VISA RUN SPECIAL
GO VISA - GO LAOS
Before Arriving In Thailand
After many years of being an expat on a retirement visa, John returned to his country of origin for a short visit, but unfortunately his two week trip turned into an eight month stay in and out of a cancer clinic. He returned to Thailand on the day that his “Retirement Visa” expired thinking that he would automatically be given a 60-day visa with a 30-day extension, but in his absence from the Kingdom things had changed, and he was tersely told at Bangkok, that 30-days was all that he would get. Lesson number one was to obtain your visa at the Thai Embassy in your country of origin where you WILL most likely get a 60-day visa with its 30-day extension, and this suits those on holiday and allows more time if you want to re-instate a longer term visa.
Your Next Move
John was told at the Bangkok Airport that 30-days was the maximum that he would get at the airport and that within that time he would have to visit a Thai Immigration Office for further advice. At his local office he was informed that he would have to leave the Kingdom for at least 2-days and upon re-entry he would be given a 60-day visa, and that the cost would probably be around 2,000 baht. Upon further enquiries with local visa agents it seemed that the two obvious choices were either Phnom Penh in Cambodia or Vientiene in Laos and that organized trips would cost in the vicinity of 7,000 baht including one night accommodation. This varies widely depending on the choice of transport type of accommodation and the country chosen.
Laos As An Option
For many, Laos seems the easiest visa renewal option and like John, many on these “stay overnight” visa runs have concluded that this is an excellent opportunity to see more of a different country and turn the “visa run” trip into a short holiday. Being an experienced traveler in Thailand John opted to travel independently so this gave him the choice of a bus or train trip to the Laos border near Nong-Kai. The overnight bus gets you there early in the morning, but the other very pleasant way to travel is by train and when coming from outside Bangkok it is simple to catch a local train into the Bangkok train station. This is a very cheap way to travel, you get in some new sight-seeing, and changing trains in Bangkok avoids al the hassles of battling the notorious city traffic.
Timing Is Essential
Visa Runners” must be aware that the Thai Embassy in Vientienne only accepts visa applications up until 12.00 midday and some days not at all, especially if it is a Thai public holiday. If travelling by train, then get off at Udon Thani (rather than Nong-Kai), where it is much easier to get a fast bus to the Laos border, and remember that you must be quick to get your visa application lodged by midday. The better option is to give the application to a local “visa handling agent” who will speed up the process for a very moderate fee, and usually deliver the new visa to your hotel the next day. John made the mistake of having his visa handled by an agent on the Thai side of the border, who filled in the details, then left the paperwork at the Thai Embassy without submitting the application for processing. When he returned from his sightseeing trip in northern Laos, John had to go through the process of submitting the paperwork one morning, then collecting his new visa the next day.
Why Wait One Day?
Where most countries manage to process visa applications on the same day, Thailand tells applicants to come back the next day, and then take your turn in a numbered queue. This did not exactly impress one young European traveler, who was not familiar with Asian customs, where long waits are normal. However, the reason for the overnight delay is to conform with the Thai Immigration Regulations, and the immigration officers are making a careful assessment of every visa application. In John’s case (involving medical problems), he had held a retirement visa for many years, and as it was obvious that he intended to return to this situation, so he was granted a 60-day visa with its 30-day extension. Conversely, a very elderly English gentleman from Chiang Mai had again been given yet another 30-day visa and told that if he was to continue this repeated practice, then the Thai Immigration Office would have to start charging him 1,000 baht each time. At over seventy, and with a Thai “wife” and children, he should have been on a retirement visa, but his very meager UK pension did not allow him the funds to accomplish this, so he was in a precarious financial situation.
Looking Around Laos
If you just go to Vientienne then you have not seen Laos, and the country areas have a “laid-back” relaxed feeling where nobody is in a hurry, with a quiet, friendly people of Buddhist beliefs. The ancient capital of Laem Prabang is well worth a visit, having recently being placed on the “World Heritage” listing, and a trip up the Mekong to see the centuries old caves full of statues is a must. Likewise, the “Plain of Jars” is mysterious enigma, because the 2-metre tall jars were made by an unknown race and some speculate that they may have been burial caskets. From here the list of activities is many and varied.
The towering mountain peaks are stunningly beautiful, making northern Laos a photographer’s paradise, with good food and cheap shopping for locally produced goods being added bonuses. Getting there on a VIP bus is still long and bumpy, so some prefer to return at night and get in some extra sleep, but the other option is to take a short plane flight from Vientienne, which will cost in the vicinity of 6,000 baht. Such is the tourist growth in Laem Prabang, that there are now regular jet flights from Uthaphao airport (south of Pattaya) directly to this ancient northern Laos destination, which is attracting growing numbers of tourists from many countries.
Upon arriving in Thailand you may not like having to do a “visa run,” but with current regulations you have to comply, consult Thai Immigration officials, plan carefully and not expect too much as a tourist. Just simply accept what the Kingdom is offering you and work your stay in Thailand around the current regulations. “Visa Runners” have very quickly realized that if they have to stay out of Thailand for a few days, then they may as well take a short sightseeing holiday around the country that they have chosen for their visa renewal. Your annoying visa run will then become a trip to remember with cherished experiences of a happy holiday, which you will long remember, by turning a negative chore into a positive experience.