Well, it’s been a year already. But I don’t feel ready to come home. So I decided to enroll for one more year of Thai language lessons which means a visa run to Laos. I guess I need to rename this blog. Sorry to family and friends that miss me. I’m going to be gone one more year and will definitely be coming home after the year is up.
On December 10th, we woke up early to catch a flight to Udon Thani. Then from there needed to figure out how to get to Nong Bua Lamphu. We decided to stay a few days in Nong Bua Lamphu to visit Anong’s family. We figure out we need to go to “Udon Thani Bus Station #2” which is 4km away. The taxi station at the airport says it will be 200 Baht. This seemed very expensive and they were not willing to negotiate so I told them for that price I’d rather walk. I didn’t really want to walk but I’m also not willing to be overcharged just because I’m an obvious foreigner. Luckily we find a tuk tuk driver who said he would take us for 100 Baht. Deal! 5 minutes later we were at the bus station and as luck would have it the bus we needed was leaving in just a few minutes. So we are on our way to Nong Bua Lamphu! Later on I’m comparing prices of the Udon Thani airport taxi to other places. Most taxi’s are charging 20 to 25 Baht per km. This taxi wanted 50 Baht per km. No thanks!
In Nong Bua Lamphu we didn’t do much. Just relaxed a couple days then got on another bus back to Udon Thani then a mini bus to Nongkai / Thai / Laos Friendship Bridge.
Going through the border was pretty much as I remember it. First go through Thai immigration and use your departure card to exit Thailand. Then take a bus across the bridge (20 Baht) to enter Laos and go through Laos immigration. The Laos immigration border is very confusing to me but after going through it 2 times now I think I have it figured out. There is one line that Thai (maybe other) citizens go through. They pay 100 Baht to get an entry/exit card then go through immigration and get their passport stamped. American (and most likely other) citizens go through a different process. Go to window #2 and get the visa on arrival form. Then go to window #1 and give them your form, passport and pay $36 dollars. Then go to window #3 to collect your passport with new visa and any change. Sometimes I do really stupid things. I have no idea why but I skipped window #2 and gave window #1 my Thai education visa application form the school prepared for me for the Thai embassy consular office. Nobody said hey moron you gave us the wrong form, go to window #2 and get the right form. They just accepted it and gave me my visa so I had no idea at the time I gave them the wrong form. Anyways, now that I have my visa, I get to skip the other immigration lines and also don’t need to buy the exit card. Just show whichever “official” looking person your visa with stamp and they will let you through.
Now into Laos we need to figure out how to get to the hotel. It’s about 20km to the hotel we’re staying at so walking isn’t really an option. I’m always skeptical of people coming up to me offering rides. First they said 60 kip to the hotel we were staying at. I was very confused because 60 kip is basically free. Less than 1 cent. After clarifying they meant 60,000 kip which is about 250 Baht. Seemed reasonable so I went with it. After 30 or 40 minutes we arrived at the hotel. Something slightly humorous on the ride to the hotel happened. Turns our our taxi was actually a song thao so we picked up another person who happened to be a kind of cute Lao girl, probably in her 20’s. Halfway through the trip she spoke something in Lao. I just ignored it because I thought she was talking to Anong sitting across from me. Lao and Isaan languages are very similar so Anong can easily and often does talk with Lao people. Lao people also understand a lot of Thai. The grammar is pretty much the same but vocabulary is often different. There is some common vocabulary and Laos people are exposed to a lot of Thai media which is one reason they understand Thai. But Thai people understand little to none of the Lao language. So this girl says “อ้ายอ้ายไปไส” which sounded like gibberish to me since I wasn’t expecting anyone to speak to me let alone in the Laos language. I ignored her because I didn’t understand what she said and didn’t think she was talking to me. Anong ignored her because it was obvious to Anong that she was talking to me. I later learned a rough translation of what she said was “Hey dude, where are you going?” I guess she thought I was cute too.
I wasn’t too impressed with Vientiane the first time I came here, partly because the first time I came here I choose a hotel close to the embassy (about a 5 minute walk). There really isn’t anything to do in that area. This time I chose a much nicer hotel which is closer to lots of restaurants, cafe’s, shops, temples, etc… But it’s about a 45 minute walk. Vientiane is slowly growing on me. The place is an interesting juxtaposition of Lao, Buddhist, Communist, and French influence. International cuisine is pretty good here and of course there is a lot of Lao / Thai food to be found.
The embassy / consular office was closed all last week due to a holiday or something. So Monday morning was a complete shit show. Anong and I got there just after 8:30am when they open and there were already hundreds of people there. I’m guessing 333 people to be exact since the number given to me for next day pickup was 334. It wasn’t like last time where you stand in line to get a number then can sit down, relax, wander around while waiting for your group of numbers to be called up with window 1 or 2 to submit your application. It was just one giant line that snaked around the chairs in the waiting area, back to the entrance, around the yard, and out the entrance. At one point one of the guards decided the gate needed to be opened, I think for a car or motorbike coming in or out. I forget. Anyways, he just opened the gate and rolled it right into some people around me waiting next to it without any warning at all. Luckily I avoided it but a couple people got their shins / feet bashed. WTF? Seems at least once a week I see something new that makes me shake my head and leaves me dumbfounded about the behavior of Thai people. Not even any warning this guy just decides to roll the gate right into people waiting in line. How is that acceptable behavior in any culture?
Except for that it was pretty boring. Was next to a guy from Australia who spoke pretty good Thai. He was teaching me some Thai slang / vocabulary. Most of which I’ve already forgotten but did write down a couple things. Shortly after the gate incident and chatting with the Australian guy, I realized my mistake at the Lao border and that I did not have the visa application form. After a short panic Anong got a new form for me. Luckily I had one extra passport / visa photo. But the form requires two pictures. So I found a picture on another document I didn’t need to submit and cannibalized that. It was a little smaller than the first picture so I spent the next two hours standing in line wondering if my pictures would be accepted. There was a place photos can be made but I didn’t want to take new pictures and lose my place in line. By the time I finally got to the application window I submitted my application and forms. The guy behind the counter didn’t say anything and said ok, come back tomorrow so I guess they’re good. I’ll find out soon since I’m on my way to pick up my passport that hopefully has a new visa in it. Total time in line, nearly 4 hours!
Advice for visa application. Don’t go on a Monday after long holiday or you will spend a lot of time waiting in line. Even after I was done the line still went all the way back to the gate.
The next day I go back to pick up my visa. Another long confusing line. But after awhile I figure out we don’t need to stand in line and they’re calling numbers up. So I sit down on the grass and wait. About 3 hours later I have a shiny new visa. Later on I learned over 1000 people applied for visas that day. Definitely do not go on a Monday after long holiday.
The next day we’re off to Bangkok for a week. Saw some friends, climbed on fake rocks, and ate some good food.