Crossing a border is always a somewhat nerve wracking experience, but you don’t normally do it to turn around and come back in to the country you just left 10 minutes later. That’s what I did today…
In Thailand, if you cross the border into another country, you can come right back in and get 15 days on your passport free of charge. It used to be 30 days until a few years ago.
Today, Oct 1, I got my coffee and left Chiang Rai in the morning for a bus bound to Chiang Khong. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the countryside of Chiang Rai province is. After about 21/2 hours of winding through rice fields, little towns, and mountains n the distance I arrived in Chiang Khong.
Chiang Khong is a border town in Northern Thailand on the Mekong River. Across the river is Laos. I made this border crossing into Laos in April of 2000. So, although things constantly change, I had a little idea of what to expect.
I was picked up on the back of the lovely Maeleewan’s motorbike to go to her guesthouse called Baanrimtaling. It is slightly out of town with a beautiful quiet view of the lazy river. She assured me that the whole crossing experience would just take 1/2 hour and that I had time for lunch first. I ate a delicious vegetarian green curry with Maeleewan, her American boyfriend, and a Peace Corps volunteer friend of theirs. Being stationed in Chiang Khong for the Peace Corps has to be pretty nice we agreed.
Maeleewan let me borrow her one of her bicycles to ride across town to the border crossing. I pedaled through the town as motorbikes and truck whizzed by. I arrived to the border control, got my Thai exit stamp and was off to the muddy riverside where the little boats make the river crossing for 40 baht (about $1.30)
I waited about 5 minutes for some other people to fill up the boats, then we made the 2 minute river crossing and I was in Laos. I have not been to Laos since 2000, and I know that it has gotten money from Japan, Korea, and China for development since then, but I imagine it is still much less developed than Thailand. This is slightly evident at the border.
I was surprised that I needed to pay $36 for the 30 day visa to Laos even though I was only staying for all of 5 minutes. The Lao immigration officer, who was not too pleased with me for only being in his country for a Thai visa, explained that I pay for the visa even if I’m in the country for one minute. Live and learn.
Crossing back into Thailand I wanted to get a 90 day visa, I asked for this in my rudimentary Thai. The immigration official said no and that I got 15 days. I said, 90? and the guard joked with me, “These people get 15 days, but you, maybe 2 days.” I decided to take the 15 days and get out of there. I didn’t know you had to get that processed while out of the country. Another lesson learned. Amount of money it cost to cross back into Thailand with 15 more days on my passport? $0.00.
I was glad to be back in the land of smiles. I think I’ll stay a while…if they let me.