Over the years western backpackers in Southeast Asia have tripped from border to border like beer fueled homing missiles drenched in axe body spray, highlights, and spray tans. On arrival western passports meant you’d get 30 days to find enlightenment at a dozen temples or slipping in tourist vomit on Khaosan Road while drinking buckets of rice liquor and coke. In the past, to keep the party going after your visa had expired all you needed to do was cross the Thai-Laos border and turn around and come back into the country after an overpriced beer and outside of Thailand and you’d get 30 days. But thanks to the frustration of Thai officials, those hapless hippie days have gone and now you only get 15 days by crossing the borders and if you want to stay longer you need to get a tourist visa from the Thai embassy in Vientiane. So now inveterate travelers have to be clever and more prepared to make the epic scurry over the border and get a few more days in paradise.
Bangkok can be a drunken bar crawl buddy or an epicurean monk handing out enlightenment in the form of revelatory street food, luxury hotels, and underground EDM bars. If this is your first night in Bangkok hangout over in Chinatown where you can find high end craft cocktails and trendy dive bars.If you are getting away from the islands like Krabi or walking out of the muggy jungles just outside of the cities, you will find the main artery for those who must head to the border before their Visa expires in the heart of Bangkok. Try and check out the roof top bars like Sky Bar they are a great place to avoid students on gap year and slam martinis until sunrise.When you are ready to hit the border head out and get a set of passport photos which should cost you about 200 baht, withdraw $35 American, and then buy your overnight bus ticket online for about 600 baht to head north for your visa run. Your bus ticket should leave from Morchit bus station around 9pm.
Nong Kai vs Chiang Mai
Now you have two choices. If you have some extra time head over to Chiang Mai for a bit of hippy happiness, or if you are in a rush head right to the border town of Nong Kai.
Chiang Mai is a paradise for bohemian’s, the gap year brigade, and designers suffering from a creative deficit, with galleries everywhere and better Mexican food than any city without a Latin name should have a right to. The place has been known as the heart of Thailand’s art scene for the last two decades with talented painters, designers, and fabricators migrating down to Bangkok to get paid like all your friends who moved to NY, Sydney & London. You know those nights when you meet your friends for a drink and two hours in you are so drunk and happy, you swear you have been to this bar twice in the past 30 minutes? That is the sort of awesome night you can expect from Chiang Mai as you hop from bar to gallery to restaurant to bar. It’s slower than Bangkok so you won’t have to worry about people trying to shove ‘Straight out of Bangkok’ T-shirts in your face. Once you are done having fun, from Chiang Mai you can buy your bus ticket online for around 900 baht for a bus that leaves at 10pm and arrives in Nong Kai at 8am the next day.
Seriously, once you wake up from your night on the bus, be ready to go. Aside from being hustled by people trying to scam you into an overpriced visa service (you can only get a Laos visa from the border) there is not much to do in Nong Kai. Grab your passport, your cash, and your bags and blast past anyone who tries to sell you a visa or give you a ride to the border for anything more than 200 baht, they are scammers who wake up early to hunt for exhausted farrangs. A tuk tuk ride to the border from the bus station should cost 200 Baht, but haggle if you want.Your visa should cost at least US$ 35; payable only in US Dollars, but it may vary depending on your country of origin. Also if you arrive too early, past 8pm, or on the weekend they may charge you a dollar more. Remember, you need your passport photo to fill out the visa application.
Laos is a contemplative calm country with enough going on to be fun on the weekends. Most foreigners who come through this city are either getting a visa or heading to the rugged party towns like Luang Prabang in the north.
Aside from the Thai embassy where you can get a visa, and find out just how much tedium one human can suffer through, Vientiane is not mind meltingly exciting. Vientiane is on a river called the Mekong, where you will want to stay or suffer boredom and a long ride to the Thai embassy. There are some really great upscale restaurants on Rue Setthathilath’s side streets that are pricey reminders of the morning being poured into the neighborhood. I stayed at a place called the Mixay Guesthouse and there were five of them on the same block like Starbucks in Midtown Manhattan. On Rue Setthathilath there are a few decent cocktail bars and tuk tuk drivers who are as shady as a jungle canopy, who will take you into town to the fun expat bars like Déjà vu. If you want to get your visa application done and over with, after finding your guesthouse and before hitting the bar, apply for the tourist visa at The Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane, LAO.
What you will need to get your visa:
- A passport with at least six months of validity and a few empty visa pages
- A copy of the main page of your passport with the photo
- A completed visa application form
- Two passport photos
- A copy of your Laos visa or stamp
Make sure to get your Visa Application Form from the embassy and fill it out in English. With this tourist visa you can stay in Thailand for no more than 60 days. The tourist visa costs 1000 baht and once you are in Bangkok you can have it extended for another 29 days for just 1900 baht. Make sure you have explicit travel plans and an address where you will be staying in Thailand. After you apply you can pick up your visa the next morning at The Royal Thai Embassy, buy a ticket to Nong Kai and do the whole dance in reverse.