Before getting into exciting Thai VISA run alternatives I will start with the basics of the Thai VISA run and what VISA options are available. The most common Thai VISA for short-term stays in Thailand is actually the VISA exemption given on arrival and allows a 30 day stay when entering at any airport in Thailand. This is available to most Western folk. Unfortunately the same Thai VISA is not issued at land borders where only a 14 day tourist VISA is on offer for most nationalities (this has now been scrapped for back-to-back land border crossings). If planning longer stays the best option is the 60 day tourist VISA (which allows a further 30 day extension within Thailand). To get this VISA you must apply at a Thai Embassy outside of Thailand. Any country really. All you need is a passport, passport photos and a Thai Embassy nearby. Call in, fill out the forms, pay the fee and your Thai VISA will be issued. VISA fee should be roughly 1,100 Baht and 1,900 Baht for the extension in Bangkok. Including the added 30 day extension this will give you 90 days in Thailand. If planning to do this back-to-back at land borders there may also be complications so air travel is the better option here. With ‘non-immigrant O VISA there may also be a 90 day VISA run, like myself on a marriage (spouse) VISA I have to cross the border every 90 days. Fortunately a border crossing is only necessary here; stamp out, stamp back in. No visits to outside Embassies. A similar situation may also apply to the education VISA (worth considering for long-term stays). Note do not overstay your Thai VISA and if you do overstay expect a 500 Baht fine per Day over (or worse). Also be aware that Embassies do not open weekends or public holidays so check before travel.
Making the Most of the Thai VISA Runs
Many see the Thai VISA run as a pain but for me they are opportunities. Thai VISA runs force me out of complacency and get me excited to explore new areas. Next stop skiing in China (Xian and Beijing). While they do put a dent in the budget; if planned well you can find bargains. These days flying from Bangkok is not much more than train or bus travel to nearby borders and paying the extra thousand Baht or two flying is often worthwhile. Just keep an eye out for promotions and book in advance. Last month I flew to Kolkata (India) for around 3,000 Baht which is similar to return train fares to any of the land borders. Below is a quick list of favourite routes taken so far; starting with the cheaper, more convenient and in my opinion best value. Below are quick summaries so follow links to detailed guides for each destination. For train travel within Thailand book direct online.
1. Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
I cannot speak more highly of Georgetown. An unexpected gem from my travels in Southeast Asia and easily my preferred spot for a quick Thai VISA run. It is also the cheapest Thai VISA run from Bangkok with free VISA on arrival to Malaysia. For travel it costs roughly 2,400 Baht by overnight sleeper train (1,200 each way) leaving Bangkok (Hua Lamphong station). Here for our guide on travel from Bangkok to Penang). It is best to stay in the Unesco area of Georgetown on or around Chulia Street. From here you can use nearby travel agents to do the legwork with their Thai VISA services and you pay an added fee of around 200 Baht. Meanwhile enjoy the charm, art and ridiculously good food in this gem of a city. The best area to stay would be around Chulia and Muntri Street if using agents or maybe the Gurney Drive area if applying for the VISA in person. (Here for our full Guide to Penang Thai VISA run).
2. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Free VISA on Arrival makes Malaysia the smart option for the Thai VISA run; even when flying. To show this I did a quick flight search – travelling 3 months from now Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur. Here we go, BOOKING SUMMARY, Total THB, 2,670.00. Cheaper than any Laos VISA run option. Catch a promotional rate and again you can find cheaper. As expected Kuala Lumpur is one of the busier cities for a Thai VISA run and is therefore best to taxi to the Embassy (206 Jalan Ampang). The closest tourist area would be KLCC area (Petronas Towers) which is relatively expensive so my preferred stay is on or around Bukit Bintang area. Here for our full Kuala Lumpur city guide.
3. Yangon, Myanmar
With no convenient overland routes to Thai embassies in Myanmar the best / only option is to fly to Yangon which is the only city with a Thai Embassy. While I have found the occasional flight to Yangon for 2,000 Baht (return) the overall journey comes in at quite a bit more when adding in the Myanmar VISA application at 810 Baht (Myanmar Visa guide here). So the cheapest would be around 2,810 Baht but when in Yangon the accommodation is pricey (hotel list here) and to keep it cheap I generally opt for the Chinatown area in Downtown Yangon. There are cheap and comfortable single rooms available at Daw Htay Hotel. A quick and cheap taxi (a couple of dollars) will bring you to the Royal Thai Embassy on Pyay Road for the VISA application.
4. Vientiane, Laos
Laos is the country of choice for most Thai VISA runs from Bangkok and while it’s not a bad choice I do prefer Malaysia. For a start travel to Vientiane is strenuous. Overnight sleeper trains from Bangkok to Nong Khai on the Thai border costs roughly 1,400 Baht (700 Baht each way). Then comes the VISA to enter Laos which costs (for most Western Passports) $35 or 1,500 Baht and it takes up a full page of the passport. Therefore a round trip Thai VISA run to Vientiane costs roughly 2,900 Baht (Here for Bangkok to Laos by Train). I have tried travelling between the two by bus and don’t recommend doing the same (here for Vientiane to Bangkok by bus). Long-haul bus travel isn’t fun. Once in Vientiane travel is simple and the Thai Consular (don’t go to the Embassy) is easily found on foot (or Tuk-Tuk) near Patuxai Park (nearby hotels). Here for things to do in Vientiane).
