Visa Run (Or Not) To Vientiane

Any 'farang' who stays in Thailand for more than a month will be familiar with a particular experience known as the ‘visa run’.

This is the process of physically leaving the country and re-entering solely for the purpose of extending a visa.

IMG_7537Any border town will do the job.  But if you want to stay in Thailand for more than another two weeks, you will need to visit a Thai Consulate and submit a new application. This means an overnight stay. If you’ve already been to Luang Prabang, consider Vientiane as an alternative.

This little capital city of neighbouring Laos is located on the bank of the Mekong River. The river marks border with Thailand.

A flight from Bangkok to Vientiane is just one hour.  But if you are time-rich and cash-poor and want a travelling experience to remember, then take the train.

Let the Train Take the Strain

All train journeys in Thailand are a bit of an endurance test. The rail system is old and  slow.  The journey to the border town of Nong Khai is no exception, taking a full twelve hours. But with a fare of 700 THB (around 20 USD) for a sleeping berth, a very attentive carriage attendant, and freshly made Thai food served on board, there are many worse ways to travel.

Be prepared for a great deal of queuing on both sides of the Thai-Laos Friendship bridge. The train arrives at 8am, but it can take two to three hours to clear the border then catch a taxi to the centre of town. This serves as a fitting introduction to the slower, more rewarding pace of life in Laos.

Vientiane 2A Change of Pace

The change of pace is matched by the size and scale of this smallest of all Southeast Asian capital cities. It is akin to stepping back in time (probably two generations) in almost every sense. Expressways, LED hoardings and a skyline of high-rise condos, all familiar features of Bangkok, are nowhere to be seen here. Vientiane’s tallest new buildings cannot be higher than the temple roofs. What traffic there is seems to flow contentedly along two lanes.

Vientiane’s historical and tourist focused central district is home to Buddhist temples and is brimming with guesthouses, cafés, restaurants and a fair few patisseries, reflecting the French colonial history of Laos.  There are enough gift and curio shops to provide plenty of distractions to easily wile away a couple of days.

Vientiane 3Don’t expect to find anything resembling a gay scene here.  The town is simply not large enough to sustain one.

There are plenty of gay visitors here if Grindr and SCRUFF are anything to go by. Friendly, if a little shy, local massage guys are easy to make contact with if you spend time in the tourist cafés and bars.

Lani’s House, a large old Laotian guesthouse, is surrounded by a leafy garden and tucked away down a narrow cobbled lane behind a temple. It’s a great hotel to stay in Vientiane to appreciate just how tranquil this city can be. Located within a two-minute walk of the central street, staying here feels like being in a country retreat.

Presidential Palace VientianeTwo days in Vientiane is plenty to take in the main temples, gardens and river walks and to get a taste of the relaxed pace of life. Hiring a bicycle is a great way to explore the other city districts and to view the grand, French colonial public buildings. None is more opulent than the Presidential Palace.

It is possible to do the Vientiane visa run by minivan from Bangkok. But taking a bit more time, spending two nights in Vientiane is richly rewarded.

One final tip is to take the train one way and fly back. The most cost-effective option is to cross the Mekong River back into Thailand and take a taxi down to Udon Thani – the main town of Isaan region. The airport is served by AirAsia. Fares to Bangkok are considerably cheaper than the international options from just across the river in Vientiane.

17-02-2014 by Tod TGA   |   More: Gay Vientiane

Write a review about Visa Run (Or Not) To Vientiane

Your experience can really help other gay travellers.

Your surname & email address will NOT be published.
You will NOT be added to our mailing list.
Please enter your email address carefully - we may send a verification request.
We will NOT share your personal information with anyone.
We check every review before publication.
You can read our moderation and picture policy here.