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.
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…
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.
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.
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!)
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!