One simple fact of living in Thailand is that eventually, you’ll need to go on a “visa run”. This means your current visa is about to expire and you need to cross the border into another country and re-enter Thailand to renew your visa. Below, you’ll find a chronicle of my journey, some words of warning to anyone who might be taking a similar trip, and lots and lots of swearing. In short, the trip is long, uncomfortable, and stressful. Fortunately, my school has set me up with everything I need to get a work permit and extended visa so I don’t think I’ll have to go through this again. There was a lot of good stuff on this trip as well, but I’m going to focus on the bad stuff now because that’s more interesting.
The Thai embassy and consulate are in Vientiane the capital city of Laos (Spelled Vientiang on this map) The Thai consulate closes at 11:30am. You drop off your visa paperwork there before they close and then go back and pick up your visa the following day.
To get to Laos and the consulate on time, you can take an 11 hour bus ride to Udon Thani, a large-ish city close to the Thai/Laos border. Then jump on a 1.5 hour bus to Nong Kai, a smaller city that’s right on the border. Then a 5-10 minute cab (Tuk-Tuk) ride to the Friendship Bridge. Laos and Thailand are separated by the Mekong River so when you cross the bridge, you are in Laos. Then you stop off at Laos immigration, and grab your on-arrival Laos visa. After that you take a 35 minute Tuk-Tuk ride to the Thai consulate and get in line. Hand in your paperwork and pay for your visa. Bam. Easy. Val and I had this planned out so that we’d be to the consulate before 9am- more than enough time to get in and out.
Wrong. The 11 hour bus ride took 13 hours. And they dropped us at the wrong fucking bus station. When you get off the bus, Tuk-Tuk drivers swarm you shouting, “Where are you going?” “Vientiane?” “I take you” “Tuk-Tuk number 1” and so on. So we’re exhausted from a terrible night’s sleep on this bus, we’re stressed because we’re already super late and we’re in the wrong place. Trying to get our bearings and literally 7 or 8 of these goddamn cabbies are up in our face. Finally, one guy says he will take us to the bridge. Maybe we’re in luck and we’re closer to the border than we thought. No, he just took us to the correct bus station where we should have been dropped off in the first place.
Now we’re really late. Another swarm of people asking us where we’re going. We say Nong Khai, Suddenly we’re whisked into a bus by someone who seems to have understood us. We’re not 100% sure we’re on the right bus but the guy keeps saying Nong Khai and Vientiane so we go for it. The bus starts rolling a few minutes later. Maybe we’ll be ok if we can get there quickly. Not 5 minutes down the road and THE FUCKING BUS GETS A FLAT TIRE. I’m not kidding. It takes 20 minutes before we get moving again. Now I’m thinking, best case scenario: we get to the consulate at 10:15 and pray there’s not a long line. We’ve heard horror stories of people who sat there all morning just to get turned away when they close and have to come back the following day.
Once the bus gets moving, we actually made up some time. We get to the bridge a little after 9:00. Then we hit one of the biggest clusterfucks of government bureaucracy I’ve ever seen: Laos immigration checkpoint. It’s like your local DMV on steroids. And heroin. You have to wait at one window just to pick up your visa application form. Then wait at another window to submit the forms and pay. Then wait at at third window to pick up the visa. Long story short, the process took close to an hour and a half. The temperature is over 100F. We’re on no sleep and every second that goes by it seems more and more hopeless that we’re going to make it in time. It takes 2 days to process the visa (Drop off Thursday, pick up Friday. If we can’t drop off on Thursday, we’ll have to wait over the whole weekend to pick up on Monday and that means spending more money on hotels and then missing 2 more days of school).
Finally, they call us, and we jump in a cab. But it’s 10:35. I’m thinking there’s no possible way we get to the consulate in time. It takes 30 minutes to get there, then you just have to wait in line. We get there just after 11 and the place is fucking swarmed with people. We run up and grab our numbers: 663 and 664. They’re just calling the low 500s. But we overheard someone say the office was staying open late today. Not sure why, not sure how late, but we said a silent prayer to Buddha and waited. And sweated. And paced, and listened to rich, entitled 19 year olds on fancy vacations that their parents paid for talking about shit that these kinds of people talk about.
But by some miracle, the office stays open for 2 EXTRA HOURS and they call our number. I don’t know how it happened or what we might have done in a previous life to deserve this break but it worked. We got our paperwork in at 1:25 – 5 minutes before they shut down. So it all worked out in the end, and all of this whining was for nothing, but really – at was a miserable 24 hours.
Ok, so aside from the visa and transportation stuff, we had a really great weekend. I’ll follow up with the good stuff (and lots of photos) in the next post. But then the return trip was horrible again. It seems like the bus drivers, cab drivers, information staff at the bus station, and just about anyone else we came in contact with gave us the wrong information. Intentionally. Of the 8 cab or bus legs of this journey, only 2 actually dropped us off at the correct place. We had a bus drop us off IN THE RAIN on the side of a major road, when we were supposed to get dropped at a bus station. We stopped at a gas station and asked for directions and a very nice man actually gave us a ride which took 5 minutes- in the car. It would have been half an hour to walk there.
The whole process was miserable and confusing and stressful. And I learned a valuable lesson. Thailand and Laos transportation is utterly and completely unreliable. Everyone you talk to in or around a bus station is a liar, a con artist and a cheat. No matter what they ask you. Always say no. Tell them to fuck off and die.