Monday, August 27, 2012

How to Do a Successful Visa Run in Chiang Mai (Part 02)

Right, onto the business of that great backpacker tradition that is the visa run in northern Thailand. A couple of weeks back, I talked about how to extend your stay in Thailand with the first type of visa run in Chiang Mai. That visa run in Chiang Mai gives you 14 more days of travel time. But what if you want to stay longer? Take advantage of the cheap, and I mean cheap, cost of living in Chiang Mai? Be the hot-shot digital nomad that you are and base (or debase?) yourself in this great city in northern Thailand for a few months?

Thai Visa, Visa Run to Chiang Mai
A proper single-entry tourist visa to Thailand

Yes, that is possible! There is a second type of visa run in Chiang Mai that gives you 60 more days of travel time (or more). In this type of visa run in Chiang Mai, you will get yourself a proper Thai visa. That is, you will need to get out of Thailand because it is only possible to acquire a Thai visa in a consulate outside the country. For this visa run in Chiang Mai, we go to Vientiane, Laos. Vientiane is located right on the banks of the Mekong River, opposite the border town of Nong Khai, Thailand.

So how to do a successful (proper) visa run in Chiang Mai that will give you 60 more days of travel time? Here's how:

1. Book with Chinda House.

First off, do know that Chinda House (Ratvithi, Soi 2) is not paying me to mention them. In the many times that I did a visa run in Chiang Mai with them, I got the service that I paid for. In this sense, they are reliable, and the "reliable" ones are a dime a dozen in Southeast Asia. To get to Vientiane for your visa run in Chiang Mai, you will be booking a night bus in the form of a minivan. The cost is 900 Baht one-way. If you book a round-trip ticket, you get a discount as you only pay 1,600 Baht. The return trip is open-ended. You will be given a Lao number to call in Laos to inform them of your desired return date from your visa run in Chiang Mai. You will need to stay overnight in Vientiane as the Thai consulate takes one business day to process visas.


2. Prepare for the long night ahead.

This visa run in Chiang Mai involves a 12-hour overnight minivan ride, which, let's face it, is nobody's idea of a good time. So do prepare for the long night ahead. Get yourself a travel pillow. Stock up on snacks. Stopovers are frequent but they're mostly gas station convenient stores. If you want to read a book on the way, get yourself a flashlight or a headlamp, if you can. Lights are turned off for sleepy time. If you can, get on the passenger seat beside the driver. That has the most legroom.


3. Fill out Lao entry forms.

After the long overnight ride for your visa run in Chiang Mai, you are taken into a restaurant near the border post at Nong Khai, Thailand. Get a coffee and have breakfast, if you must. While at it, the transport service staff will collect everybody's passports and depending on your nationality, will provide you with a set of Lao entry forms. Fill them out.


4. Transfer buses.

At this point of your visa run in Chiang Mai, you need to grab your luggage from the minivan as you are now taking a bigger bus that will ferry you from Nong Khai, Thailand, across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, into Vientiane, Laos. From the restaurant, the bus takes you to the Thai immigration border post. You get off the bus with your luggage. You are stamped out of Thailand. You collect your bags from the scanning machines. You return to the bus and away into Laos you go.


Nong Khai Border Post, Visa Run to Chiang Mai
The Thai border post at Nong Khai

5. Enter Laos.

You enter Laos and get all the Lao stamps and/or visa you need. You transfer buses again. Yes, this visa run in Chiang Mai involves a lot of bus transfers. This time, you take a smaller bus that will take you from the Vientiane border post to Vientiane city center.


6. Settle in.

Upon arriving in Vientiane city center for your visa run in Chiang Mai, you will be dropped off at Rue Setthathilath, close to Rue Sakarine. Walk further up the road to where the cafes, restaurants and hotels are. This is the tourist district of Vientiane. There are lots of hostels, mid-range accommodations, and luxury hotels around the area. Take your pick. I chose Soutchai Travels, located along Rue Chanthakhoumane, close to Quai Fa Ngun, i.e., the street parallel to the bay walk. Soutchai Travels has four-bed AC dorms for 40,000 Kip (5 dollars US) per bed per night. Settle in. Have a bath.


