Mae Sai Visa run and then back to Bangkok

26 03 2010

Before entering Thailand from Laos we had heard that we might only get a fifteen day visa exception into Thailand, which would be too short for us, but the Lonely Planet book told us thirty days so we didn’t worry.  When we were at the border we discovered that the 30 day visa is only granted when you fly into Thailand so we only got fifteen days.

That meant that our visa would expire before we fly to Hong Kong and the fine for overstaying your visa is 500 baht per day ($16).  To escape the fine we needed to make a visa run.  A visa run is to go to a neighboring country, only for a few minutes, and then back to Thailand to get extra fifteen days.  The cheapest option is to go to Burma (Myanmar) (Laos $30 and Cambodia $20) where you can get a day permit for $10 or 500 baht, which is very strange since $10 is actually 330 baht ?!?!

For our visa run we drove up to Mae Sai, a small border town by the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet.  The Golden Triangle used to be the world’s biggest opium producer but that has all been cleaned up – at least on the Thai side.  The four hour drive up to Mae Sai was painless and once in Mae Sai we just walked through the Thai immigration office to get stamped out and into the Burma immigration office where we paid the fee got our Burma passport stamp and walked back into Thailand with a new fifteen day visa.  The whole process took about ten minutes and was as simple as could be.

After getting our stamp we drove back to Chang Mai to take the ten hour sleeper bus to Bangkok.  We are only staying the day in Bangkok before talking another sleeper bus down to Chumpon and from Chumpon we take the boat back to Ko Phangan where we intend to load the batteries before taking on China – The Middle Kingdom.  I have a few topics I want to address while on the beach so stay tuned :)

All the way from Vientiane to Chang Mai in Thailand

18 03 2010

After the fun in Vang Vieng we took the bus down to Vientiane, the Laos’ capital.  Vientiane is a nice and cozy city but we had heard that there are not that many things to do and see there.  We therefore decided to get a room for the night and head for Thailand in the morning.

At the guesthouse we met new friends when we were going to sleep – there were bedbugs in the bed!!!  At first we saw one and thought that it was just some harmless bug but soon there were others that followed.  Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep that night and hurried away from the guesthouse as soon as possible – after refusing to pay the agreed rate.  What got us even more angry was that they seemed to know there were bedbugs in the room and rented it to us anyway …bastards!

We had seen tickets from Vientiane to Chang Mai in Thailand for 1,100-1,500 baht ($33-$45), which felt way too much for us – the savvy travelers :) so we decided to go on our own.  We had seen that everything seemed to be overpriced in Vientiane and felt sure we could do better when in Thailand.  We went to the local bus station and got a ticket to the nearest big Thai town (Udon Thani) for 80 baht – a good start.  Going through the border was extremely easy and straight forward …and no payment to get the Thai visa, which is nice :)

For some reason most towns around here have at least two, if not more, bus stations and it is not uncommon that you have to get your self from one station to the next if you have to change busses.  On top of that the bus stations are often outside the towns and that doesn’t make things easier.  Anyway we had to take a tuktuk between bus stations and got a ticket to Chang Mai three hours later for 525 baht.  By showing a little initiative we saved about 50% or 600 baht on the fare, which is huge in backpacker terms, and arrived in Chang Mai 3 hours sooner than if we would have taken the Vientiane-Chang Mai bus so we saved both time and money :)

I have to admit that the 14 hour bus ride was no luxury ride, we had one stop after seven hours and that was it.  Twenty minutes to pee and eat.  Apparently we had a toilet on board but that wasn’t really accessible because the bus was completely full with about fifteen people standing in the middle without any seats – some of them were standing for hours.

We were very happy to reach Chang Mai where we knew of a great guesthouse in the middle of town waiting for us.  Chang Mai is the main city in Northern Thailand and offers a lot of tours and activities that we are now trying to decide between so stay tuned!

ps. we have not been taking enough photos recently as you can see by the crappy photos in the last few posts but I promise that we’ll shape up here in Chang Mai ;)


19 02 2010

Since we left Phu Quoc Island on Monday we have kind of just been moving from one vehicle to the next.  To make a long story short we just – took a taxi to the pier, fast boat to the mainland, bus to Can Tho, walked to a hotel where we slept, took a taxi to the wrong bus station, another taxi to the correct one, bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), bus to another bus station, bus to Dalat and finally a taxi to the hotel.  The route map on the right side of the blog has been updated accordingly.  This basically took us 35 hours and consumed all of my birthday.,  How appropriate to travel for 35 hours on my 35th birthday – but we’ll make up for that for sure :)

First a few words on Phu Quoc.  Phu Quoc is a beautiful tropical island that the French handed to Vietnam when they were splitting their colony, French Indo-China and specifically the Mekong Delta between Vietnam and Cambodia.  Phu Quoc is in the Gulf of Thailand and has been predicted to become Vietnam’s answer to Phuket in Thailand.  Fortunately it hasn’t come to that yet and Phu Quoc is still mostly undeveloped even though it has a population of 85 thousand.  Unfortunately we didn’t explore enough of the island but what we saw is very nice and we would recommend it to anyone interested in the 2beach life – just get there before all the big resorts and the pushy street vendors!

As for the other places, we didn’t stay long enough to pass any judgment on them.  The decided to skip Saigon as we had heard that it would be big, very crowded and extremely chaotic.  We only drove this one bus route through the city and it looked very nice and not more chaotic or crowded than the smaller cities we have been to so maybe we did a mistake by not stopping there but then again we have something to look forward to next time ;)

It is obvious that transportation vehicles come in all classes here in Vietnam.  The boat we went to the island with was a very old wooden boat that at least would not pass as a passenger boat back home.  The boat that took us back to the mainland was a fancy vessel that just shot through the waves with all  200 passengers without any of them getting sick or anything.  The busses have also been of various kinds, everything from a minibus with no legroom what so ever to a big, brand-new and comfortable express bus.  Most of the time we have been the only westerners on board, which is great.  The Vietnamese are very curious and don’t hesitate a minute to stare at us any chance they get. They are also extremely helpful, often too helpful, at least you are never left alone looking into the Lonely Planet for more than a few seconds, someone always comes and offers their help.  The biggest problem is that we haven’t meet anyone that can read a map and most of the time their English is very limited so even though they want to help they can’t.  We are also maybe a bit too defensive when people are trying to help us, we often assume that someone is trying to trick us when they are being nice.  A few times the locals have tried to take advantage of us and those black sheep spoil it for the ones that are just kind hearted, which is a big shame.

At least we made it to Dalat and we are very exited about Dalat.  The town lies in the highlands, about 300 km. north of Saigon, in an elevation of 1,475 meters.  Therefore the temperature is supposed to be between 15° and 25° degrees Celsius – a nice rest from the rising heat by the coastline.  More on Dalat later…