Pack to Backpack

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Trespassing into Thailand

This is a funny story of how I entered Thailand without a visa to get my visa for Thailand to legally enter Thailand. It happened at the border crossing between Laos and Thailand, at a train station, in the middle of nowhere.

Thai visas

When I organised my backpacking trip to SE Asia I checked all the countries I needed a visa and Thailand was one of them. Thailand is also the country where I had to enter at least twice, since my trip was starting and ending in Bangkok. I was supposed to spend some time in north of Thailand then visit Cambodia and at the end go back to Thailand to visit the islands.
As a Romanian, there are two ways to get a Thai visa: on arrival, which is valid for 15 days or from the embassy valid for 30 days. Since this was a backpacking trip, 15 days were not enough for me. I’ve got a single entry visa from the embassy with the plan to get another visa from Kuala Lumpur. Also, I am a very responsible person and I didn’t want to get on the plane without a visa.

Changing my plans

As I said, I started my trip in Bangkok and then headed to Chiang Mai. There I met a lot of cool people and we travelled together further north, to Pai. Here is where the fuck up begins. Because all these new friends I met were heading next to Laos, I decided to abandon my initial plan and follow them. So I flew to Laos and spent some time in Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane. From Vientiane to Cambodia is a long bus journey and I was already quite sick of buses. Another option was to get a night train from Vientiane to Bangkok, spend some days in Koh Chang and then take a bus to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Having already a good experience with the night trains in Thailand, I decide to go for the second option. Since I was just transiting Thailand for a few days, the 15 days visa on arrival was good enough.

Map of locations mentioned in this post

The night train doesn’t actually leave from Vientiane, but from Nongkhai train station in Thailand, on the other side of the Mekong river. To get there, you have to take a train from Thanaleng station in Laos and cross the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge.

The fuck up

So on the departure day I got picked up from the hostel and dropped at Thanaleng station. This is also the point where you get the exist stamp from Laos. If you haven’t been to Laos, you should know that it is a communist country where things are not very well organised. When you arrive in the country you have to provide one passport photo or pay 1$ fee and when you leave the country you have to pay 2$ fee. So I hand in my passport to the customs and they ask me for the 2$. I kindly refuse to pay since it is not listed anywhere and it feels absurd to pay an exit fee, when you already paid 40$ for a visa to enter the country. They also refuse to give me my passport back. I offer them 1$ instead, they reject my offer and I am forced to pay the 2$ fee. At this point I was not in the best mood. I was angry for losing the 2$, it was very very hot and my stomach was not very happy about the lunch I had earlier.


Train station in Laos

At the train station, this couple from New Zealand that I previously met in Vang Vieng shows up and we waited together for the train. In total we were like 30 people going to Bangkok. After a short 10-15 minutes train journey we cross the friendship bridge and we arrive in Thailand. We get down the train and all passengers go one by one for the Thai immigration control. I was one of the last passengers and I could see everyone passing the visa checks without any problems. Then it is my turn.

I give my passport to the immigration officer and he asks me if I have a visa. A bit confused, I tell him that I want the visa on arrival, like everyone else. He tells me that I can not get a visa on arrival from there and to step back because I can not enter Thailand. The kiwi couple that were behind me pass without problems as well because most of the countries don’t actually need a visa. This is when I realised that I was stuck in between countries, in the middle of nowhere. You know, like in “The terminal” movie. I was officially out of Laos and I could not enter Thailand because that border post doesn’t give visas on arrival. All this was so unexpected that I didn’t even had time to realise how bad the situation was.

Nongkhai immigration at the train station

The border officer now tries to help me and tells me that I should get a taxi to I don’t know where to get the visa. How can I get a taxi if I can not even get into the country? He tells me to follow him and after I jump over the small handrail that was preventing me from entering Thailand, we go in front of the train station. There were no taxis and after waiting a couple of minutes still no taxis show up. Knowing the train leaves in about one hour, I now lose all my hopes of getting to Bangkok next day. Realising that, the officer goes back to his office, picks up his scooter keys and tells me to jump on his scooter. You now have to imagine the two of us on this scooter, with one daypack in front of me and the big backpack at the back. We were rushing through the streets and crossing on red lights to get on time to the border control where the cars pass. We arrived there in like 10 minutes and he puts me in front of the line. To get the visa he tells me that I need 1000 baht and a copy of my passport. The passport copy that I had in my wallet for quite some time didn’t seem good enough and they also didn’t accept dollars. Great! They told me that there is an old woman outside that makes photocopies and she can also exchange foreign currency. I am now forced to exchange my emergency 50$ for 1300 baht (not the best exchange rate) and to pay for the photocopy. I go back inside and finally get my 15 days visa on arrival. I jump at the back of the scooter again and we head back to the train station. As we arrive, the officer asks me to pay for the “taxi” and I happily give him my last 300 baht. I jump again the handrails to get out of Thailand, go to the passport check and legally enter the country 10 minutes before my train leaves.
This is how a journey that was supposed to be more comfortable and cheaper became an expensive adventure out of the legal limit. Nevertheless, this was an unforgettable experience.

* The photos are from google maps and they belong to their owners, except for the first image


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