Jul 24 2012
Set along an expansive and picturesque stretch of the Mekong River in southern Laos, the ultra laidback border town of Savannakhet is a great place to pick up a Thai visa. The Thai consulate here is far quieter and more relaxed than the embassy in Vientiane, and spending a couple of days lounging riverside while awaiting the visa is nothing short of a pleasure.
Although it’s not a full-fledged embassy, the Savannakhet consulate issues all visa types, including double or single entry tourist, education, marriage and business. A single-entry tourist visa is good for 60 days with the option of extending for another 30 days inside Thailand. Single entry visas costs 1,000 baht, or 2,000 for a double. If needing Thai baht, a handful of money exchange spots are scattered around town, including most hotels and guesthouses.
Most Western nationalities need only to bring a passport with at least six months’ validity, two 4×6 centimetre headshot photos, and one signed photocopy of your passport identification page. Further requirements are placed on some nationalities, including many from the Middle East and Africa; check with the Thai embassy nearest you for more information.
If you forget the photocopy, a little shop across the street will do it for a small fee, and visa applications are available in the consulate itself. Applications are only accepted from 09:00 to 11:00 Monday through Friday, with pick-up between 14:00 and 14:30 on the next business day. It’s worth checking to ensure you don’t arrive to find the consulate closed on a Thai or Lao holiday.
Unlike other Thai consulates and embassies in Southeast Asia, such as Bali and Singapore, proof of onward travel from Thailand is generally not required in Savannakhet. If you already have several consecutive Thai tourist visas in your passport, however, providing a one-way air itinerary that shows you plan to leave Thailand within two months will greatly reduce the chances of being denied. The consular official who accepted our application seemed to be on the lenient side — she even smiled and said “thank you” — but applications can be denied for any reason.
With that said, we found the experience to be a breeze, especially when compared to the long waits and notoriously salty staff at the Thai embassy in Vientiane. We showed up just before 10:00 and found only five others applying for visas; after filling out the application we brought it straight up to the window and were on our way within five minutes. On the next day, the consulate’s doors opened promptly at 14:00, and although we were one of the last numbers called, the pick up process took no more than 15 minutes.
While awaiting your visa, Savannakhet is as good a place as any to kick back and enjoy Laos’ slow pace of life. Some interesting eats can be found all over town, but if wanting to really explore the area’s uniquely mixed food scene, make your way to Savannakhet market (aka “talaat super”) on the non-touristy east side of town near the bus station. Here, diners will revel in the cultural crossover that defines southern Laos — expect to see Thai-style sticky rice sweets wrapped in banana leaves (khao niew bing) alongside authentic Vietnamese staples like banh mi and pho.
Just be sure to get back to the river in time for that famous Mekong sunset. In fact, don’t forget to pop a BeerLao (drink it with ice like the locals do) and order up a painfully spicy Lao-style laap while you’re at it.
The Thai consulate is located in an impressive house just a block from the riverside right in Savannakhet town. Any tuk tuk driver will be able to take you there, but if walking or riding a bike, simply head north from the centre of town on the road that runs closest to the river (the roads here are unmarked) until you see the large, lime green, fenced-in consulate on your right if heading north (just after a strip of open-air restaurants hawking grilled chicken and fish). At first glance, the building looks more like a well-to-do house than a consulate. (If in search of great coffee and Western food don’t miss Cafe Chez Boune three blocks to the west.)
If heading straight over to Mukdahan (another relaxed and lovely town that’s worth a couple of days) in Thailand, you can catch a bus from Savannakhet’s main bus terminal; passengers unload to pass Lao immigration, then re-board to cross the Friendship Bridge 2, then unload again to pass Thai immigration, and re-board once more for the ride into Mukdahan. The bus terminal is more than two kilometres away from the consulate in Savannakhet, so many opt to make life easier by taking a tuk tuk direct to the bridge, where you can buy a bus ticket to Mukdahan immediately after passing through Lao immigration.
One more tip: make sure to write the name of your hotel/guesthouse in Savannakhet on the Lao departure card. If leaving it blank, Lao immigration officers seem to use it as an excuse to make you cough up an extra 40 baht.
Chris at MyEggNoodles also has a useful write-up on getting a Thai visa in Savannakhet — seems he enjoyed the food too!
Royal Thai Consulate
P.O. Box 513, Savannakhet
T: (041) 212 370
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