Visa Run How-To-Guide: Chiang Mai to Laos

Luckily for you, Chiang Mai to Vientiane is probably the cheapest and quickest visa run that you can do. But, if like me you are even more confused by the masses of information available on the internet, then read on to hear all about my latest visa run which I took in mid-February 2017!

Sure, you can pay an agency like Chiang Mai Buddy to hold your hand as you cross the Thailand and Laos border, but expect to pay a considerably large premium for this. In my humble opinion, you can cope with this on ya’ own – it’s really not that difficult. I will break down my trip for you so you can see just how easy it is.

The Thai border!

If you are a little more organised than me, check out flights from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani, which is situated very close to the Thailand and the Laos border. I am certain Nok Air has the best deals and if you book early enough you can find some great promotional deals; I have heard of flights costing just $28.00. The flight takes just one hour, a fraction of the time it takes on the bus, so I would certainly recommend this option if your budget allows (or at least you are organised enough unlike me – one day I will learn!)

True to my ‘leave it till the last minute and it’ll all work out’ personality, I didn’t plan my trip until just a few days before my visa expired, which meant that the flights were pretty extortionate for my ever decreasing budget. So a much longer treacherous bus journey lay ahead of me, or so I thought…

My bus ticket cost me just 545                                       baht!

Chiang Mai to Udon Thai – the first stretch

The expiry date of my visa was fast approaching and after finally accepting the fact my budget would not allow me to fly at least both ways, I made my way to Arcade Bus station, which is around 5km from the old city, just off the Superhighway. I wanted to book my ticket in advance to ensure I got a seat and a good one at that! Being a total fidget and much taller than the average Thai person, I wanted a seat with as much legroom as possible. I purchased my ticket from a booth inside Bus Terminal 1 called Phetprasert, which was clearly marked Udon Thani as a stop. It set me back 545 baht and I was able to choose my seat – turns out 1D has plenty of leg room! Three days later, armed with my bubble tea and much needed baked goods as snacks, the bus departed the station at exactly 7:30 pm, I heard they do not hang around, so arrive early! You are expected to check in at the same counter as you purchase your ticket around 30 minutes before, although I am not sure this will prevent them leaving in your absence!

The bus stopped at around 10:45 pm; just long enough to have a quick smoke I would say, I then took two valium and the rest was a blur. But apparently, the bus stopped again at around 1 am and 3 am. I was awoken rather abruptly around 5:30 am by a member of staff demanding my cosy blanket and within minutes we arrived at Udon Thani bus station and I felt surprisingly refreshed. It was actually quite a pleasant journey, probably helped that I had a fresh croissant to wake up to. When the bus doors open, my advice would be to avoid the swarm of money hungry tuk-tuk drivers who want to overcharge you for the next stint of your journey… 

Udon Thani to Nong Khai

Instead of the over priced tuk-tuks, I purchased a ticket for a minibus which took us to Nong Khai at the Laos/Thailand border and it set me back just 50 baht. You can purchase your ticket at window number one at the only kiosk that is situated at the bus station. I believe these depart every hour.

Nong Khai Border

Once you arrive at Nong Khai this is where you officially depart Thailand and you go through passport control. Again, once you have done this, ignore anybody offering to take you over the bridge in a minivan or tuk-tuk, simply walk out of passport control and you will see two white ticket stands with blue signs clearly stating ‘bus ticket’, this will set you back 20 baht and it is a public bus which will drive you over the Friendship Bridge and officially into Laos.

A busy bus crossing the                            Friendship Bridge!

The Friendship Bridge and your Laos Visa

You can find a full list here of the cost of your Visa on Arrival, I decided to withdraw USD whilst in Chiang Mai because it works out cheaper than paying in baht – but be sure your notes are new and crisp! Complete all the paperwork you are given and head to the first Window. They will take your passport, completed paperwork and your fee and then you will head to Window 3 to collect your passport and visa. Be sure to keep hold of your Laos departure card (although I did see these being handed out on my return back to Chiang Mai so I don’t think it would be too much hassle to get your hands on another!)

Complete your paperwork – you won’t require                                         any help!

The Final Stretch – Hallelujah!

Once you get your passport back with your Laos visa approved, you can haggle down a Lao driver to take you to either your hotel or straight to the Thai Embassy. I couldn’t get this for any less than 100 baht and I was taken in what I would class as a Lao version of a songtaew. The journey took around 40 minutes.

It really is that simple, and cheap!! So please don’t get sucked into all these agencies who are likely to charge you in excess of 4000 baht without any of your visa fees! Follow this simple guide and don’t forget to check out this post here about my hints and tips for a speedy and smooth experience once you reach the Thai Embassy – and exactly why I chose to fly home to Chiang Mai!

