With my visa nearing its end and the news of free Thai tourist visas, we took a trip up from Bangkok to the nearest Thai Embassy, located in the border town of Vientiane in Laos.

Vientiane is a quiet town located about 20km from the Thai-Laos Friendship Bridge. These days the town is very much developed to cater for travellers, however, it is still rich in its cultural heritage and a visit there really feels like a step back in time.

If you like sight-seeing around temples and taking photos of everything typically Asian, you’ll love Vientiane. And while there may not be much else to do other than eating good food, stay in cheap accommodation and drink a beer next to the Mekong river, the relaxed pace and friendly personality of the Laos people, will have coming back to renew your next Thai tourist visa.

From Bangkok, there are several ways to get there. You can travel by bus, train or plane, although the train lines do not yet go all the way to Vientiane.

If you would like to take the train, you must first travel to Udon Thani or Nong Khai, from there you can take local buses, tuk-tuks or private minivans to get you across the border and into Vientiane. There are two sleeper trains per night that leave from Bangkok’s Hua Lumpong train station. Tickets are around 800 baht for a 2nd class sleeper with aircon. The journey to Nong Khai takes a little longer than the bus, around 12 hours, but with the dining cart and a bed to sleep in, it is quite pleasant.

There are several options when it comes to taking the bus. You can buy a direct ticket all the way to Vientiane from any tourist office on Khao San Road or Sukhumvit. This Farang/Tourist bus leaves from Khao San Road at around 7-8pm. It plays western movies and stops for food half way. They also stop at the border and waits for everyone to complete the Laos visa process, then arrive in Vientiane at about 8-9am. The ticket costs around 700 baht.

If you have pre-applied for youR Laos visa, you can travel to Udon Thani. From Bus Terminal 1 (borkasoar gaow in Thai), board a local bus that takes you all the way to Vientiane. There are lots of buses leaving from Bangkok to Udon Thani, prices start at around 400 baht for 1st class and VIP tickets. The cost of the local bus from Udon Thani to Vientiane is around 100 baht, but you must present your passport with a valid Laos visa to be able to buy this ticket.

The other option is to take the bus to Nong Khai, take a tuk-tuk to the border, apply for the Laos visa, take a bus to cross the Friendship Bridge, then a taxi van to drive the last 20km to Vientiane. While this may sound like a hassle, it works out faster than the Farang/Tourist buses or the train. There are different prices for the bus to Nong Khai, 1st class costs around 450 baht and VIP costs 700 baht. There at least 2 companies all running buses up to Nong Khai, and each company has several departure times every night, so if the first one you try is full, look for another.

We travelled with a company called 999, on a 24 seater VIP bus that was a little old, but timely and comfortable nonetheless. The bus left from the Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal at 22:15 and arrived at 07:30 the next day. Tickets cost 700 baht. The bus stopped half way for some free food, noodles and a savoury rice porridge (jok in Thai), which actually were quite good. One thing to note is that these buses cater to Thais. The films are all in Thai, and the staff may not be as proficient in English as others who work on the Farang/Tourist buses.

Once we arrived at the bus station in Nong Khai, we took a tuk-tuk to the border for 100 baht each (I’m sure this could have been cheaper, but after the long bus journey, the first price was worth the convenience). At the border, everything was quite straightforward. We stamped out of Thailand and bought a 15 baht bus ticket to cross the Friendship Bridge. These buses run every 15 mins so don’t worry if you miss the one that’s there.

Once we arrived at the Laos immigration, we had to apply for the Laos visa. To do this we needed 1 photo and a fee of 35 dollars. The Laos visa fees are different depending on your nationality. British and American citizens are charged $35. Be careful not to pay for your Laos visa in Thai baht. The cost in Thai baht is 1500, quite a bit more than $35 (approx 1250 baht). Our visas took around 30 mins, then we stamped into Laos, paid a border crossing fee of 15 baht, then walked to organise a lift into the city of Vientiane.

We found a driver willing to take the three of us to our hotel for 300 baht. His minivan was new and clean, plus it was only us, we didn’t have to wait for any other tourists to fill up the empty seats. We then arrived in Vientiane around 09:45 and checked into a nice hotel in the Nam Phu area for 600 baht a night. The room was clean with aircon, satellite TV, hot water, comfortable beds etc.

Next port of call was to hand in our passports at the Thai Embassy. The Embassy only accepts visa applications from 08:30 to 12:00, so there wasn’t much time to spare. The Thai embassy has recently changed location, it is now situated at:

  • Unit 15 Bourichane Road, Ban Phone Si Nuan, Muang Si Sattanak, Vientiane, Lao PDR

We took a tuk-tuk to the embassy for 150 baht, for that price the guy waited the hour it took to complete the application, and then took us back to the hotel. To apply for the Thai tourist visa we needed 2 photos and several photocopies of our passports (the photocopies can be done upstairs in the Embassy compound above where you submit your passport and application, at the cost of 20-40 baht).

At the Embassy we were directed to the outside booth to take a ticket. We then filled in the application and photocopied our passports. After waiting for 30 mins, we were called to submit our applications and were then sent inside the adjacent building to wait for our receipt (here is where you must pay the fees if applicable). This took an additional 30 mins.

Once we got our receipts it was back to the hotel to relax and wait till the next day to collect our visa. Our visas were ready for collection the next day between 13:00 and 15:30. There often seems to be a long line of people waiting to collect the passport and get on a bus back to Bangkok, so if you have time to spare, you’re better off waiting till at least 13:30 before setting off to collect your passport.

If you are heading back to Bangkok, there are again several options. There is the return Farang/Tourist bus, this leaves Vientiane at 17:00 and arrives in Bangkok at 05:00-06:00. Again the price is around 700 baht. You can also take a tuk-tuk to the border, the bus across the bridge, and tuk-tuk on the Thai side to take you to the train or bus station. If you are travelling by bus or train, you should try to get the local bus from Vientiane to Nong Khai or Udon Thani. The bus stops and waits for all passengers to complete the border crossing, then carries on to its destination.

Tickets can be bought from the bus station in Vientiane, the price is around 60 baht to Nong Khai and 100 baht to Udon Thani. Note that you will need to show your passport in order to buy the ticket. While the train and several bus companies travel from Nong Khai to Bangkok, the buses from Udon Thani are more numerous and cheaper. So we chose to travel this way.

We bought our tickets from the Vientiane bus station at 11:00, but we had to wait till 14:00 to board the bus, apparently, this is common, you can not pre-book your tickets any more than 4 hours in advance and inevitably, the seats fill up quickly. Once on the local bus from Vientiane to Udon Thani, everything went smooth, we crossed the border with no problems and arrived in Udon around 15:30. From Udon Thani there are more companies offering tickets to Bangkok, and because of this, you can get a ticket on a 24 seater VIP bus for just 412 baht. The bus back to Bangkok took 8 hours and arrived at Mo Chit Northern Bus Terminal at around midnight.