Visa Run to Vientienne, Laos

It's Tuesday morning here. I've been sitting in the lobby waiting for them to put the buffet out but it just wasn't happening. I tried to ask about it, but not sure I was getting across, so I just sat down and asked for an omelette  One came and no charge yet, so I'm guessing I did it right. 

My visa expired Sunday and I had to go on a "visa run" to Vientienne, Laos. We left Sunday night around 8:30 PM and drove all night to arrive at the Laos border crossing at 4:00 AM. I was seated next to a big Japanese guy with very pointy knees who slept with them utterly splayed out. It didn't help my attempts at sleep. At one point took my belt off and tied it around my thighs to keep them together so I wouldn't have the guy poking me with his damn knees. I guess I couldn't really blame him, the Russian girl in front of him had her seat reclined almost into his lap. She must have been very comfortable. I've written about my distaste of these 12 passenger vans elsewhere in this log so I won't rant again. This is what the service uses, so be it. I managed to nap a little.

Thailand's archaic visa laws say you have to leave the country to apply for another visa. It takes at least a couple days. I chose a visa run service with the lowest price that handles everything and asked for a double entry tourist visa, just in case I need the time, and even with their help it took several hours more than two days. If you want to get a visa renewed you often have to leave the country just to get it stamped, then turn around and you can immediately enter again. It apparently does not matter where you do this, as long as it's out of the country. But it's way more hassle to get a new visa. You must leave and apply at another country's embassy, and it matters a lot where. Some countries "are not helpful at this time", as the visa run service guy put it. There is actually no guarantee they will issue the kind of visa you want/need. Don't ask me why they do it this way, welcome to Thailand. The price was 6,900 baht which gets me the double entry tourist and included everything. Also, the room they arrange is a shared room. That didn't set well when the time came to check in, so I paid 200 baht more for a private room. I just wanted to strip down and flop into bed for a nap, a roommate didn't sound good at the time. Looking back on it, a visa run service is worth every penny: they handle all paperwork, transportation, hotel accommodation and help to avoid the lines. Since this is their business and they do it regularly they (apparently) have some sort of working relationship with the authorities. Most people who had come on their own had to cue up for what seemed to be half a day, and we avoided all that. It was handled efficiently and I felt taken-care-of with few worries. 

I spent most of the morning yesterday standing in line at immigration because of an overstay fine for one day (12 hours actually) - it's a hassle, avoid it if you can. The embassy was not a long wait at all since the service handled it all very efficiently, and then we were off to check into the Sisavath hotel. I'm not sure where that is, did not get out or about at all, too tired. Last night I drank a few beers in the hotel lobby, got to try the much-lauded Beer Lao. It was good, more flavor than Leo beer, but not the best beer I've ever had. Frankly, not that much better than Leo. I haven't found an IPA yet, maybe they just don't like the extra hoppy styles in this part of the world. I know my beer loving friends in the Pacific Northwest U.S. would gag at the mere idea of putting ice in your beer, which more than half the population here does. I could have gone out and done some sightseeing of Vientiane but was just feeling blah due to my sleep cycle messed up. I've been hanging around the hotel to avoid spending money. $1 = 7,800 Laos Kip. The service should come get us some time today and distribute everyone's passports with the new visas stamped, not sure when. One guy I spoke with seems to think we won't get back to Bangkok until quite late, perhaps 10 or 11 PM. A lot of people do this process every day, it's a routine in Thailand. [edit: got home at 11:00 PM]

I met an interesting young guy doing a run as well. He grew up in New York City, USA, but he's of Laotian-Thai descent and now lives in northern Thailand on the border with Laos with his new bride. Don't know why he's doing a run when he could get a marriage visa, but everyone has their reasons and strategies concerning these things. He speaks Thai and Laotian as well as the New York variety of English (the kind with attitude and bling). When I showed him my recent post of this blog about Korat and my interest in the people and rural life of Isan, he invited me up to where he lives in Nan. It's not in Isan, but it's way up there, and very interesting to me. You think I'm the sort of guy who takes people up on offers like that? We'll see. He's been very helpful in translating things and explaining how I should be and act in Thailand to fit in. Always good to meet somebody like that, even if he's into hip-hop. 

No pics today, other than those map links, since I didn't get out and see anything. The air is clean here, and life seems slower. Some day soon I'd like to take an extended tour of Laos and Burma. Maybe on a bicycle.