So its that time again, my Thai Double Entry Tourist Visa is expiring and I needed to work out what the best course of action is. I’ve been in Thailand for a bit over a year and plan on staying till around June 2014 (Which is when Sarah finishes here exchange at Thammasat University and we will fly back to New Zealand for a while). This means I need to spend approximately 4 Months (give or take a bit for travel) in Bangkok with the minimum amount of hassle.
I had the following options:
- Border bounce on a monthly basis (British passports get 30 days on Border crossings currently).
- Get a Single Entry Tourist Visa
- Get a Double Entry Tourist Visa
I’ve been in the country long enough to tire of the forced nature of visa runs, and travelling when I really don’t feel like it, and I really can’t be bothered getting Single Entry visas that take up potentially 4 pages of a passport (1 page for stamps on each + the Thai + Laos or Cambodian visa) due to the visa free destinations in Malaysia being just too far away.
This left me with two options, both in Laos: Vientiane or Savannakhet.
Pros & Cons of Vientiane in Laos
- All inclusive trip for 6500 baht for double entry or 5500 for single entry
- Everything arranged including transport, border crossings (Laos Visa) accommodation and breakfast
- Consulate is very strict on giving out additional double entries if they have already issued one, or visas if you have multiple back to back ones – there was a strong chance I might get denied
- Long waits (though less if using a visa run service)
- I’ve already been there!
Pros & Cons of Savannakhet in Laos
- Consulate is more relaxed about previous Visas and are unlikely to decline you
- Its not very busy, so you aren’t waiting in any queues
- There are no organised Visa runs so you have to do everything yourself
- Theres not really much to do there
- Its slightly cheaper
In the end I decided on Savannakhet due to my previous visa from Vientiane and 3 from Penang (including a Non-B) after being told by the visa run crew that I might get declined in Vientiane.
- Single Entry Tourist Visa Issued In Penang, Malaysia – Nov 2012
- Double Entry Tourist Visa Issued in Vientiane, Laos – Feb 2013
- Single Entry Tourist Visa Issued in Penang, Malaysia – July 2013
- Single Entry Non-B Visa Issued in Penang, Malaysia – 2013
- Plus a couple of entry stamps without visas.
Getting to Savannakhet
The easiest way to get to Savannakhet is to take a bus from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Station (Near Mo Chit BTS) to the border town of Muhkdahan in Isan. The buses range in quality, but all take around 8-12 Hours to get there. I took a VIP bus from 99 Bus company that left at 8pm and arrived in Mukhdahan at around 6am costing approximately 830 Baht.
Once you are in Mukhdahan you have a few options for getting to Savannakhet, but considering the time, I probably chose the most difficult. Taking a Tuk Tuk to the Friendship Bridge crossing I hopped off on foot and went to clear immigration and customs. This was fine until I actually tried to cross the bridge by foot when I was stopped. It turned out that you are not allowed to cross by foot, so I ended up hitching across on the back of a Thai factory owners ute with another guy from Switzerland.
Once you arrive on the other side you must apply for a Laos visa on arrival which costs either $35 USD or 1500 Baht (this varies based on the nationality of your passport – the Swiss guy got 15 days visa free) and requires a passport photo as well. At this stage (about 7am) there was no-one else there so my Visa took around 2 minutes to process.
After that you proceed through Laos immigration, who require you to pay a 40 baht “paperwork” (I’m thinking beer money) fee when stamping your passport. I’m not one to argue at land borders of communist countries when there are soldiers about, so we paid the fee and entered the country.
Once getting in we had to negotiate a Tuk Tuk to the Thai Consulate, which of course at 7:30 am there was only one, and we probably paid far too much.
The other more sensible option is to wait at the bus station for the International bus which is considerably cheaper, takes you direct to the Savannakhet bus terminal (with other people who are heading to the consulate, many of which can speak Laos and Thai) where you can share a Tuk Tuk.
Getting Your Thai Double Entry Tourist Visa
Of course we arrived at the consulate far too early (it doesn’t open until 9am, even though it says 8:30 on the gate!) so ended up waiting. While you can get all the paperwork free of charge inside the consulate once its open, and fill it out yourself it is far easier to get a local to do it (who will also photocopy your passport as required) and give you something to do while you are waiting. This costs 40 baht.
Once the gates open at 9am its a bit of a stampede of Farang and Laos people applying for visas, though they end up in a fairly orderly line, which is far shorter than that you’ll see in other embassies and consulates. To make your visa application you’ll need (for a tourist visa): 2 Passport Photos, a completed application form, a photo copy of the information page of your passport and the 2000 baht fee. Visa applications must be placed before 11am on weekdays. You will be given a number (don’t lose it) and then you are free to do as you please until 2pm the next day.
Finding Accommodation in Savannakhet that isn’t a brothel
My Swiss friend that I’d met on the border had arranged a nights accomdoation that sounded reasonable, so we decided to go check it out. BIG Mistake, the Tippaphone guesthouse is no where near where it is shown on google maps and is at least 4km from the township. We took a very expensive Tuk Tuk there, took one look at its Bates Motel vibe (very common in guesthouses there) and hightailed it out of there.
