Recently Dave and I took a short two-day trip up to Vientiane, Laos. The main purpose of the trip was to renew our visas for Thailand, but we also got to check out a different city and get a new country stamp in our passports!
We decided to take a bus service to avoid multiple forms of transportation and after a recommendation from a friend we ended up booking our trip with Aya Service. The fee was 1,500 baht per person and included pickup and drop off service around the city, breakfast in Nong Khai, guided service at the border, and a ride to the embassy. To start, the service picked us up in a songtow close to our apartments and brought us back to the Aya office where we got on a larger van to start the 11 hour drive from Chiang Mai to Nong Khai, a city on the Thai border just south of Vientiane. We booked a night bus to get there early and have the full two days to get to the embassy and explore the city a bit.
After a hot breakfast sandwich and coffee at the Aya office, we arrived on the border early, around 6 am, and made our way through the Laos border control – be prepared for the 2,000 baht (about $65 USD) visa fee when entering Laos, even if it is only for 2 days in the country! Bringing extra Thai baht is helpful as the border and embassy fees are all paid in cash, and many guesthouses and restaurants accept Thai baht, as well as Kip, the national currency in Laos. Also remember to check the expiration date on your passport; unfortunately, one of our fellow travelers was turned away at the border because he only had four months left on his passport (instead of the required six months) and had to head all the way back to Chiang Mai!
Once through the border, the Aya guides ushered us to a group songtow that drove us about 45 minutes into the city of Vientiane and dropped us off at different locations around the city. Most of us just headed straight to the Thai Embassy. Remember to bring lots of copies of your passport, and extra passport photos. We needed to show pictures for the Aya office and attach two photos at embassy; plus it is nice to have passport copies while your real passport is held overnight at the embassy, just in case! Be aware of people outside of the embassy offering to help you out “for a small fee”. Some of them could be legit but be weary of people asking for your passport who will go in the embassy for you. I would be cautious and make sure all your paperwork and fees are given directly to the officers at the embassy itself. Once inside, the visa process was well organized, the staff was friendly and besides waiting an hour or so for our numbers to be called, the process was straightforward and we got our tickets to return the next afternoon to pick up passports and new visas.
Fortunately, we made friends quickly with the other travelers on our bus and followed recommendations to stay at a cool guesthouse a few blocks from the Mekong River. Our guesthouse, the Mixay Paradise, was only 400 baht (about $14) a night for a double room with air conditioning and a private bathroom and located right in the hub of the backpack section, a short walk to the river, restaurants, bars and food stalls. The Mixay Paradise was a great find and I would recommend checking them out if you are heading to Vientiane!
The next day we walked around the riverfront in the morning and went in search of French baguette sandwiches! Coming from Thailand, we were craving good bread and cheese and luckily we were able to satisfy the craving pretty fast, and even stock up to take some back for the ride : )
We had to get our own rides from Vientiane to the border, one of the downsides of the service since that is what we were hoping to avoid, but for 50 baht each we squeezed eight of us into a songtow and rode back to the border. Once across the border, the service picked us back up and took us to their office to wait until the van was full to head back to Chiang Mai. Unlike Vientiane, Nong Khai is not the most exciting stopover but with good food and new friends we were able to have some fun while passing the time before heading back home.
Overall, we were happy with the Aya service and even though we were only able to see a small part of the city it was a fun trip in a cool new city! If anyone has any questions about the Aya service or visa information feel free to leave a comment below!