We decided to settle down in Chiang Mai in March 2016 for a month but unfortunately, the Thai Visa we had was about to expire. We had to do a Visa run. After much research, we found the optimal solution for our situation and I wanted to share it with you in case you wanted to do something similar. It is not the only way to do this, but it is the way we found cheapest and easiest. In short, you have to take the overnight bus to and from Vientiane – the capital of Laos.
Buy a bus ticket from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai
When researching this, many people suggested to buy a bus ticket to Udon Thani and then take an additional bus to Nong Khai – the town bordering Laos. I believe this is outdated information since buses didn’t use to go all the way to Nong Khai in the past. If you are short on time or have a better budget, you can look into flying from Chiang Mai to Udon Thani to avoid the 12 hour bus ride. However if budget is not really an issue, you’re probably better off booking a flight to Hong Kong and enjoy a weekend there: this article is not for you.
Go to the Chiang Mai bus station, here it is on the map if you plan on driving there yourself:
We bought our tickets 2 days in advance to be safe at Chackrapong Tour. You can probably book a ticket the day of departue, but we didn’t want to risk it since overstaying the visa has serious consequences.
We didn’t think the bus went all the way to Nong Khai and only bought the tickets until Udon Thani for 750 baht each. Thankfully, we managed to stay on the bus past our destination but we would have gladly paid if we knew the bus went all the way to Nong Khai. You should buy the ticket from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai for a little over 800 baht. The bus leaves at 7:30 pm and arrives to your final destination about 12 hours later.
Note: There is a cheap (10 baht/day) scooter parking right next to the bus station if you need it.
From Nong Khai to the Friendship Bridge
After a long overnight ride, the bus will stop in the middle of the road before getting to the Nong Khai bus station and the driver will announce : “Border, border!”. That’s where you get off the bus, with TukTuk drivers already waiting for you at the exit. They asked for 80 baht but we paid 50 baht each for a 10 minute drive to the Friendship Bridge that is the Thailand-Laos border without much negotiation.
The TukTuk driver might try to convince you to drive you somewhere to get your picture taken for the Visa but you should refuse. There are photography services directly at the Thai border that will take and print you 8 pictures in 5 minutes for only 100 baht. You only need one picture for your Visa, but we decided to keep the other 7 pictures in case they can be used when we apply for our Vietnamese Visa next month.
Crossing the Friendship Bridge
Once you are passed the Thai Customs (don’t forget to bring your exit paper they gave you when you entered the country) you will have to take a bus across the bridge. The bus has a fixed price of 15 baht. You are not allowed to cross by foot.
Laos Visa on Arrival
To get your Lao visa, you will need a picture of you on a white background (the one that you just made), and the address of your destination in Vientiane. Write down a Hostel’s address before leaving if you won’t have internet on the road. The Visa costs 42$ USD for Canadians, 35$ USD for most everyone else. Make sure to take the US dollars with you in cash as paying in baht will cost you almost twice the price and exchange rates at the border are terrible.
Fill out the forms, pay the price and you should be passed the border in less than 30 minutes.
From the Friendship Bridge to Vientiane
You have a couple of options to get to Vientiane from the Friendship Bridge. A taxi will be 400-300 baht. A TukTuk is about 100 baht (but expect to wait until the driver gets enough people on board). There is also the green bus #14 for 6000 kip (about 25 baht) that brings you very close to the city center. We took a TukTuk since we did not have any information about that bus at the time and were too exhausted to investigate. The bus takes twice as long to get to the city and drops you off at the bus station from which you’ll have to walk another 10-20 minutes until your hostel.
Whichever way you chose to go, you are now in Vientiane and can now go back to Thailand whenever you want.
From Vientiane to Chiang Mai
The journey is pretty much the reverse route of the route from Chiang Mai to Vientiane described above. However, there are a couple things worth mentioning that you should know about.
If you decide to go to the Friendship bridge by bus, here is the map to the bus station:
It is right besides the morning market. Take the green bus #14 directly until the friendship bridge. Taxis or TukTuks are still an option too.
When exiting Laos, you might have to pay 11000 kip depending on some mysterious holidays. We prepared the money but got through for free, however we might have gotten lucky. Take the money with you just in case.
Then, take the same bus you took on the way there across the bridge for 15 baht.
At re-entry in Thailand, we surprisingly got 30 other days in Thailand, even if all sources said we will only get 15 as we are re-entering by land. Looks like there have been visa reforms in Thailand, YAY!
After, we took a TukTuk for 50 baht each until the Nong Khai bus station. The bus to Chiang Mai leaves there at 7:30 pm, but plan to arrive a couple hours earlier to buy your tickets: there is only one bus a day from Nong Khai to Chiang Mai and you might have to spend the night there or take a bus to Udon Thani if they run out of seats before you get there. The bus to Chiang Mai ride cost us 820 baht each and just like that, the visa run was over.
As a bonus, we got to walk around Vientiane, drink some of the best coffee I’ve had in months and enjoy some great French pastries 🙂
Let me know if you go trough this way too and if I forgot to mention some important information 🙂