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Pattaya Daily News

24 April 2008 :: 13:04:10 pm 20567

A Harrowing visa trip to lao?

Once again, time for the long haul. After 1 Jomtien immigration stop-in and 3 Cambodian runs, the yellow marks in the passport dictated a trip to either Penang or Lao. Penang is being singularly unhelpful at present, so I decided on the Lao adventure. And that?s what it usually is, much more so than the smooth air-flight to Penang.?
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The Lao adventure is essentially a DIY affair, though I understand a 6-month double entry trip is available for about Bt9500. Not having that sort of money, I had to face a 15+hour bus ride! Deep Joy! Ah, well, time to gird the loins.

The Thai embassy in Lao closes for business at 12 noon, sometimes earlier, I’m told, which means going up the night before, no later than 9.30 pm! The bus arrives in Nong Kai roughly 12 hours later, leaving a very small margin to make it over the border and as far as the embassy.

I booked my seat the night before I was due to go. I couldn’t face being told the bus was full, and it was Songkran, after all. I duly installed myself in the front seat of the VIP bus, unfortunately next to a monk; no romantic adventures this trip. The bus was smooth until we got into the mountain roads about 3 hours or so from Bangkok. Then on a two-lane road, going uphill, the bus suddenly lost power and defied all attempts to restart it. Luckily, we were travelling in tandem and the other bus pulled ahead to render assistance. After filling up with water, the problem I gather, the bus duly re-started, but the delay added at least 30 minutes to the journey.

All went well till Khon Kaen, then we had to change bus for the last leg of the journey. We duly arrived in Nong Kai at about 9.45 am. Taxi touts abound and rather than fight them off, I submitted. “Got a Lao visa?” the tuk-tuk driver asked. “No.” says I. “Then you must go to the Immigration Office,” he said. Arriving there, they fill in the forms for the Thai immigration for you, give you $35 for the Lao visa and demand Bt2000 for the service, which also includes transport from the border to the Thai embassy in Vientiane; a long haul in itself. I then remounted the tuk-tuk and made my way to the border. When we got there, I had to give the rip-off tuk-tuk diver Bt100. You can argue the toss and get away with between Bt50-60 if you’re lucky. I wasn’t, he was intractable and wouldn’t budge on the Bt100. Then it was swiftly through Thai customs only to be told I had to wait for two oncoming Germans to make their way to Lao Immigration. At least they paid for the B15 bus fare!

You can by-pass this visa service by making your own way to the border, but it doesn’t save you much. Maybe Bt50 to the border and then Bt15 for the bus across the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge to the Lao side. Bt1500, if you don’t have dollars, is what the Lao visa costs and you have to get one of the Lao to fill in your Lao immigration forms and pay Bt100 to get another to fill in the corresponding Thai immigration forms outside the embassy. But then you’ve got to make your own way from the Lao border to the Thai embassy. Which I had to do! It cost Bt600 for two of us, with a few extras.

I’d arrived at the Lao border, rushed ahead of an oncoming coach-full of competitors to submit my forms, photo and $35 to Lao immigration, after getting a Lao immigration form, which I filled in myself. Then I waited for my passport to be returned with my Lao visa, all the while keeping an anxious eye on the clock, which was slowly ticking away, with no sign of the bloody Germans.

I’d kindly offered to help a distressed, drunk Norwegian with the procedures and we were then approached by a mini-bus driver, touting for custom to the Thai embassy. It was 11.35am by this time and having done the trip twice before I knew it would take quite some time to get the embassy. If I missed it, that would mean having to stay another three days in Lao as I’d have to submit my passport the following day, Friday, and then wait till Monday to pick it up! It was at this stage that the bus driver drew our attention to the time and told us the day before he’d taken a passenger, arriving at the embassy at 11.50, only to be told to come back the following day! We asked if it would still be possible to make it and he replied “Just!”

What choice did we have? No sign of the Germans, so my inclusive, paid ride to the embassy was about to go for a Burton. The guy wanted Bt500 each, but we beat him down to Bt600 for both of us. He drove at the speed of light and much better than a Thai, getting us to the embassy with 5 minutes to spare. I galloped inside while my companion had to have his Thai immigration forms filled in for Bt100. Conveniently, I already had mine! All done, Bt1000 submitted along with a photo and the forms, then it was time to find a hotel for the night.