After a long discussion trying to explain to our driver that we wanted to get dropped off by the river and find our own accommodation he finally relented and took us in the general direction of where we wanted, dropping us off at what must be a popular guest house with the local Tuk Tuk drivers. I’m not sure if the place charges by the hour for locals, but I’m 99% sure we were dropped in some sort of sketchy brothel from the looks of it complete with stained sheets, VIP karaoke room and wonderful posters of STD infected genitalia decorating the walls.
Back to the Old Town
At this stage I decided to take control of the situation and we walked towards the old town, stopping off at a bank (by now I only had 100 Baht bank notes and I wasn’t too confident in getting correct change for them from the locals) where I ran into a Canadian guy who recommended we visit a place called Lin’s Cafe.
Lin’s Cafe – The First Place You Should Visit in Savannakhet
Lin’s Cafe was an oasis in the middle of Savannakhet, especially after ending up in the brothel come guesthouse earlier in the morning. This place is literally the first place you should visit after going to the consulate, with fast free wifi, excellent local and western food, Lao cooking courses, accurate tourist information, souvenirs and an exhibition of the historic downtown buildings upstairs.
The staff were able to recommend some decent places to stay The Souannavong Guesthouse, Leena Guesthouse. Leena is apparently popular with backpackers and those doing visa runs, but can be a little messy at times, so after escaping from the Laos version of the Bates Motel down the road we settled for the Souannavong Guesthouse.
Upon arrival we were greeted by the owner or manager of the guest house (who I think runs it alongside his sister) who stays in room number 11 in the building. The place has a bit of a reputation for the reception being unattended if Tripadvisor is anything to go by, but was there when we arrived and was easy to get hold of by phone. He speaks clear english, and was happy to show us around the guesthouse.
You can get a fan room for 300 baht and an air conditioned room for 400 baht per night. Both were in plentiful supply and include televisions with a mix of Thai channels in both Thai and English, free wifi (that works at reasonable speeds, but not too fast) and most importantly after a day travelling – hot showers. A scooter is available for rent, or if you prefer so are some older bicycles (most had flat tires when I was there) which is great as the roads are flat around and the temperature is fairly mild (cold even in the mornings) making it easy to ride without breaking too much of a sweat.
Rooms were clean, came with decent bedding towels, toiletries and were nice and secure. I’d definitely recommend staying here to anyone doing a visa run.
The Dinosaur Museum
Yes, they have a dinosaur museum (and not much else) to keep you occupied while you wait for your visa to be processed. Literally right around the corner is a relic of the French colonial days in that it still has the odd French palaeontologist working there tidying up the bones.
It costs around 10,000 kip for a foreigner to enter the museum, and tour its (not so) many exhibits. If you are lucky you’ll get an eager guide who will attempt to explain the exhibits (as all signage is in Lao and French), buy mainly tells you how many fists a dinosaur has and when the photo was taken, that and he uses the phrase “I recommend you” a lot. Anywhere else and I wouldn’t bother, but considering the complete and utter lack of things to do here, its worth doing.
Picking Up Your Visa
The consulate shuts up for lunch, and opens again at around 2pm. When we got there we found approximately 100 people waiting around, which is considerably less than the other consulates in the region.
As soon as the gates open there is a mad rush to the service window where passports are issued first in, first served (as opposed to how it previously was by number on your ticket), so get in fast to get your passport, check the visa to see you have a correct one, and then get out!
Even after having 4 previous visas, I was still able to get a Double Entry Tourist Visa, no questions asked.
The next step is getting out of Savannakhet as fast as possible. Share a Tuk Tuk (around 10,000 Kip) with other people from the consulate to the Savannakhet bus station. Once you are there you will be able to get the International Bus to Muhkdahan for 13,000 kip which leaves every hour.
At the Laos border you’ll have to pay a 40 baht fee (again probably some form of bribe) to the Immigration to stamp you out of the country, so have that ready, and pass but a rather interesting mafioso type military guy before jumping on the bus to cross the Mekong at friendship bridge. Entering Thailand only takes a minute as there are no queues and the staff are friendly (for once) making a hassle free entry into Thailand. As always check that your stamp into the country is correct and they don’t stamp a double entry visa as “used” by mistake (it happened to out Canadian friend in Bangkok).
Once arriving in Muhkdahan, you can book buses around the country, we were able to get on a 5pm VIP bus (which was pretty standard really) that arrived back in Bangkok (Mo Chit) bus terminal around 5am the next day, this was including the hour that the bus spent broken down on the side of the road in Northern Thailand.
Actual Visa Run Costs: 5702 Baht
- VIP Bus: Mo Chit to Muhktahan 829 Baht
- Tuk Tuk: Muhktahan – Thai Border 150 Baht
- Laos 30 Day Visa on Arrival 1500 Baht
- Immigration fee (before 8am) 50 Baht
- Tuk Tuk: Lao Border – Thai Consulate 100 Baht
- Photocopying of passport, processing of paperwork 40 Baht
- Thai 2 Month Double Entry Visa 2000 Baht
- Accommodation Souannavong Guesthouse A/C Room 400 Baht
- Tuk Tuk to International Bus Station 20 Baht
- International Bus to Muhkdahan 40 Baht
- Exit payment at Laos Boarder 40 Baht
- Bus: Muktahan -> Mo Chit 533 Baht