Crossing the Bridge - A Volunteer Experience
It’s the less talked about side of travel, but visas are as essential as a passport when travelling. For volunteers who stay in Laos for longer than 90 days, a visa run is a must. Below is a guide written by former volunteer Monica on how to do this in Laos’s capital, Vientiane.
Time taken: approx 4 hours
Bring: A pen, spare pen, passport, passport photo, visa fee in cash, Thai Baht or US Dollars, water, comfortable shoes, camera.
From Vientiane city we took a tuk tuk to the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge. It takes around 45 minutes to get there by tuk tuk. It’s a long ride but very interesting to watch the locals go about their business on the way there. The driver will take you to the Laos side of the bridge. From there we walked to the “Departures” area and filled out a departure card. In typical Laos style there were some lying around, and by the time we realised there was a man walking around with fresh cards in his pocket we’d already filled ours out! We took our cards and trusty passports to the attended gate to be stamped out of the country. Now we’re in no-man’s land.
We walked through the departure gates and to our immediate left there was a kiosk selling tickets for the bus across the bridge for 4000kip. This was a one way ticket that will take us to the Thai side of the bridge and no further. So we bought a ticket and waited with the other locals for the bus to arrive. The buses are not in good condition but as the trip across the bridge takes approximately 10 minutes we weren’t concerned, even as we were standing.
As we drove across the bridge we could see people walking to the middle to take their pictures. Be warned, however, if you are caught crossing the line on either side by foot you will be questioned by military guards. You cannot walk all the way across the bridge, you have to go by vehicle. You will be propositioned by locals offering taxi rides across the bridge. It’s really not necessary and you’re better off going independently by bus.
We were dropped off just outside the arrivals gate on the Thai side. Wiser this time, we found a man walking around with arrival/departure cards in his pocket. For the Thai side make sure you get a card with BOTH arrivals and departures on it and fill in both sides. In Thailand they will stamp your departure card with the date you arrived so they can validate the length of your stay. If there are a lot of people take the card and fill it in while you are waiting in line. Mark your purpose of visit as “transit”. The Thai official will ask you where you are going and you just have to tell them you’re going back to Laos. There are no “foreign passport” lines so pick the line with the fastest official. Stamp stamp.
Now that we were through on the Thai side, all we had to do was walk outside and follow the road for about 100m to the sign that welcomes you to Nong Khai. There we took a few tourist happy snaps, and simply walked across the road from arrivals to departures. At the departures side of the Thai bridge you just have to fill in the rest of your departure card and they’ll stamp you out. Ten minutes in Thailand – done.
When you walk out from Thai departures on your immediate right is a small stall selling bus tickets across the bridge to Laos for 30B or US$1. They will not accept kip so make sure you have another currency on you. Again, line up Thai style and wait for the bus which will be in much better condition than the Laos ones. Try to get a window seat as you get a great view coming back over the bridge.
We were dropped at Laos arrivals where we collected a visa on arrival form from one of the 3 windows. It’s a lot more casual on the Laos side. Fill in your form as you would at immigration in Luang Prabang, give them a passport photo and the 30 day fee. You will be ushered around the corner where you have to wait for approximately 15-20 minutes for your visa to be printed and attached to your passport. They will hand you back your passport and you can walk straight back to where the tuk tuk dropped you off. That’s it! All done! Now you can continue your stay in this wonderful place.
Seeing as you’re now back in the country, why not take advantage of your location and visit the very intriguing Buddha Park on the outskirts of Vientiane. You can even wave to Thailand from across the Mekong. You can go straight from the bridge by tuk tuk for around 10,000kip. It’s still another 20 minutes away from the bridge by tuk tuk.
Make sure you take a picture of your visa and record the date it will expire just in case you lose your passport or need to reference it in an emergency. Keep your passport in a safe place while you are completing your visa run and ensure you have a secure bag you can strap across your shoulders just in case.
At the time of writing the bridge is open 7 days a week from 6am-10pm. There are ATMs and currency exchange services on both sides. It’s recommended to go earlier in the day as there aren’t as many people and it’s not too hot yet. The process of crossing the bridge on both sides takes approximately 1 hour (depending on how many people there are) plus 1.5 hours travel time.
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