Previously, I’d stayed at a convenient flea-pit just round the corner from the embassy for about Bt150 per night, but it was miles from anywhere. The Norwegian, however, had always stayed down by the Mekong River, a much more popular spot, so we bludgeoned the mini-bus driver into taking us there for free and off we went. Arriving at the Mekong riverside, we found a hotel for Bt250 per night. Incidentally the baht-kip conversion rate is Bt1=2,700 kip but I’m not going to do the conversions for you!  Just across the road was a very good, cheap guest house with a restaurant, which we, along with innumerable back-packers, spent an inordinate amount of time in. It’s called Pathoumphone Guest House, Manthaturath Road, 100 yards from the river; 2-bedded rooms cost BT200 with outside toilet and Bt240 inside; tel 02-7702020. The patron is Khun Noy and the food and service is excellent. Lao Beer is 800 kip a large bottle, which my already drunk, Norwegian friend commenced to consume, virtually non-stop. Highly recommended is the Baguette filled with egg, ham, cheese, & sausage for 11,000 kip, but you can also have pork, omelette or tuna. Banana pancakes cost 12000 kip with jam and orange juice; Phatthai with shrimp, squid is 15000 kip; Sukeeyakee soup is 6000 kip; milk shakes of banana, pineapple, papaya, mango etc are 6000 kip; Laap (a Lao favourite) will set you back 15-20,000 kip & includes chicken, pork, beef, or fish. All told, a very extensive & varied menu with 165 items, all highly tasty and nourishing.

The road flanking the river contains a Tex-Mex Pub with live music, pizza place, Indian restaurants and the Music House, a disco sort of place where the ladies are expensive, up to Bt2000 short time & yes, that’s baht not kip! You can beat some of them down to Bt700 though, depends on how hard up they are. Alternatively, cleverly disguised katoeys ply their wares along the river road, masquerading as massage. They’ll even pick you up on their bikes and run you back to your hotel!

Across the road on the riverbank are seafood restaurants, but the same beer as we could have got for 800 kip now costs 1500 a bottle, the same price as in the Tex-Mex place. Tuk-tuk drivers will approach and ask if you want ladies or to go to the disco 2 miles away to pick one up, the prices vary. All in all, much more laid back than Pattaya Beach Road and more pleasant; the same can also be said for the Lao.

Next day, back with the same bus driver, who we managed to reduce to Bt400 to take us to pick up the passports and run us to the border. Passports are dispensed at 1pm, but the queues are outrageous, in the broiling sun with no shade till you get inside. My drunk Norwegian friend had a neat dodge of going to nearly the front along with the Philippinos and pretending he’d been there all the time. After 5 minutes, I joined him and we managed to pull it off that time, but not later at the Lao Immigration where we encountered an irate American who didn’t suffer queue jumpers gracefully. We duly went almost, but not quite, to the back of the queue.

Then it was on the Bt10 bus back to Thailand and arguing the toss eventually got us a taxi back to Nong Kai Bus Station for Bt60 for the pair of us. At the bus station, we sauntered up to the VIP bus only to be told there were no more buses till Monday! Deep Songkran Joy! The alternative was to get a regular bus to Bangkok, which took 10 hours, arriving at 2am. One stop and no toilets or blankets, unlike the VIP bus. Then it was hang around till the first Rayong bus of the morning at 4. It should have left at 4.30 but left early with no numbered seats, take your pick. What would have normally been a 2.5 hour journey took 5 hours; it was a stopping bus & after that you can well imagine how deep my joy was, but at least I arrived home safely. Oh, bliss, I don’t have to make that harrowing trip for another 5 months.

Thai embassies and consulates in Lao

Laos, Royal Thai Embassy
Route Phonekheng, Vientiane, P.O. Box 128
Tel: 214 5813, 214 5856
Fax: +66 1 411 0017

Royal Thai Consulate General
(Temp) Nanhai Hotel, 5F, Latsavongseuk Rd,
Ban Sounantha Khanthabouley District,
Suvannakhet Province, P.O. Box 459,
Tel : 007-856-41-212373
Fax : 007-856-41-212370
The Suvannakhet Consulate has a website.

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : Legal

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