Visa Runs From Bangkok To Vientiane, Laos - One Persons Experience

Map Showing Bangkok, Udon Thani and Vientiane
Map Showing Bangkok, Udon Thani and Vientiane

Visa Runs

When you arrive in Thailand and go thorough Immigration Control you get a stamp in your passport giving you permission to stay in the country for a period of time. The length of time will vary according to whether you have a visa, or are taking advantage of the exemption from visa requirement for tourists.

To comply with the law, you must leave Thailand on or before the date shown on the permission to stay stamp. If you want to stay in Thailand longer, you still have to leave the country and re-enter, thereby getting a new permission to stay stamp.

If you leave and re-enter just for the purpose of gaining a new stamp, the journey is called a 'visa run'. This page relates to visa runs from Bangkok to Vientiane in Laos.

Which Visa Run Will You Choose ?

A word of warning. There are so called agents in Thailand that will take your passport and get a permission to enter stamp placed in it for you. Of course, they also want your money. DO NOT USE THEM.

The stamp you receive may well be a forgery, or the agent will arrange for the passport to be taken to the border, or other place, where an unscrupulous official will stamp it. The passport might even get 'lost' causing all sorts of problems....

I have done many visa runs during my time in Thailand. This page relates to my experiences 'running' from Bangkok to Vientiane in Laos.

I have been on visa runs from Bangkok to Vientiane using three different methods:

  1. A direct flight from Bangkok to Vientiane. This is the quickest way, but the most expensive.
  2. A mini van from Bangkok to Vientiane via the Friendship Bridge border crossing at Nong Khai. This method takes a long time and in my view, is a very uncomfortable way to travel. However, it is the cheapest of the three.
  3. A flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani in north east Thailand. Then a mini van from the airport to the Friendship Bridge border crossing, then a mini van to Vientiane. This is relatively cheap and easy to do and is the best method in my opinion.

Tesco Lotus in Onnut, Bangkok - Minivan Pick Up Point
Tesco Lotus in Onnut, Bangkok - Minivan Pick Up Point

The Minivan Method

Out of the three visa run methods this was certainly the cheapest with a total price of 6100 Baht plus personal expenses but in my view not to be recommended ! The 6100 Baht expenditure was made up as follows:

  • 2500 Baht for the transport, 1 nights accommodation and some food.
  • 1600 Baht for the visa to enter Laos
  • 2000 Baht if you require a 60 day tourist visa from the Thai Embassy in Vientiane.

The 60 day tourist visa is what most people want when they go on a run to Vientiane. This visa gives you 60 days stay when you re-enter Thailand whereas the visa exemption rule only gives you 15 days on re - entry at a land border. If you are doing a run with a current Thai Non Immigrant Visa and not wanting to stay in Vientiane then it is a waste of time. It is much quicker and cheaper to go to Cambodia or Singapore.

The Actual Visa Run

The visa run I went on was organised by a Bangkok based company and a link to their website is shown at the bottom of this page.

We all met up in the car park next to Tesco Lotus in Onnut, Bangkok. The company website stated that we should meet the vans next to the KFC outlet but in reality the vans were at the opposite side of the car park ! I was lucky because I noticed this immediately and was one of the first to get to the vans before the queue built up. There is no booking a place in advance so it is first come first served.

There were about 6 minivans, and the western owner of the company was there checking passports. He allocated me one of the vans and I hopped in soon to be joined by 9 others.

The van set off at about 8.30 pm and I settled down for the long journey. The trip was worse than flying long haul in an economy class seat ! There was little leg room, and we were squashed in like sardines in a tin. I tried to sleep but had great difficulty because of the erratic way the van was being driven. We stopped a couple of times at petrol stations with toilets and shops, arriving at the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge border at 5.30am.

The border was closed when we got there so had to wait in the van for about an hour until it opened. When it opened we walked over to the Immigration Control Point and queued up to leave Thailand.

Going out of Thailand was easy for me, but some of the people in my van had problems and as a result our van was delayed. We left the Thai side to go into Laos at 9.00am.

After a short bus journey over the actual Friendship Bridge we came to the Laos Immigration Control Point. By this time we had handed our passports and application forms for a Laos Visa to a company representative. She then handed them into the 'Visa on Arrival' section in bulk. At least we didn't have to queue but might as well have !

There must have been about 150 people at this visa on arrival section and we ended up waiting another 3 hours to get our passports back. So by this time it was 12 noon.

We all got back into the van and were driven in to Vientiane.

It should be noted at this point that in Thailand you drive on the left, but in Laos you drive on the right.

The drive into the city ( albeit a small city ) took about 40 minutes and we went straight to the Thai Embassy. We handed our passports and the necessary visa application forms to the company representative, who handed them into the visa section in bulk. It takes a day to process visa applications so as part of the package we were taken to a hotel for the night. I got into my room at 2.00pm, 18 hours after leaving Bangkok !

I had a couple of hours sleep then went out and explored Vientiane.

We rejoined our van at 1.00pm the next day and were handed back our passports that had been collected from the Thai embassy for us. Another 30 minutes saw us back at the border.

Instead of just going through the immigration control point we were directed to the duty free shopping area. There was no point in demanding that we just left Laos and get on with the journey as the van driver had already disappeared.

So it was another wait, for an hour, before we joined the lengthy queues to leave Laos. We finally got through the Laos Immigration at about 3.00pm.

Re - entering Thailand was easier and we started off back to Bangkok at 4.00pm. The return journey was just the same as when we had come, and we arrived back in Onnut at about 1.00am.

