Learning the hard way

Patuxai GateMy trip tomorrow to Laos to renew my tourist visa took a bad turn yesterday. The unexpected trip is now required because of a screw-up (not mine) concerning how far in advance I had to apply for the 90-day extension, which precedes my application for a one-year non-immigrant visa. The application should have been made at least two weeks prior to the expiration of my current tourist visa, which itself is a 30-day extension of my original visa granted when I arrived in Thailand in January.

Confused yet?

When I learned of the mistake last week, I immediately arranged for travel to Vientiane, Laos, a process that took a couple of hours just for the flight and hotel, and had me reviewing options on multiple websites. The flight turned out to be relatively expensive ($300), a one-hour flight that is twice the cost of a 2 1/2-hour flight between Bangkok and Singapore.

I could have also booked an immediate return flight but as long as I’m in Laos I thought I might as well see the place. So I’m staying two nights, with one full day in Vientiane. At least the hotel is fairly cheap, although I did book twice and am not sure if the first, more expensive booking was canceled.

But there is a lot more to making this trip than booking a flight and a hotel. There is also the process of getting to Bangkok and back. There are several options, and this is where I made my mistake.

One option is to take the minivan (buying two seats for comfort) at $6 per seat. But that only gets me to the heart of Bangkok, where I then would have to take a taxi for the long drive to the airport.

Option two was to book a personal taxi, as I did when I first arrived in-country with too much baggage to negotiate the minivan choice. However, that trip cost me 3,000 baht ($84) and this trip is already expensive enough.

Option three was the best one – taking the luxury bus straight from Hua Hin to the airport, which only costs 269 baht ($7.50 each way). I even found the website to book online – but I didn’t book right away, thinking there were trips every two hours so there would be ample seating available.

Buddha Park & That Luang StupaSunday, two days before the trip, I thought I had better book a seat online. However, every single bus that day was already fully booked. I found another bus service online that was more expensive but still reasonable; however, their online booking was not working so I trekked to the bus station. I think that service has been discontinued, as the only service being offered at the station was the 269-baht run and the woman behind the counter was adamant that there were no seats available.

So I was back to option #1, the minivan and Bangkok taxi. But given how the buses were already full, I wasn’t sure if the minivans might also be fully booked for the day (they run hourly and carry 14 passengers). I planned to go to the minivan office this morning to advance book for tomorrow.

However, I found a personal taxi service yesterday on a Hua Hin forum that charges only 1,800 baht for the trip ($50), and was able to make contact today and reserve my trip at 1 pm tomorrow. Why go for the more expensive choice? The surety of the service getting me to the airport on time. The added comfort won’t be bad either.

For my return to Hua Hin Thursday, I was able to book the luxury bus from the airport, although I will have a 3-hour wait once I arrive in Bangkok.

I also learned (too late) from my visa consultant that a trip to Cambodia would have been cheaper and would not require me to pay a $50 visa on arrival fee, as I will in Laos. He only mentioned Laos when we discussed the error forcing me to do this visa run.

As I’ve posted already, while this is an unexpected and somewhat expensive (for me) trip, I’m treating it like an adventure. I will have two nights in the city, which sits astride the Mekong River. I will be arriving late Tuesday night so not sure about dinner, but Wednesday night I hope to have a nice dinner on the river and take in a bar or two. I might even be able to find my preferred back pain medicine while I’m there. And I may even pay for a half-day tour on Wednesday.

Tomorrow will be a long day.

About 2bagsandapack

Lifetime journalist, author, magazine editor and publisher, now semi-retired and traveling the world. My plan, after living in Costa Rica for 14 months, was to visit a new country in southern Europe every three months to experience the culture and the challenge of adapting to a new environment, while on a fixed income. That plan was sidetracked when I was offered a job in Indonesia, providing an opportunity to explore Asia. Indonesia lasted for a 4 wonderful years but I have now moved on to Hua Hin, Thailand.
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