I had to leave the country again to change my visa type. In fact anytime you need to change your visa (for example from tourist to non-immigrant) you have to leave Thailand. This time around though my plans changed unexpectedly. . .
(For directions on how to get to Vientiane Laos from Chiang Mai go here.) I arrived 11:30am to the Thai Consulate Monday morning and there was still quite the crowd. But as long as you grab a numbered ticket before 12Noon you should be okay. I didn’t wait until they called my number but I waited in line to discover I didn’t have any more visa pages in my passport.
A Laos visa takes up an entire passport page. Keep this in mind and check to see if you have enough pages. Because when you get a tourist, educational or non-immigrant visa from Thailand, this will also take up an entire page. And while I had a couple of blank pages left, the woman behind the counter told me that I needed a page that had the word “visa” written on it. I guess the other pages are for thoughtful sketches and aimless doodling.
So I had to go to the US Consulate and apply for more pages. Since July 2010 you have to pay $82 (or about 750,000 kip) for additional pages. Awesome! Please allow time for that terrible thought to sink in.
My debit card didn’t work on a couple of the local banks, and I was starting to think about pickpocketing – ur – Western Union when I bumped into another guy who was trying to do the same thing. Turns out there is a money exchange office on the riverfront road (just before where the new park starts) that can charge your card for you. (+3%)
Back at the US Consulate, you have to fill out a form (you need addresses from “where you are living now” to “in case of emergency” contacts). The whole process doesn’t take very long. But I was delayed for an entire day now. I think when in doubt, go to the Consulate early because you never know what could happen and if you have time on your side maybe you can get the paperwork “you need” before “they” close.
I went to travelfish.org because I was determined this time to find a decent hotel. I wrote down three flashpacker hotels: Intha, Riverside and Laos Silk Hotel. Riverside is sitting next to some serious construction so that was out. The person who I met who had stayed there was miserable.
Laos Silk had a “city” view room left for just one night and for the price ($25) I wasn’t impressed. It was quiet and the bed was lovely but the bathroom fixtures were falling off the wall. I guess I compared it to Intha where the rooms are larger, and it was only 500 baht, the staff was also very attentive. It’s like they knew I was a blogger.
I also discovered better food. There is a restaurant caddy corner from the US Consulate which appeared to have no name and no business cards that was pretty good and always busy. Near the Intha and Laos Silk there is a restaurant called Makphet. They sell handicrafts and the portions are very generous.
On the day I picked up my passport, my plans changed again. I ended up traveling with an interesting companion at the Thai Embassy and we grabbed a tuk tuk to the bus station at Talaat Sao (the market). But the 2pm bus was already full. Rather than wait until 4pm we got another tuk tuk to the border.
*In hindsight I could have headed to the bus station that morning to purchase my ticket back to Udon Thani and since this is the second time I’ve been caught with a full bus, I would recommend booking in advance.
We each paid 50 baht to get to the border, got stamped and then ended up getting on a van that would take us to Udon. Six of us had to purchase a “bus” ticket for 4,000 kip and pay 200 baht for the van ride. I have no idea why we had to pay for the bus ticket, and now I don’t think I would have done it.
Unfortunately time was not on my side so paying a little more was necessary. If you are not sure when you will be retuning to Chiang Mai it is difficult to purchase your bus ticket in advance. I suppose if you have friends in Thailand who can purchase the ticket for you that can help assure you that you have a seat.
But for me and my travel companions we needed to get there before the tickets sold out. Remember if you purchase your ticket in Laos you will pay twice as much. Even though we hurried, we arrived around 4pm and the VIP bus was sold out. We were told first class was the same, but it’s not. (Liars!)
For a first class ticket you pay about 550 baht. And while they serve water and a snack, the size of the bus seat is downgraded considerably. When the bastard/person in front of me reclined his seat fully, my knees were digging into his back. And I got to experience the full contact of other passengers as an aisle seat participant. You’ve been warned.
Happy travels. Please don’t make me go to Vientiane again. Thank you.