form, fill them out to apply for a visa to enter Laos.
Things you need to apply for Laos visa:
● One passport photo
● Arrival/Departure card filled out
● Application form (filled on the spot)
● $35 USD or equivalent in baht
● Passport with at least 6 months remaining
● Bahts to pay for passport photocopies
● Address of where you will be staying in Laos
Visa for Laos cost $35 for US passport. I paid mine in USD.
I used the passport photo where I got from Warsaw, Poland. If you don't have pictures, you can get it on the spot on the second floor
It was around 10 am ish when I arrived, I think. There was a bit of a crowd. I waited for around an hour to have my visa approved and my passport + change back.
After receiving your stuff back, make sure you put your departure card inside your passport so you don't loose it. You then get in line to move through the customs to get your passport stamped for entry into Laos.
Step 5: Admit into Laos, go straight to Thai Embassy
After you pass the gate into Laos border, there will be tons of tuk-tuk and minivan at your service. Some driver had the nerve to quote me 400 baht for a ride, I manage to negotiate a minivan to drive me all the way to Thai Embassy for 200 baht (average price).
The ride is around 45-50 minutes, depending on how good the minivan driver cuts other people off in the traffic and if there are other passengers to drop off. My driver wasn't too bad. I arrived at the Thai embassy around 11 am.
Step 6: After Thai Emabassy
As I arrived the Thai Embassy, I walk in quickly get to the point to have the paper forms filled out, adding my passport photos, had the passport photocopied right on the spot (inside the embassy to the left of the building, there's a service guy in front of the copy machine) for 20 baht...or was it 40 baht total for 2 pages? I don't really remember, it was kinda of a blur.
Things you need to apply for the visa:
● 1,000-2,000 baht for visa application fee (waived this time for single-entry visas)
● 2 passport photos
● Passport with at least 6 months remaining
● 40-100 Bahts to pay for passport photocopies and passport photos for the visa application
● Don't forget your address in Thailand and contact person's info
You can photocopy it outside of the Thai Embassy for more expensive price, if that's your preference, or if you really don't want to deal with filling out the paperwork, you can also hire service to have people fill out the visa application form for you for about 1,000 baht inside the embassy center in a building towards the left.
I did my own stuff and got it done without much effort. I hand the paperwork to the visa person sitting in the courtyard behind the table and they gave me a piece of paper with a number on it for the next day pick up. It was unbelievably easy.
This period the Thai Embassy waived the visa application fee (normally 1000 baht) so that was nice.
Thai Embassy hours are from Monday to Friday.
8:30 – 12:00 for visa application process
13:00 – 15:00 for passport distribution and pickup
Note, Monday and Tuesday is the busiest days of the week.
Make sure you check for any possible holidays before you depart.
After I walked out of the embassy, it was around 11:30-11:45 am, I think. I almost didn't believe how easy it was.
Now I get to find my lodging as best as I could, in a blur.
I got a tuk-tuk that drove me a 7-minute ride to Talat Sao Shopping Mall area for around 50 baht, I'm sure it could be lower if I bargain.
There is a lot of food vendors around where you can get fruits and eateries. I choose to just get to my hotel ASAP.
What's great about Booking.com is that I don't have to pay until I arrive and there is no booking fee or cancellation fee. I paid $10 USD as I check-in and the staff was very friendly. I highly advise you go this route as well to make your life simpler.
Green Box Hostel has the restaurant on the bottom floor and the rooms upstairs. I got one of the sleeping capsules for $10 a night. There were just 2-3 other travelers it was fairly quiet.
There are curtains for each sleeping capsules with plugs and lights inside so there is a lot of privacy. AC is cold enough and I'm quite pleased with the cleanness.
After I check in I put my stuff down, charged my electronics and took a nap. Woke up after an hour to find stuff to eat.
I choose this hostel because the location has a lot of eateries around and it's close enough to the main road Ave Lang Yang so I can quickly get to the embassy to pick up the passport.
As for currency, you can change your Baht or USD to Laotian Kip at the Laos border as you enter.
Or you can be like me. I changed my currency to Kip in a small store 2 blocks down from the hostel, and another time at the BCEL Headquarter. I think it's slightly more valuable to change from Baht to Kip instead of USD, as I was told, by the BCEL bank clerk.
A lot of restaurant and cafes in Vientiane accepts both Baht and Kip.
I found a highly recommended eatery on Foursquare called Noy's Fruit Heaven Restaurant...and bike rental. (Asians tends to multipurpose their business)
I ordered their chicken fried rice, which is pretty good. Good size portion, lots of meat.
Interestingly, there are many juices, smoothies, and cafes in Vientiane.
I love seeing fruit stalls every few blocks. In fact, I had my avocado smoothie just a few blocks down my hostel to which I request no sugar & no ice. They fulfilled my request, I am content.
