By the time you read this, Indonesians might have been able to enter Laos without paying for the visa. But in 2010, even the immigration officers were not sure whether it was free for Indonesians or not. Here’s my story. In April 2010, I met a travelmate in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We agreed to travel to Laos and Cambodia together. Since we were already in the north of Thailand, it would be best to enter Laos through the northern part of it, which is Luang Prabang. So we went to Chiang Khong, the closest city to the border between Laos & Thailand. At first, we planned to stay there for 1 night and enter Laos the next day. But a very nice guesthouse owner in Chiang Khong told us that we should get on the boat from Huay Xai (the border town on Laos side) to Luang Prabang as early as possible because there’s only 1 boat daily. So we crossed the Mekong River (on a 2-minute boat ride) and we arrived at the Laos immigration.
I already prepared 30 USD for the visa on arrival since I read on the guidebook that we need to pay that amount to get the visa on arrival for 15 days. But then, when the officer (well, I think he was the officer, although he didn’t dress formally and he was just sitting outside the counter) asked, “Where are you from?” I said, “Indonesia.”. He said,”Oh, Indonesian doesn’t need to pay for the visa. It’s free.” I was surprised, I didn’t know about that. And of course, my Brazilian travelmate was jealous about it. Hehe…. We passed through the (seemingly) formal procedure at the immigration. We both got stamped on the passport. My friend got a month permit to stay, but I only got 15 days. Of course we didn’t need that long time because we only planned to stay for about a week there. We went on a slow boat – literally slow, it took 2 days from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang, with one night stop at Pak Beng…..but still, it took about 16-18 hours on a long boat. I’ll tell you about the boat ride and the experiences in 3 main cities in Laos later, in a different post.
Back to the visa topic, after a week we were leaving Laos, heading to Cambodia through Thailand. So we were in Vientiane, taking a bus ride passing the immigration to Thailand. We got off the bus and queued to get the stamp out of the country. It was my turn. The officer took my passport, flipped around, looked at me, flipped around again, looked at me, and asked, “Is this your original passport?” (Of course, why would I bring and give her a fake one?) I said, ”Yes.” At that time I got a bad feeling, there must be something wrong with it. But I had no clue. I had never had any problems with my passport. And then, she got out from her counter box, talked to another officer and asked me to follow her. O ow….things were getting serious here. I was taken to their office!
But they were actually polite. They told me to sit down and wait while they were discussing something in Lao, which of course I didn’t understand. I asked them, ‘What’s wrong?” They didn’t answer my question. They just said, “No problem” and continued the discussion. Meanwhile, my friend who was outside was getting panicked because the bus was waiting for us ( I mean, me). The bus that we rode was supposed to take us to Nong Khai bus station, not just until the immigration. But we were the only two passengers who were still not on the bus. Finally I got a hint that the problem was that I was supposed to pay for a visa to enter Laos. That was why they were not sure whether I entered Laos legally or not. They said Indonesia was not on the list of free visa country to Laos. In that case, I was ready to pay for it. But they kept discussing until the bus assistant came and asked them about me. They said something and then he left. I could see my friend outside was more panicked.
The officers finally told me that next time I should talk to the immigration officer when passing the border. I didn’t really understand the point because of course I had done the correct procedural things and I entered Laos legally. They let me go. Just like that. Yes, they let me go. Without many words and any money. I didn’t have to pay for the ‘used’ visa. I felt so relieved. But when I stepped out from the office, my friend was a bit hysterical saying that the bus had left us. The first thing I remembered was our bags. But she said the bus assistant had taken our bags out of the bus and left them with my friend. OK, so we just had to find another bus that could bring us to Thailand border. My friend was not really happy about it since we actually found out that the bus ticket was overpriced. We booked it from the place we stayed, saying that it was a special bus crossing the border and we would be picked up from the guesthouse. The fact was, we were sent to a public bus station by a tuk-tuk. And the driver asked us for money, but of course we didn’t pay him. Once we were there, somebody was waiting for us and gave us the public bus ticket with the price stated was only 25% of the amount we paid. And when the bus arrived, we found out that we had the same seat numbers with the others. This proved that it was a scam. Luckily, the bus was not that full, so that everybody could have their own seat without following the number on the ticket. So when the bus left us, we needed to pay again for half the journey with full price while we had paid an overpriced ticket just for half a journey.
But once again, we were lucky. The next bus came. The driver and the assistant were really friendly. They said we didn’t have to pay. They were so enthusiastic having us (foreigners) on their bus and they tried to communicate as much as they could with the difficulty of our language barrier. It was funny. They were really nice. So they took us to Thailand border. They said that they could only take us that far and we should take another transportation to get to the center of the town. Another problem, we thought. But then, the luck was still with us. The first bus, the one which left us before, was still there. The bus assistant saw us, and this time he gestured to hurry us to get on the bus. So after we passed the customs, we ran to the bus and got on. It felt a bit strange but a bit funny too. Everyone one the bus stared at us and we knew they were wondering what had happened to us. Hahaha… Quite an experience! So…free visa to Laos, anyone? 🙂
Catatan penulis: di tahun 2012 saya masuk ke Laos lagi dengan jalur yang sama. Ternyata saya dapat free visa untuk 30 hari. Cerita selengkapnya bisa baca di sini. Untuk jalur lain masuk lewat Vientiane pun saya dapet free visa 30 hari. Ini keterangan lengkapnya. Eh, sebenernya sih tepatnya 29 hari….mungkin mereka sedang ada program diskon 1 hari 😉