Immigration Scare: Crossing Borders from Vientiane (Laos) to Udon Thani (Thailand)

by - 3:00 PM

international bus, laos, thailand, crossing borders
The Lao-Thai International Bus at the Morning Market.
"It was like a scene in the movies. Will we be detained? Will we get out of this alive?"

It was two in the afternoon on the 27th of February. Though the sun was shining bright that day, the cold wind still left us shivering as we waited for our turn to board the international bus to Thailand.

pho, crossing borders, laos, thailandThe delicious and steaming hot Beef Noodle Soup (pho) I had for lunch at the Morning Market (Talat Sao Mall) still lingered in my head. I just couldn't resist the urge to order one more and yet I was secretly hoping my tummy won't breakdown for the next three hours lest I'd be deemed as persona non grata of the two ASEAN countries. 

It was our first time to cross borders by land and by no means we were experts. We were thankful that the tuktuk driver dropped us off at the Morning Market in front of the bus terminal for the international bus. But I was all the more thankful for the toilet at the terminal (though using it meant 2,000 Laos kip).

It could have been cheaper if we took the DIY route but given the circumstance, we chose the convenient, fastest, and hassle-free route of just taking one bus from Point A to Point B, though at a higher price. The process was relatively simple and I had this on a loop inside my head:

Vientinae (Laos) to Udon Thani (Thailand) via the International Bus
1.  International Bus at the bus terminal near Morning Market (22,000 Laos Kip)
2.  Laos Immigration (exit)
  -  Leave bags in the bus
  -  Fill out the Laos Immigration exit form
  -  Line up for the exit stamp
  -  Pay 50 Baht or its US dollar equivalent 
     (this applies to both entry and exit on the Laos border)
  -  Get back on the bus   
3.  Cross the Laos-Thailand Friendship Bridge
4.  Thailand Immigration (entry)
  -  Bring bags 
  -  Fill out the Thai Immigration (entry) form 
  -  Line up for the entry stamp
  -  Customs check 
  -  Get back on the bus
5.  En route to Udon Thani, Thailand

Compared to the DIY way:
1. Tuktuk to Central Bus Station
2. Bus/shuttle to Laos border 
3. Laos immigration (exit) process
4. Bus across the Laos-Thailand Friendship Bridge
5. Thailand immigration (entry) process
6. Bus/shuttle to Nong Khai, Thailand

**Aside from the DIY way taking a bit longer, there's also a higher chance you get ripped off especially when you are travelling alone because you'd have to negotiate for the shuttle/tuktuk fare at various points. Check this out for a more detailed process.

friendship bridge, laos, thailand, crossing borders
Crossing the Laos-Thai Friendship Bridge.
Laos on the left side, Thailand on the right.
But hey, you know what they say about nothing in life comes easy? Well.. I haven't really given much thought about it until this moment. I already had an entry stamp on my passport and was going through customs check (easy peasy, I thought) when I saw two of my friends (we were a group of four) leaving the Thai entry stamp line. 

"Maybe they forgot something," I calmly told myself as I was leaving the immigration building to wait for them outside. I searched through the throng people lining up and saw my boyfriend with the immigration officer. I heaved a sigh of relief. 

But there was something odd with the way he glanced at me. His time for entry stamp was taking longer than usual too. Something seemed to be going on. And where were the other two?  

Pep talks of self assurance quickly turned to anxiety when the bus driver came pacing hard and fast towards me while pointing several times at his old tarnished watch, anger written all over his face.

Without saying any English words, I knew he was mad because we were already running really late. "Wait, sir. My friends are still inside" was all I could muster. He stormed out and went back to the bus while the touts took notice and kept pestering me to take their transportation deals. 

The driver came back to me still pointing furiously at his watch. He must have noticed the fear I had on my face that he went marching in to look for my friends. He came back seconds after and told me my friends were inside and then left the building once again. 

"He won't leave us here, would he?" Then all of a sudden, the immigration officer who stamped my passport called me back in, asking for my passport. Now this was becoming unusual. It felt like a scene out of the movies. Will we be detained? Will we get out of this alive?

As the immigration officer was about to return my passport, out came my two other friends from an inner office looking a bit shaken but relieved. There we discovered that they were subjected to secondary screening by Thai immigration and that the officer had to change the exit date they had initially given me.

With no time to lose, we all raced towards the bus just as the driver was starting the engine.

Tips When Crossing Borders
Aside from the usual tips of staying calm, looking cool, being polite and honest when going through the immigration process; here are the tips I find useful given our experience while crossing borders from Laos to Thailand.

  • Always have your passport ready. It helps that you have a small sling bag or anything which you can easily get and monitor your important documents (compared to rummaging your backpack).
  • Ready all other supporting travel documents (itinerary, booking receipts, plane tickets, etc) and as much as possible have them printed out. My friends had the unfortunate experience of getting subjected to secondary screening by Thailand Immigration officers where an official questioned them and asked for their other travel documents. Good thing we had them printed before leaving the country so after the officer read through the papers, they just scanned them in together with their passports. Imagine the horror of not having anything to show because it's in your email and you don't have internet access that  time!  
  • Always have a pen with you. This helps hasten the process of filling out immigration forms by not having to borrow and waiting for others to finish theirs.
  • Have extra money with you in Thai Baht or US Dollars. As a Philippine passport holder (ASEAN member country), I was expecting not to pay for anything during the whole immigration process. However, Laos immigration (enter/exit) would ask visitors to pay 50 Thai Baht or its equivalent in US Dollars for the card fee of some sort.
passport, laos, thailand, crossing borders
The immigration officer changed my 30-day visa to 15-day visa.
New Thailand Immigration Policy:

15-day visa given for border arrival
30-day visa for airport arrival

  • Keep abreast of any immigration news and updates of the country you are visiting. As an ASEAN member country, I know that we are given a 30-day visa on arrival in Thailand. But this may not be entirely true today. Just recently, they made a few changes with their immigration policies to crackdown "visa runs" and illegal workers. If you are entering Thailand by land border (via Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia), you will be given a 15-day visa on arrival but if you are arriving by air, 30-day visa on arrival still applies. I didn't know about this until after I got home and read the news. I learned about this here and here.

Except for the little immigration scare of seeing my friends being whisked away for secondary screening while the whole bus waits, the entire border crossing process was fairly easy and fast. I hope this post will help those people planning to cross borders from Vientiane (Laos) to Thailand. 

How about you? Do you have any scary immigration experience?

They say: "Travel and let the world change you." For 17 days, four international flights, two overnight trains, and countless hours of bus rides, I let the universe do just that. And it changed me in more ways than one.

This post is part of my Malaysia-Laos-Thailand travel series. 
Now up on the blog: 
 Thailand stories are still in the works so stay tuned!

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