You just thought you had the goods on visas, everywhere. Thailand’s added so many complicated new ‘procedures’ that even I fell afoul of the law.
First big change: only single entry tourist visas can be bought in Asia. ‘Procedures’ might allow you to get a multiple entry tourist visa in, say, Germany; but they seem to say that there’s a new Multiple Entry Scheme and a tourist must get their multiple entry visas in their ‘home country.’ (I hate that phrase!) I’m not being evasive; there really are a million little rules and upcoming rules, so do your homework!
If you were planning to hop in and out of Thailand for several months, run down to Cambodia, take a jeep into Laos then a bus into Thailand again… take heed. Read the government web site carefully. Don’t rely on a blog, no matter how reliable they say they are.
I was refused a tourist visa at Nongkai (Friendship Bridge into Lao) for a perfectly valid reason: I didn’t have sufficient pages i my passport (though I thought I did). The official was very sweet, saying ‘Don’t worry! Come back next month! No problem!’
When I returned in a month, the official said I owed them $400! I’d overstayed a month.
Being a writer, that’s a lot of cash to lose, so I pleaded, even wept. Told exactly what had happened and a supervisor was wary and it seemed provisional: but she let me into Laos to get a proper tourist visa. (Need I mention that I missed my bus and had to fly home to Chiang Mai? Etc.)
Surprise #2 occurred in the capital of Laos/Lao, Vientiane, at the Thai Embassy. The new ‘tourist multiple entry scheme’ had gone into effect and I received a single entry visa good for 60 days in Thailand (plus 30 days renewal at Thai Immigration in Chiang Mai, for 1900 Thai Baht).
Further, the photos I’d turned in to the Thai Immigration clerk at Vientiane, Lao show me in a sundress that was considered ‘impolite’ and the officers demanded a new photo to use on my visa. Since I’m 67 years old, this seemed a bit odd. I frankly thought the clerk was joking, so I explained how wrong he was.
The sundress was very conservative, sewn for me in Kathmandu (by a Nepalese tailor who was careful not to make it at all revealing). The photo they refused is the one in my US passport. I think the bare shoulders was what set them off. The military government is determined to clean things up. When I taught at Chiang Mai University 10 years ago, bare shoulders/sleeveless blouses were also forbidden.
Now this does not at all mean ‘Don’t come to Thailand.” Perhaps one of my strongest beliefs for international travel is that revolutionary governments provide great entertainment we shouldn’t miss.
By the way: all kinds of visas in Thailand had been altered: retirement, student, etc. Read the website for the Thai government. Not a lawyer’s site, etc.
The writer Graham Greene wrote, ‘…the hotels are always full during a revolution.’ That’s more or less true, too. When Nepal had its 11 year long civil war, I stayed until it was truly dangerous for Americans and I couldn’t make it to my tutoring engagements; Maoists were burning tires and stopping folks, so the roads were kind of dangerous. I don’t think I’d have been so passionate if I’d been a Nepalese; but I adored the rolls of barbed wire and trucks of police…
But Thailand’s very safe and clean, especially in the north. Expats and tourists routinely walk alone at 10 pm and later. I’m very sorry that I’ll have to leave in a few months.
Do read the government sites in Thailand. I understand that the websites are different in every country. Perhaps pay a visit to the Royal Thai Embassy where you live, too. And do come over. I’ve been quite happy here. (An ex-pat’s life is the best… but that’s another story.)
You’ll need a visa on arrival/visa you got at home for Laos (if this is your choice for getting a single entry tourist visa, although there are other places. Read the web site for that country’s Royal Thai Embassy.).
The cost to get into Laos (their tourist visa, good for a month only) is $35-$36 US and available the day you want it, at the border between Thailand and Laos. The Laotian Immigration officers also accept Thai bhat but the exchange rate is pretty bad. I bought some US $ in Chiang Mai at SK Money Changers in the Night Bazaar (they have the best rates in town).
Laotian Kip is a dead currency outside of Lao. 100% nobody wants it. So try to get just enough for your needs in Lao. People other than taxi/bus/tuk tuk drivers there accept Thai bhat, but usually you get your change in KIP.. One $ US (for example) is eight thousand Laotian Kip (8,000)..
If you’re OK with a single entry tourist visa for 60-90 days max, by all means, have a little vacation in Laos. I feel that it’s a bit like Nepal was 10-15 years ago: kind of primitive and a little shabby.
But it’s lovely. Most Laotian women wear the Laotian native dress. There are lots of French/European restaurants in Vientiane, possibly in other Laotian towns, too. It really is a nice little vacation, this visa run. Thailand’s Nok Air flies to Udon Thani, Thailand and you then take an air con van (known to locals as a ‘mini-bus’) from outside the Udon Thai airport to the check point at the Lao border. The cost is 200 Thai baht for the mini-bus. By the way: this flight is my favorite on earth, though flying into and out of Nepal is neck and neck (the view of the Himalayan mountains is incredible).
Once you hit the ground there are several little jumps involved in the Thai to Laos visa run, but it’s kind of fun. The vehicles are cheap but clean enough (across the Friendship Brdige is 4,000 Kip/20 bhat = about 50 cents US. Air con taxis are an expensive part of the visa run, but the locals driving them are quiet, sweet and efficient.
The Nok Air flight to and from Chiang Mai takes an hour or less and buying it on line was about 2,000 bhat. I bought my return, the Udon Thani airport for 2500 Thai bhat. There’s an overnight bus which is luxurious compared to other Asian buses, but I guess I’ve just taken it so many times that I hate it deeply. But it’s nice. Air con and comfortable. It’s 560 B one way. Best to get the tickets well in advance. The best seats (I think) are downstairs in the very front. Upstairs is noisier and people have phones, games, computers…
Frankly, I seldom buy my return flight now until I have the new visa in my passport. I’ve missed many flights and buses because of bureaucratic stuff. (Sometimes my fault, too.) It seems to be more efficient to fly from the Udon Thani Airport. Te bus takes you to Central Dept. store plaza/mall in Udon Thani. You can buy return tickets there/exchange them for a later date, etc.
I flew into Vientiane once on Lao air during a holiday and I had to stay through the holiday. Then when the visa office opened I got my new tourist visa; my plane ticket was not refundable. If you fly from Bangkok or another Thai city, check on other airlines, perhaps Lion and even Thai. But for the north of Thailand, Nok is ‘it.’
Lao’s a rather expensive country (compared to Thailand). There isn’t a big variety of prices for a guest house room (I think the cheapest rooms in Vientiane are about $15; there are a couple of hostels with dorms, but people say they got lice. I fled from one, not long ago. Perhaps Savanah Khet is cheaper, or another border town. But I don’t think anyone gives double/triple entry tourist visas now.
The monsoon in Lao happens at night only and the early mornings now (late May, 2016) are cool. The sun starts getting fierce from 9 am on until about 5 pm. I enjoyed meeting other ex-pats. I had no idea there were such fun, creative people living overseas. Living in their boats, for example. The monsoon in northern Thailand is very light this year.
I hope this helps you. There are just too many details in travel. But this is a fun little caper! If you have questions about specific guest houses or other things you think I might know about, send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mary Ann Davis