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Visa runs in Southeast Asia

Last edited: December 11, 2014 at 11:47:17

Everybody in Thailand wishing to stay a bit longer faces issues with visa and often has to make a choice where to get a (next) visa. If a quick visa run to the border doesn't get you enough days of extension, if you really need to go to a real embassy / consulate for a proper visa entry, or if you simply want to combine the necessary with the pleasant, you can make a trip to a nearby Thai embassy / consulate.

For most Thai embassies / consulates, you can hand in your passport in the morning and you pick it up 1-2 days later (in the morning or afternoon). So the minimum you need for these trips is about 3-4 days.

Here are some options for trips from Chiang Mai in Southeast Asia:

I. Vientiane, Laos

This is by far the most popular embassy visited by people staying in Chiang Mai, for the simple reasons that it can be cheap to get there and most visa applications here are smooth.

Embassy:  The embassy works efficiently and isn't too strict on all kinds of visa, including the tourist visa and the education visa. Hand in your visa in the morning, get it back the next day.

Getting there:  Geographically, this is one of the nearest embassies from Chiang Mai, however there are not many direct flights (only Lao Airlines). Alternatively, take a plane to Udon Thani (Nokair) and then take a bus from there on. Or, fly over Bangkok and connect through to Vientiane (Thai Airways, Lao Airlines).
If you want to save money, you can take a long public bus to Nongkhai (about 18 hours), then cross the border the next day.

What to do:  Vientiane itself isn't the most interesting place in the world, so most people really come here for the visa and minimize their stay. However, you can enjoy some French food.

Making your trip more memorable:  If you fly there, why not combine it with a trip to Luang Prabang, which is a laid-back little place, located very pittoresque between 2 rivers. Good for a few days of culture sipping and relaxing.
Also, if you enjoy the ride, there are travel agents in town that arrange for an entire trip from Chiang Mai to Vientiane and Luang Prabang including bus and slow boat along the Mekong.

II. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Compared to Chiang Mai, KL is a cosmopolitan city with everything to offer that Chiang Mai doesn't have: world class shopping malls with real brand names and real book stores (for example Kinokuniya), a truly multi-cultural soiciety and cuisine, and a business culture in some districts. Located just one stop away from Chiang Mai and often at bargain prices (AirAsia promotions), flying in and out of KL is in fact as easy as going to Vientiane.

Embassy:  Average practise, not too lenient not too strict.

Getting there:  Direct flights with AirAsia.

What to do:  Enjoy Little India and China Town which you find in nearly all Malaysian cities, eat a lot of different food including Laksha and Nongya food, shop-till-you-drop. Some decent nightlife too.

Making your trip more memorable:  If you have more time, combining KL with a cheap connecting flight to Georgetown in Penang (UNESCO heritage site) is very worthwhile. Malaysia also has some gorgeous beaches and other less-known nature sites.

III. Denpasar, Bali

For a large part of the long-term residents of Chiang Mai, Bali is another favourite spot in Southeast Asia that is worth visiting and staying in for a while. Bali is also very green and laid back, culturally rich and has a health / yoga / spa community. Bali is much more upmarket than Chiang Mai, though.

Consulate:  Average practises

Getting there:  Good and cheaps flights possible with especially AirAsia through either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.

What to do:  Chill out, enjoy nature and beaches, do yoga, enjoy spas and culture.

Making your trip more memorable:  Of course once on Bali, it would be a waste to just visit the consulate in Denpasar. Denpasar is just a dirty busy town, while the rest of the island has so much to offer. Sanur, Ubud and places in the north are very worth visiting.

IV. Singapore

At least as cosmopolitan as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore has lots too offer but it will be more expensive and more efficient. 

Embassy:  A little bit more strict

Getting there:  Direct flight SilkAir, or through Bangkok with many air lines.

What to do:  Enjoy the usual Chinatown and Little India that all of the Malaysian peninsula has to offer. Do business: some people in Chiang Mai choose to set up a business or open a bank account for their (export) business in Thailand (many others, however, choose Hong Kong for that).

V. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Neighbouring Thailand, Cambodia shares some of the same culture, food and history. 

Embassy:  Average practises, though not always polite

Getting there: You can fly from Bangkok (AirAsia, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways). There are also buses from Bangkok if you want to save costs.

What to do:  Phnom Penh is a very interesting place, yet much poorer and much less developed than an average Thai city. The country and the capital are still displaying the scars of war and children are still walking barefoot and naked in the dirt. Right next to the dirt, you can find extremely trendy places and enjoy some pretty good (French-influenced) food, which is way better than most farang food you can get in Chiang Mai. Mixed city with poverty, culture and trends, moving quickly 'from war to wifi'.

Making your trip more memorable:  It's worthwhile to combine your trip with a visit to Siem Rap to see Ankor Wat (UNESCO), the world's largest temple complex.

VI. Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is another great place, in fact geograhically not so far from Chiang Mai be it that you always have to take an indirect flight. Clearly the capital of socialist Vietnam, it features a lot of culture and history. Hanoi is a bustling city with nice little streets and a lot of (noisy) traffic.

Embassy:  Average practises

Getting there:  You have to fly indirectly through Bangkok. You can also in fact drive there with your own car.

What to do:  Enjoy Vietnam's history with lots of monuments and some Vietnamese / French food.

Making your trip more memorable:  If you have the time, there are many other cities in Vietnam worth visiting.

VII. Hong Kong

To some the best place to do business in the world, to others a shopping paradise with a lot of good food, Hong Kong has a great deal to offer.

Consulate:  This embassy is definitely more strict and nasty than average. For example, they may ask for more documentation than is usual, ask nasty questions, or not issue a 1-year non-immigrant visa but instead just a one entry.

Getting there:  Nowadays, there are 3 direct flights from Chiang Mai (Hong Kong Express, AirAsia and Dragon Air) making Hong Kong a very easy destination. Alternatively, you can fly through Macau (AirAsia) and take a fast ferry to Hong Kong. Or fly through Bangkok, of course.

What to do:  Hong Kong is one of the world's most interesting metropoles. You can find authentic Chinese culture mixed with everything from the West. It's an excellent place to set up an overseas company and do international business (often at zero tax). Hotels aren't cheap, though.
Besides admiring the skyline of Hong Kong, you can make outings into the much less-known New Territories.
Hong Kong also features a pretty good nightlife scene (Lam Kwai Fong).

Making your trip more memorable:  Hong Kong in itself is already enough for a trip, but you can also venture out to Macau or Shenzhen, China.

VIII. Rangoon, Myanmar

With Myanmar (Burma) opening up since a few years now, there are probably few places in the world where you can find so many changes and business opportunities. Rangoon, or Yangoon, is bustling with change. Burma is far from being a competitive market economy, so hotels are not cheap for what you can get.

Embassy:  Average practices.

Getting there:  There are direct flights from Chiang Mai (Air Bagan), but make sure you have got your Burmese visa first (in Bangkok or elsewhere).

IX. Kunming, China

Not many people realize, but from Chiang Mai Yunnan province is actually not that far. There are a lot of influences from the nearby areas in China into Chiang Mai.

Embassy:  Average practices

Getting there:  There are no direct flights anymore from Chiang Mai, you've got to fly through Bangkok (Thai Airways). You can also go over land: cross the Mekong in Chiang Khong into Laos and take a bus from there.

What to do:  Enjoy Chinese culture in one of China's cleanest cities

Making your trip more memorable:  From Kunming, you can go to the Stone Forest and Lijiang, an ancient Chinese town.


Tired of queuing up at Immigration? Outsource your visa trouble to us. Want to stay long term in Thailand? Get a 1-year visa with ease.

DISCLAIMER:  This information was compiled from several sources and best-practises. Policies, prices and procedures of the Thai authorities change continuously. CM Locator accepts no liability for incorrectness of information here. Help us keep this information as update and useful for visa applicants as possible and let us know if you find something has changed.


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