Until today, I didn’t really need a visa run, but because of a screw-up (not mine), I am forced to travel to Vientiane, Laos, next week to gain 30 days on my visa. It’s a long story.
Monday, I met with my visa attorney to make sure my paperwork was in line to get a 90-day extension on my visa, at the end of which I would apply for a one-year non-immigration retirement visa. It’s a detailed process, with lots of seemingly contradictory steps. One I didn’t expect was the difference between “extending my current visa” and “applying for the 90-day extension.”
My attorney said my paperwork was in order and we would see immigration next week for the 90-day “application.” I make that distinction because apparently there is a difference between seeking an extension and the “application” process for a 90-day visa.
I kind of figured something was wrong when he called today to request a meeting. My second clue was when he asked where I wanted to meet instead of suggesting a meeting in his office. Obviously, something was wrong.
I suggested The Baquette about half a mile from me and we met there. He brought my entire file, as well as the money I had already paid him. I had a problem.
Apparently, he had become confused, equating the “extension” of a tourist visa with the “application” for the 90-day extension. For the former, you can wait until the day before your current visa expires; for the latter, you need to apply 2 weeks prior to your visa expiring. I had 13 days left when we met. He had told me we could wait until near the visa expiration.
My option: fly to Laos or Cambodia on a visa run so that I could come back and have the necessary two weeks to apply for the 90-day extension. He returned his 4,000 baht fee and said he would do the job without the fee. He was profusely apologetic.
Unfortunately that 4,000 baht does not come close to paying for the trip to Vientiane, Laos. When I came back from our meeting, I started planning my trip, which includes scheduling bus trips to and from Bangkok, a round-trip flight to Laos, and booking a hotel in Vientiane. It took maybe two hours to navigate the various options and find the best deals, and I still have not settled on the bus trips to and from Bangkok.
Financially, the 4,00 baht fee comes to about US$112. Round-trip airfare will be $300. I get there in the evening for the best rate and ease of scheduling so I decided to stay a day in Laos, which means two nights at a hotel – $60. That could have been twice as much without some research. The bus from Hua Hin to Bangkok is only about $9 each way, so that is not so much of an issue, but I will also incur food and entertainment expenses in Vietiane, so my total out of pocket will reach at least $500. So this trip will cost me about $400.
While I did not envision making any side trips until I at least settled my visa status, I decided to treat this as an opportunity to explore somewhere I’ve never been and where few Americans have ventured. My camera will be busy.
I leave by bus Tuesday afternoon, take a 7 pm flight and arrive in Laos at 8 pm. The next day and night I have to myself, before departing the following day at about 1 pm. Then it’s a 3-hour bus ride back to Hua Hin.
I understand that Vietiance is a small, walkable city, with lots to see and photograph in the city. Should be a good day’s touring by foot, some interesting food and maybe a little nightlife. And it looks like this is a popular time to go there as airfares are high and the hotel I booked, the Laos Haven Hotel, is fully booked.
Booking the hotel was, in itself, a challenge. I used four different travel sites for this trip, including two focused on Asia, plus Cheap-o-Air and TripAdvisor. I tried to book the hotel on one site for what I thought was $49 total for two nights, but that turned out to be per night. So I cancelled and found the same hotel on TripAdvisor for half that amount. At least I hope I cancelled.
I also had to do a lot of research on airline fares before finding the lowest one, although I was led to believe the fares would be far lower. I can actually go much cheaper from Bangkok to Singapore and back, a 3-hour flight, than from Bangkok to Vietiane, a one-hour flight.
This should be interesting.