I have only done this run once and will never do it again. This fact is not a criticism of the company I used. It is just because the trip was so tiring and uncomfortable I do not want to do it again. This run might appeal to backpackers on a limited budget, but its not for me.

Direct Flight Method

Now, this was the quickest, easiest , and most painfree visa run I have done to Vientiane. However it was quite expensive.

I booked the flight from Bangkok to Vientiane on the Thai airways website. The prices at the time were 11500 Baht return.

Everything was straightforward, I left home at 10.00 am and took a taxi to the airport. Check in, and departure was easy and the flight was on time. The flight lasted about an hour. So from leaving home to landing in Vientiane only took 3 hours.

As you need a visa to enter Laos I had to apply at the 'visa on arrival' section in the airport. The cost was another 1600 Baht and it took about 2 hours to obtain.

I made a mental note that the next time I came to Vientiane I would get the necessary visa from the Laos Embassy in Bangkok before travelling. This would remove the need for waiting for a visa on arrival.

As Vientiane airport is very close to the city I was in my hotel by 3.30pm. I was mentally alert, not tired and ready for anything. I had booked the hotel for two nights at a total cost of 2500 Baht.

The next morning I went to the Thai embassy and submitted an application for a new visa to enter Thailand which I would collect the next day. Then I spent the rest of the day eating and drinking Beer Laos. Beer laos is an excellent, cheap, and locally produced beer. I suggest that everyone should try it.

The next morning I collected the visa and returned to the airport for the return flight to Bangkok.

The total cost of the trip was 15600 Baht not including personal expenses.

Flight To Udon Thani Then Minivan

This is my visa run of choice for the Bangkok to Vientiane route and with a total cost of 8900 Baht (not including personal expenses) the best value run around.

When I was planning this run I remembered the mental note I had made on the last run. So I downloaded the Laos visa application forms from the Laos Embassy website, got some passport pictures taken, and went to their Embassy.

When I got there I thought I had made a bad decision. There were literally hundreds of people hanging around near the visa section. But I soon realised they were not there for a visa but were there to apply for work in Laos.

A security guard pointed me in the direction of an office within the visa section and on entering I was surprised that there was no queue ! I submitted the required paperwork and 1600 Baht, and was asked to sit down. No more than 10 minutes later I had my passport back with the visa ! I couldn't believe it.

So i had achieved in 40 minutes what had taken hours before.

I returned home and went to the Air Asia website. I booked a flight for the next Thursday from Bangkok to Udon Thani and was pleasantly surprised to find the price was only 2600 baht return.

As with the last run, I got a taxi to the airport and went to the departure gate. Again, everything was on time and we were soon in the air. I had already checked in and got a boarding pass online, so my actual time in the airport was about an hour. After about 50 minutes we landed in Udon Thani which is about 55 kilometres from the Friendship Bridge border.

On walking into the arrivals lounge I noticed a sign offering vans to the Friendship Bridge for 200 Baht so I bought a ticket and was directed to a van outside the terminal. An hour later I was at the Thai Immigration Control and within 30 minutes I was on the Laos side of the bridge.

Because I already had a visa I did not have to join the lengthy 'visa on arrival' queue and was through the Laos Immigration control in less than 10 minutes. A short van ride into Vientiane saw me in my hotel. From door to door was about 5 1/2 hours.

I got a new Thai visa from the Embassy in Vientiane exactly the same as before, and the return trip to Bangkok was as uneventful as the outbound one.

Typical Minivan Used On Visa Runs Described Here
Typical Minivan Used On Visa Runs Described Here

Comments 8 comments

scarytaff profile image

scarytaff 5 years ago from South Wales

Very interesting hub, Steve. This is my kind of visit, pity I don't get much chance to do it these days. Thanks for the information, you never know when it may come in handy.

vietnam vet 5 years ago

Seriously.. Vientiane is a hell hole! Everything in Vientiane is more expensive than it is in Thailand, the locals are 100% focused on screwing foriegners for as much money as possible. I have heard that recently the Thai Consulate has been turning people down for tourist visas for a variety of reasons (new policy). If you are in Bangkok, you are far better off grabbing a cheap flight with Air Asia to KL or Ho Chi Minh City.

TravelinAsia profile image

TravelinAsia 5 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

I can confirm that indeed the Thai Consulate in Vientiane is turning away tourists applying for tourist visas. Only a few days ago I witnessed the staff at the consulate behaving abusive and disrespectful to tourists applying for visas. Many people were denied for various reasons. This seems to be new.. as it used to be easy to get a visa in Laos.

Steve Grace 5 years ago from England and Thailand Author

Sad to hear about the Thai visas - I bet the situation changes when the free tourist visa ends in March and the money starts coming in again :) 4 years ago

Does anybody have any detailed information re situation re 'changes to free tourist visa in March'?

TravelinAsia profile image

TravelinAsia 4 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

Vietnam is the best option for visa runs these days, it is a lot cheaper than Laos, and the return flights with AirAsia go for anywhere from 100-180USD. They give out tourist visas no problems..

sawadii Kha 3 years ago

I have done the visa trip flying straight into Vientianne a few times. I found it painless (though expensive) to do. I did not have to wait long for a Laos visa on arrival (both times I went) maybe about ten minutes so I imagine you just arrived at a bad time. However it is the most expensive route and flying into Udon Thani would be the route I would recommend just to save money.

Kiwi 2 years ago

I've had two tourist Visa's issued from the Embassy in Vientiane, both without hassle. My latest was also a double entry visa (Issued in Jan 2014). I agree with the comments above about Vientiane, it's a very dirty place and the people are not as friendly as the Thais. It's over priced aswell- even compared to BKK.

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