The Chronicles of Laos – Episode I – Getting Ready

The Chronicles of Laos – Episode I – Getting Ready

In August 2022, I landed in Laos with no prior experience of this side of the world and no suggestions regarding this country from any other traveller or explorer; I neither bought a travel guidebook to learn more about Laos. I just wanted to travel to Southeast Asian countries or the other side of the world. I checked cheap flight tickets to travel to Southeast Asian countries, allowing VISA on arrival or e-visa to Indian Passport holders. Lastly, the nations that lifted COVID-19-related travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers.

I found the cheapest flight ticket from Kolkata to Bangkok. Thailand also allowed VISA on arrival and lifted COVID-related travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers. So, travelling to Thailand was confirmed, but I did not want to return home only after visiting Thailand. It was the time to take full advantage of excellent cheap flight deals from Air Asia. I wanted to see more countries as visiting multiple countries in one attempt is much more economical than going back and forth only after one country. I extended my search and found it would be easy for me to visit Laos from Thailand rather than going to any other country. Laos had also lifted travel restrictions and allowed e-visa or VISA on-arrival for Indian Passport holders.

I decided to go on Southeast Asia Backpacking Trip. It was Laos & Thailand!

I planned to enter Laos through the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge. So, applied for my e-visa, and within five days, I received my approved VISA. I applied for my Thailand VISA from the Kolkata branch of the VFS Global Office. Royal Thai Consulate-General, Kolkata, India, had granted permission for my multiple-entry Thailand VISA.

I was ready to start another epic solo backpacking trip in Southeast Asia.

Crossing The Land Border through Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge I 

On the scheduled day of departure, I flew to Bangkok from Kolkata, and after an overnight stay at the Don Mueang International Airport, I took the train from Don Muang to Nong Khai.

Don Muang Train station is just adjacent to Don Mueang International Airport, and one can walk across the airport and follow the Amari Don Muang Airport hotel sign. Then follow the walkway towards the railway station. Don Muang Train Station, a small, clean, and tidy railway station, is a crucial transit point for backpackers and travellers arriving in Thailand through Don Mueang International Airport. It offers long-distance trains to reach the farthest northern side of Thailand. My train was at 09:05 AM from Don Muang to Nong Khai, a border city between Thailand and Laos. Nong Khai is just 22 kilometres away from the Laotian Capital City, Vientiane.

In Thailand, for train travel, one can buy a ticket from the train station or book tickets online. I booked my tickets online before starting my journey, anticipating that I might not get them, but there was plenty of availability, so I could have bought them at the station ticket counter. At the beginning of my Southeast Asia Backpacking Trip, I made another epic train journey across Thailand from Bangkok to its northernmost city, Nong Khai. An overwhelming scenic train journey, beautiful local Thai passengers, and train hawkers selling delicious foods are some of the perks that one should enjoy while travelling on Thailand Trains. So did I!

My train arrived at Nong Khai one and a half hours later than its scheduled time at 5:35 PM. It was almost late evening, so I quickly came outside the train station and took a tuk-tuk after understanding that tuk-tuk is the cheapest and most convenient option to travel across Nong Khai. It takes around 80 to 100 Thai Baht from the train station to reach the central part of Nong Khai City.

I planned to stay overnight at Nong Khai before I entered Laos the following day. At Nong Khai Hostel, I gathered all the information about how to cross land-border, the process, and where the immigration checking office was. I checked on Google Maps that I had to walk straight on the main road of Nong Khai, which is also parallel to the Mekong River, to reach the border and the immigration checking office.

18th August 2022, morning, around 6.30 AM, I started walking from my hostel, knowing it would take 45 minutes to reach the border. I was walking by and wanted to catch the 10 AM bus to cross the border. A tuk-tuk was passing by and stopped a little ahead of me. A head popped out of it. The tuk-tuk man, a middle-aged man, asked me something. I did not know the language, but I knew what he was asking. I just told him – ‘border,’ and he nodded affirmatively and signalled me to hop onto his tuk-tuk.