Mind you, my world was a blur when I search my way around town and manage to find healthy delicious stuff to eat, I'm sure you won't have any problems.
So that was my first day in Vientiane. I went back to my hostel early to rest.
Before I sleep I booked my flight on Nok Air for the next day to depart Udon Thani at 6:20 pm and back to Chiang Mai at 7:35 pm (UTH to CNX).
The cost is 2,489.95 baht ($69.10 USD), I'm sure you can get it cheaper in other months or book in advance.
Then I just read "Man's Search for Meaning" (a great book choice for visa run) before I fall asleep.
Step 7: Next morning
I slept well and woke up around 7-7:30 am the next morning. The hostel provides simple breakfast like coffee, tea, bread, jam, fried eggs, water so I ate before I head to a cafe to work a bit.
After my breakfast, I went to BCEL to exchange some more currency, then to Le Trio Coffee to respond some emails. Their flat white is very recommendable.
For more cafe recommendation, check out Nomadic Note's post on Cafes in Vientiane, Laos post. You won't be disappointed.
I enjoyed my flat white upstairs and met up with another digital nomad, Maria, who is an awesome female solo traveler from Russia. We had a great chat and continue our journey back to Chiang Mai together.
We end up going to Noy's Fruit Heaven place again for lunch before picking up the passport at the Thai Embassy.
This time I had beef fried rice. The meat was a bit hard, still tasty, but chicken is better.
Maria had some serious Laos sub and some fruit smoothies, she is very satisfied with her order.
Step 8: Pick up passport
After our lunch, we just hang out till about a bit after 2 pm to start heading back to the Thai Embassy.
We took a tuk-tuk and negotiated around...25,000 Kip maybe? to drive us both to Thai Embassy.
Again, passport pick-up time is from 1:30 – 3:30 pm. It's useless to go early because you'll be waiting in a long line. My number was 235 and when I arrived at around 2:20 pm they were still on number 185.
Maria and I waited a bit, it's really hot so we sat under the fan and start reading our own ebooks.
As our numbers got called, we each pick up our passport at the window. Everything went smoothly and successfully.
Now it's time to head on back quickly because we both booked the Nok Air to fly back to Chiang Mai at 6:30 pm.
We met another interesting female traveler named Charlie at the Thai Embassy who is on the same journey. Us three now fight with time to get back to Udon Thani to catch our evening flight back to Chiang Mai.
Step 9: Getting back to Thailand
Clock is ticking. It's 3-ish pm. We smile as if it's nothing but inside we desparately know we need to go, NOW.
We grabbed a tuk-tuk to drive us back to Laos border, get our passport stamped and checked, and ride another bus that cost us 20 baht to cross the Friendship bridge.
We then waited in a long line at the Thailand Nong Khai border to get our passport stamped to enter Thailand again. I've waited in Universal Orlando's Harry Potter lines before so it's nothing, but still, we have a flight to catch so we got a bit impatient.
After finishing the process with entering the Thailand, you have to pay another 40 baht to get an exit card to officially enter Thailand.
After passing through the Thailand gate, we ran to a minivan at Nong Khai border and had him drive us straight to Udon Thani in no time.
On this hour-long journey, the tension grew, the driver weave through traffic the best he could. Maria was trying to meet her deadline on her laptop in her passenger seat. Charlie and I sat in the back and chatted about food (best topic) to ease the tension. The music in the car plays Lady Gaga's bad romance and other hip songs in karaoke version.
Charlie and the driver start singing along with the music, I chuckled and start to stare out the window and went into my meditating state.
Step 10: Getting back to Chiang Mai
Our driver did such a good job to drive us to Udon Thani airport in the traffic in less than an hour at 800 baht for three of us. You should see the satisfied and proud smile on his face as he safely get us to the destination about 15 minutes before boarding.
Good thing we all just have backpacks because it doesn't require baggage check-in. Nok Air allows passenger to have one 15kg carry-on for free.
As we waited in the airport, Charlie got some snacks to eat. I couldn't find anything good so I waited to get back to Chiang Mai. Maria is busy on her laptop.
We boarded, got in our seats, and start head on back to Chiang Mai.
Nok Air is quite nice. They gave us rice cracker snacks and small artsy bottled water.
I smiled. We made it. It's time to go 'home'.
After about an hour or so, we landed Chiang Mai CNX and used Uber to get back to each of our place.
I got home in no time and was very glad to be able to extend my stay. I scrubbed myself from head to toe squeaky clean and hop in bed.
Thanks to my travel partner, Maria, who guided me through the return part. I probably would've missed my flight if it wasn't her.
This was quite a journey. I hermit for two days so I can rest.
There you have it, my Vientiane visa run adventure.
Hope you find it amusing and useful;)