7. Head to the Thai Consulate.

The Consular Section of the Thai Embassy, i.e., the Thai Consulate, is different from the Thai Embassy. To get there from the tourist district, take a jumbo (a Lao tuk-tuk), bike, motorbike, or walk there. For this visa run in Chiang Mai, all options are available. Once you get to the gates of the Thai Consulate, head straight inside the gates. Do not trust the men that will approach you and tell you how to process your visa faster, how the consulate is closed, etc. Those are bull and best head inside before they pull you into their scam. Make sure to get to the Thai Consulate before 12 noon. They stop entertaining applicants at that time.


8. Prepare the requirements and fill out the Thai visa application form.

Take a queue number from the machine and a Thai visa application form. Prepare the requirements: (1) passport valid for at least six months; (2) photocopy of your passport; and, (3) two recent colored passport or 2x2 photos. If you do not have a photocopy, head to the photocopier on the second floor of the consulate. If you do not have photos, head outside. There are quite a few places that can take care of that for you. When you have all the requirements, fill out the form. Submit everything at the window outside when your number is called.


9. Pay the fee.

After you submit the requirements on the window outside, you head inside to the cashier to pay for the Thai visa. The current cost is 1,000 Baht per entry. Yes, you pay in Thai Baht, not in Lao Kip. Once paid, you get a receipt and you head back to your hotel. Explore Vientiane for the rest of the day. Recover a few hours of rest maybe. At this point in your visa run in Chiang Mai, you can do whatever you may.


10. Collect your passport with your Thai visa.

The next day on this visa run in Chiang Mai, head back to the Thai Consulate anytime from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. to collect your passport, now with a Thai visa. You simply get a number from the machine, this time for passport collection. You head inside and wait for your number. The queue is pretty quick. You will have your passport with you in no time.


11. Head back to Chiang Mai.

At last, you are almost done with your visa run in Chiang Mai. You can now head back to Chiang Mai with your brand new Thai visa, allowing you to stay for 60 more days in Thailand. If you plan to spend a few more days in Vientiane, then good. Stay.

If you plan to head back to Chiang Mai that same day, finish this visa run in Chiang Mai once and for all, then you should have called the travel agency the day before to inform them that you are leaving that day and that your pick-up address is at Soutchai Travels. You do the same round-robin of bus transfers at the borders and voila! One long overnight trip back to Chiang Mai. If you're lucky like me and there is only one other minivan passenger going back to Chiang Mai, then good. You can occupy one row of seats and lie down sleeping.

If you only bought a one-way ticket for your visa run in Chiang Mai, then Soutchai Travels offers a choice of buses and minivans to take you back to Chiang Mai. As far as I know, a VIP bus to Chiang Mai costs 1,200 Baht. Yes, they accept Baht.

When you exit Vientiane, Laos and enter Nong Khai, Thailand, you activate your Thai visa and you now have 60 more days of travel time in Thailand. Thus ends your visa run in Chiang Mai.


Visa Extensions

If you get a single-entry tourist visa to Thailand, then you have 60 days of travel time with an option to extend for another 30 days by visiting the nearest immigration office which mid-sized to large Thai cities will usually have. No need to do a visa run to a nearby border crossing. You can just drop by the immigration office right next to Chiang Mai Airport. A visit to the Chiang Mai immigration office extends your travel time for another 30 days, bringing your total travel time to 90 days or 3 months.

If you get a double-entry tourist visa to Thailand, then you get 60 days of travel time per entry with an option to extend each entry for 30 days. To illustrate, first entry (60 days) + extension (30) + second entry (60) + extension (30) = 180 days of travel time. That totals your travel time to six whole months!


Summing Up

If you want to gain just 14 more days of travel time in northern Thailand, do the first type of visa run in Chiang Mai (visa run to the Thai-Burmese Border Crossing).

If you want to gain 60 or more days of travel time in northern Thailand, do the second type of visa run in Chiang Mai (visa run to Vientiane, Laos).


Was this guide on how to do a successful visa run in Chiang Mai any helpful? Any other tips, suggestions and recommendations you'd like to suggest?


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