Before this, I had never crossed any land border check-post before to enter one country from another. It was something new, and I was nervous. With the unquestionably glamorous tuk-tuk lift that I got, fortunately, it took me straight to the border.

Then there, I had to explain to the tuk-tuk man to take me to the immigration office as I needed to cross the border legitimately. Here started the language problem. Whatever I was trying to tell him, he was unable to understand, and I was unable to understand whatever he was telling me.

From Google Maps, I realised I was in the opposite direction of the Immigration Office. Then I uttered the terms VISA and PASSPORT. He understood something and took a sharp U-turn to reach in front of a big building. The top floor of the building’s outside had a flex banner with ‘VISA Done Here’ written on it, and the ground floor had a local restaurant. The contradictory appearance of the whole building made me further confused. In his Thai Language, he said something to a local guy, and I kept on shouting – “I have VISA permission; I just need to get it stamped to cross the border and enter Laos.”

After a minute of incomprehensible conversation between us, somehow, he realised that he needed to take me to the immigration office, and he gave me a bright smile and took me to the office. He also mentioned something in which I could understand the words Laos, Bridge, and Tuk-tuk, and I assumed that he would cross the border too. He will take me to the other side as he also agreed to wait outside the immigration office until I finish my work.

I went inside the Immigration Office, entered the respective room, and found 2 Thai families with kids; one couple and two other ladies. They were already with four immigration officers and were just working on their process. I sat down and waited for my turn. However, I was confused about where I would get my passport stamped to depart Thailand. It should be ideally at the point of departure, but this office seemed to be working on providing a VISA.

I waited silently; during that time, another young Western couple reached and sat beside me. The clock was ticking, and it was almost 20 minutes since I had come. I was sitting there thinking about my cute tuk-tuk man. I wish I had taken a photo of him to remember. If he was waiting outside or if he left without taking his 50 Thai Baht, which I agreed to pay him for dropping me at the border. I realised I would not get my 10 AM Bus to cross the border if the tuk-tuk driver had left, sacrificing his fees.

After 45 minutes of waiting, a young guy came and asked us why we stayed there. I showed him my e-visa and passport and asked him for official permission to depart Thailand and enter Laos. He looked at all the details and was extremely apologetic for me waiting there in the immigration office. As no one had checked and guided a tourist where to go for immigration checking and cross the land border.

He told me that I needed to go to the edge directly. At the check-post, border police would do all the routine checking, and they are responsible for doing the needful. On my request, he also came outside and explained to my tuk-tuk man where precisely I needed to drop. I was thankful for his gesture, and as a traveller, you always remember such good people and their good behaviour. These are the experiences that create good travel memories.

My tuk-tuk man then drove me to the border check-post at Nong Khai. And to my utter surprise, he asked for 300 Thai Baht as his fee. From 50 to 300 Baht was too much to accept. With all his waiting time, I thought of paying him 100 Baht. But I never expected that he would ask for 300. After a time-consuming negotiation, I settled down the same at 175 Thai Baht. So, next time, I will sharpen my negotiation skills to handle such situations more skillfully.

At the Nong Khai check-post, one needs to approach the immigration counters straight away. And the border police will check your passport and the respective VISA details and stamp your departure from Thailand. It took less than 5 minutes for me to pass the check-post gate. If I had known this, I would have saved one hour at the immigration office. Also, an additional 75 Baht for the tuk-tuk. Once you cross the check-post, you need to buy a bus ticket for 30 Baht. The designated buses are only allowed to cross the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge I. I smoothly passed through the check post. I bought my bus ticket and boarded the bus to cross the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge to enter Laos. Laos was my first Southeast Asian country to start my backpacking trip. Laos is a landlocked country. It is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia bordered by Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. Finally, I was in Laos.


Read The Chronicles of Laos – Episode II to know what happened after I crossed the Thailand-Laos Border.

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