5. Cambodia (All)
Here I am lumping Cambodia together as I don’t feel it is a great option for Thai Tourist VISAs. If you need to visit an embassy in Cambodia you are best to fly to Phnom Penh but don’t expect the process to be quick or painless. Phnom Penh is known for complications (which can be overcome with a bribe). There are also agents in other parts of the country; Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and maybe Poipet but this option sounds all too dodgy. I would avoid Cambodia for Thai VISA runs unless travelling on a quick border crossing (Non-Immigrant O Visa like myself). Even with the quick border crossing there is a 1,000 – 1,400 Baht VISA fee to enter Cambodia. The price depends on how corrupt the officials feel that day. If considering this Thai VISA run and haven’t visited Angkor Wat before – do. Here for travel between Bangkok and Angkor).
6. Pakse, Laos
There is no Thai Embassy in Pakse so this Thai VISA run is only relevant for quick border crossings. Pakse will always come second to Vientiane when travelling from Bangkok. Similar distance, a nice city but hard to spend more than a day or two. For the Thai VISA run to Pakse an overnight train is again best travelling to Ubon Ratchathani for roughly 700 Baht (1,400 return) before travelling to the border. If planning on seeing Pakse check our Pakse City Guide. Including the Laos VISA fee (1,500 Baht) the trip will be at least 2,900 Baht. When staying in Pakse the Champasak Palace hotel is a must. An actual palace with serious balcony views (shown below). Also make the most of cheap wine and French food before the inevitable journey back to overpriced Bangkok (Here for bus journey from Pakse to Bangkok).
7. Savannakhet, Laos
The lesser known border crossing of Laos and in honesty not the most exciting. It does however have a consulate (Embassy) unlike Pakse and applications tend to be more successful here for the harder Thai VISA (in my case the marriage VISA). If planning the Thai VISA run from Bangkok you will need to take a bus to Mukdahan on the Thai border. From Mukdahan you then forward to Savannakhet via the Lao border. Expect to pay 800 Baht each way and 1,500 Baht Laos VISA Fee (total 3,100 Baht). Here for full details on VISA run to Savannakhet. Savvanakhet is small and the Thai consulate easy to find near the Mekhong River. Stalk monks, drink beer Lao, eat tasty French food, the usual Here for things to do in Savannakhet. Feeling adventurous during my visit I returned via Pakse (here for Savannakhet to Pakse). Savannakhet boasts the crappest selection of hotels I’ve ever seen so I won’t advise on any. Most opt for the Savan Vegas Hotel & Casino found out of town who will organise the VISA for you.
8. Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, Vietnam
The reason Vietnam doesn’t rank higher is it’s overpriced VISA fees, plus I’m grumpy having TWICE screwed up and been forced to reschedule flights. A VISA to Vietnam must be organised in advance online (completed here). It includes a processing fee of $20 before full payment for VISA on arrival at a further $45. In total VISA fees to Vietnam cost $65 (2000 Baht) all before flights. You’ll be lucky to find return flights to either Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi for under 3,000 Baht. That being said Vietnam is a cool country to visit and needs to be done at least once. The buzzing streets of Ho Chi Minh has me swaying towards the capital but the must see Halong Bay pulls me back towards Hanoi. Hard to choose. With hefty VISA fees I suggest doing both on the same trip (Links above show full city guides).
8. Singapore, Singapore
For return flights to Singapore expect to pay roughly 4,000 Baht but keep an eye out for promotions and they do come cheaper (3,000 Baht our latest). With free VISA on arrival to Singapore I feel the trip is a bargain. Singapore is a refreshing, modern and clean city which is unlike anywhere else in Southeast Asia. The perfect escape from tuk-tuks, rice fields and triangle hats. For me the food in Singapore is alone worth the journey. Again hotels will be more expensive in Singapore but travel is cheap with the MRT rail network. For budget accommodation I suggest the Geylang area or maybe Little India. Here for our Budget Singapore Guide. The Thai Embassy is found in the more expensive Orchard Road area (370 Orchard Road) which is easily found by Singapore MRT. Being adventurous on our last trip we travelled from Singapore to Bangkok overland. Hardly convenient but fun.
10. Bali, Indonesia
If money isn’t an option Bali is the place to be. In fact it isn’t even that expensive, roughly 7,000 Baht at normal rates, so keep an eye out for promotions. Again there will be an added $25 VISA fee for arrival in Bali (Indonesia). The Thai Consulate in Bali is located in the lesser visited city of Denpasar (Jalan Puputan Niti Mandala Raya). Get the Thai VISA quick then travel north away from the ugly tourism of the South. Bali is one of the most fascinating islands on earth so make the most of it (Here for Guide to Ubud and Beyond).
11. Hong Kong, Hong Kong
A Thai VISA run to Hong Kong may seem ridiculous but for me it is a must see city. It can also be done relatively cheap on flight promotions. Our last visit was around 6,000 Baht return and unlike China no VISA is necessary for Hong Kong. Similar to Singapore the accommodation is relatively expensive and staying in outer areas can make things more affordable. Ibis North Point worth considering. Travel is then cheap on the MTR and the embassy is easy to reach at Fairmont House near Central Station (Here for our MTR and tourist Octopus Card Guide). Note nearby Macau doesn’t have a Thai Embassy.
12. Kolkata, India
Adding an ‘outside the box’ option. More of an example of alternative opportunities for the Thai VISA run. In this case Kolkata and if it weren’t so expensive for us Brits to get an Indian VISA it would come in quite cheap (Here for Indian VISA Application in Bangkok) For other Nationalities the Thai VISA run to Kolkata would cost roughly 4,700 Baht (3,000 Flights, VISA fee 1,700). If considering this somewhat ridiculous Thai VISA run it is best to stay in the Sudder Street area and taxi out to the Thai Consulate in Ballygrunge (Here for our experience of Kolkata and Sudder Street)
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