 

Your guide to Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia

Trying to decide which location for your dream holiday to Bali can be tough work, but if you haven’t yet considered the beautiful spots of Jimbaran and Uluwatu on the Bukit Peninsula, then you need to read on…

A taxi ride from Kuta to Uluwatu will take around 30-40 minutes, depending on traffic, but it will all be worth it when you escape the hustle and bustle of Kuta and allow yourself some relaxation on one of the many beautiful beach spots that surrounds the Bukit Peninsula.

Getting Around

I highly recommend hiring a moped once you arrive in Ulluwatu, and like all other spots in Bali, you don’t have to look far to find a bike rental shop.

Taxis are available but they are few and far between. Some of the beaches are down much smaller roads so a moped would certainly provide the best transport and of course a solution to those darn traffic jams!

Must See

Uluwatu Temple

Yes, it’s top of the list and yes it is another temple and you may be pretty bored of these if you’ve been travelling around Asia for quite some time but Uluwatu has something pretty spectacular to offer. They host Kekac Fire Dance shows, which is one of Bali’s most iconic art performances. I recommend heading to the cliff top amphitheatre just south of the temple, (and at sunset for additional ‘wow’ factor!) tickets will cost you around IDR 100.000 per person. But do be warned about the group of pushy monkeys who call the temple home, anything shiny and interesting they will certainly try to grab from you – even if it is neatly tucked into your pocket!

There are many beautiful white sandy beaches; which are easily accessible on the Bukit Peninsula, here are my favourites:

Green Bowl Beach:

is known for good waves but be warned, it is located at the bottom of a hill so be prepared to endure extra cardio whilst climb some stairs on your way back up – the view is worth it I promise!

The beautiful views at Green Bowl Beach

Padang Padang:

is a truly beautiful beach with a big surf breach just offshore. Sometimes the white sandy beach can be a little narrow at times of high tide but regardless it really is a beautiful spot.

Subulan Beach:

also known as Blue Point Beach is the neighbouring pro surf spot of Uluwatu. It does require you to descend a steep set of stairs and to crouch through rocky openings to reach, but that is half the fun right?! If you don’t fancy the steep stairway down, hang around at the cliff tops and witness all the surf action below you because this spot provides powerful swells and constant barrels to ride through!

Garuda Wisnu Kencaca:

is a cultural park that can be found in the hills of Jimbaran, featuring a half-built, to-be-finished statue of the Hindu god Vishnu and his mythical guardian eagle. Once completed, the god will stand at 145m tall, visible from low-lying areas of the north peninsula. You can also eat at the on-site restaurant and hire segways to get around!

Must Do

Uluwatu is not an area where you will find a crazy nightlife scene, if that’s what you are looking for, I would suggest staying in Kuta and Seminyak. However, the surf culture here is so huge that you are most likely to find somebody willing to join you for a cold beer at Single Fin Bar. This cliff top bar is where you will find most surfers hang-out with a Bintang after their intense day out on the waves. The bar is regularly packed as the sun starts to set because the views truly are breath-taking – they also make a mean pizza if you are feeling peckish! This place truly has a great vibe, there is frequently live music in the evenings and they also put on quite a show for the Sunday night Sessions!

A second spot that I could not get enough of was Nalu Bowls, a small smoothie bowl and acai shack attached to Single Fin Bar. Their acai bowls are perfectly refreshing after a full day surfing, and with the great selection of toppings, so you can really have some fun making it your own! The bowls are so gram-worthy also!

The acai bowl with extra toppings at                                     Nalu!

If you cannot get enough of those chic sunsets, check out Ju-Ma-Na Restaurant at Bali’s southernmost cliff. Indulge in cocktails, shisha and Arabian influenced snacks and drinks whilst you watch the Indian Ocean roll under your feet. The décor of this beautiful restaurant will exceed even the highest of expectations but of course, be prepared to pay for such luxuries!

And maybe the quirkiest attraction that Bali has to offer is the abandoned plane which is located in South Kuta, along the Jalan Nasa Dua Selatan Road and just a 5-minute driven from Pandawa Beach. Currently there is gossip of the owner wanting to turn this wreck into a restaurant but for now, it serves as a unique tourist attraction for attention-seekers who have always dreamed of walking on the wings of a plane! There is also an abandoned plane wedged between two houses in Kuta, but I never made it to that one – one abandoned plane was certainly enough for my trip!

Another little gem I stumbled across purely by accident was perfume making at Ayana Resort – where you can create your own scent during a ninety minute workshop – starting at just $80.00 USD

And finally, you cannot visit Uluwatu without enjoying a cocktail or cold Bintang at Rock Bar. You have to take a cable car to get to this bar. Yeah, you read that right – a cable car. If you aren’t already amazed at this then I suggest you read that last sentence again. Located 14 metres above the Indian Ocean you can order a drink and enjoy the spectacular views! Rock Bar is a hot spot however so I would recommend arriving before 5pm to beat the mad sunset rush!

Enjoy a beer and this blissful views at sunset!

Have I missed any of your favourite spots? Let me know in the comments! I love to read about your must-visits!

Regional Farm Work – Worth the Hassle for your Second Year Visa?

In order to enter Australia for a prolonged period of time, you must apply for a Working Holiday Visa, which entitles the holder to one entire year in the country from the date of entry. It usually holds just one limitation in that you are not allowed to work for one employer for more than 6 months; however, depending on the individual the Australian Government may impose further restrictions. In the likely event that you will fall completely in love with Australia and want to apply for another year in ‘The Land Down Under’, you must first jump through a few legal hoops. Read on to understand this in more detail!

                   Banana picking in Tully, QLD

Why should I complete my regional farm work?

Regional farm work, or as it is more commonly known; fruit picking (or even slave labour – as it can often seem) is the exhausting task which all backpackers must endure during their first year in Australia if they would like to come back to this haven for a second year.

Regional farm work comes in all shapes and sizes, ranging from banana picking in the QLD region of Tully; to working in a remote cattle farm in the middle of the Northern Territory.

I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as easy farm work. It’s exhausting, draining and a challenge for your body in one of the hottest climates in the world. But, that being said, I have heard so many stories from fellow travellers who have not only enjoyed their 3 months picking macadamia nuts on a farm, but they have also returned to fill up their empty backpacker pockets! Despite the harsh conditions and hands-on manual labour, due to Australia’s incredibly generous salaries and distribution of work permits, it is actually a very popular way for backpackers to earn abroad and fund their future travels!

                             Strawberry picking

How long must you endure the gruelling process?

The typical length of time you must stay in your position is 88 days or 3 months – at least to satisfy the Australian Government and even be in with a chance of approval for a second-year visa! Although I had met many people who lasted just 1 week! If you dig a little deeper, you will realise that if you stick with one employer and you work for them on a full-time basis (this varies for each position but if the working week is 5 days and you do in fact work all of those days) then you need only to complete 3 months of work with this employer and therefore you do not need to complete a full 88 days exactly. However, if you start your regional farm work with one employer but you decide for whatever reason, or the season ends and you must move on to a new farm then you will be classed as a part time worker and likely to be signed off for only those days you have worked meaning you must tally a total of 88 days in order to satisfy the requirements of the Australian Government, which can then mean you have to actually work for longer, especially as you will not be working 7 day weeks (I hope for your sake!).

A typical day on the farm…

Well for many, this involves waking up at 5 am so work can start before the sun is the highest and strongest in the sky. But don’t be fooled, even at 6 am you can still feel the sun rays beam down on your (pale British – in my case anyway) skin.

The main duties will vary depending on whether you are hurling bananas out of trees or herding the cattle for their monthly immunisations at the ranch. But what is guaranteed is you will work hard, you will be hot and incredibly exhausted after your likely 10-12 hour shift.

Most workers are granted a 30-minute lunch break with two shorter breaks in between to break up the day, usually around 15 minutes. So be prepared for very long days. If you are lucky enough to have your accommodation and meals provided for you, then you will eat dinner together and most likely head up to bed for an early night to do it all over again the next day.

How much money can you earn?

Honestly, this varies greatly and I think it purely comes down to luck as to the time you are searching for your regional farm work and the availability of the preferred positions.

Some farmers pay you per hour which is certainly the best way for you to replenish those quickly decreasing pockets, however, this is not always the case.  Most people are under the impression that fruit picking is lucrative for backpackers and a great way to save up money for the next big trip. Whilst this can be true for many travellers, the harsh realities of illegal labour and contract pay certainly exist. As I now understand it, the Government have tightened their rules and it has now been made an offence to offer ‘unpaid’ farm work or ‘work for accommodation’ type jobs, without an additional salary, however, there are still many organisations who intend and (quite successfully) cheat the system, proving that the desire for a second year down under really is supreme.

                    Oranges by the bucket load!

Some farmers, however, pay you for exactly what you actually do, say per bucket full, or box that you pack. This is certainly not an ideal situation to be in unless you can work continuously at a strong steady pace each and every day. So usually at first, you will work a solid 10 hour day yet you will earn so very little you wonder why you are even wasting your time. But usually, once you get the hang of it and can work yourself into a rhythm then you usually improve drastically. I have heard of some backpackers making a solid $200 AUD by 2 pm and then they take the afternoon off – that would be ideal right?!

Another good thing about a dedicated hard worker is quite simply that they are rare, show your worth and many organisations will realise this and you will move quickly up the ladder, to more interesting and varied roles.

In some agricultural and regional areas, it is customary for employers to provide workers accommodation and even some meals as well. This does, however, depend on the type of farm and the region in which you are working.

If you are facing your first few days on the job, don’t forget, the first few days truly are the hardest!

I would love to hear your stories and experiences of regional farm work in Australia so please share in the comments!