The "Laos Border Run" (Or "Visa Run") is SO common among expats here that it is its own business. "Can't. I'm on a visa run that day" is a viable excuse to get out of a commitment. The most popular visa is good for 90 days only, so some people make this trip A LOT.
Fortunately, we live in the skinny central coastal region of an already pretty skinny country. As the crow flies, we could probably get to Laos in about an hour.
Unfortunately, as soon as you move inland you hit mountains. So the actual trip goes up the coast to the best pass through the mountains. About five hours to the border. We left Hoi An at 5:00 a.m. on our motorbike, to meet the rest of our crew at a coffee shop in Da Nang by 6:00 a.m. on Saturday. We were early enough for me to get a good, strong, black cup of Vietnamese coffee before heading out at about 6:20.
|Sunrise as we ride up the coast to Da Nang.|
|Now THAT'S a coffee shop.|
Some people just hop on a bus to Laos; some might rent a car (oh, to have the big bucks). We were in a 15-passenger van, with one Korean, one Mexican, a Thai restaurateur, a Kiwi, a South African, and a trio of Filipino women. And our Vietnamese visa liaison, who is AH-mazing.
|Driving through the inland mountains...|
|...where houses are still elevated to keep out wild animals.|
|In line for the Vietnam exit stamp.|
|I've never seen a stand-alone Duty Free shop. Reasonable prices!|
A funny thing happened as we waited between steps. We had to show our faces at the Vietnam exit window, but our liaison then paired our stamped passports with the paperwork and began the entrance to Laos procedure. After a while, she came out of the office with a stack of processed passports and collected most of our group to go begin the process of re-entering Vietnam. She pointed out four of us and said, "Wait here. Don't worry, I'll come back for you," and left with the others. As they left, I looked around. Whose visas were still awaiting processing? The only four white people in our group! HAHAHAHAHA. We had a good laugh about that.
|Walking over the border to repeat the process: Exit Laos, Enter Vietnam.|
|The cows were barely on the Vietnam side. I bet they graze both countries.|
All told, the border process took about an hour, to do all four steps for all 10 of us. Our visa person is the best! Then we ate lunch at the one and only restaurant at the border (talk about your captive audience) and headed back. We were back in Da Nang by 6:00pm. A very productive 12 hours!
We began a tradition years ago, of trying at least one beer from every country we travel to. I was thrilled to see "BeerLao" in the refrigerator at the border restaurant. Only the South African had a beer at lunch with us. It wasn't bad. Similar to any other run-of-the-mill beer from any other country. (Those are 500ml cans.)
This visa process is not cheap. Making an international move on our own, with no sponsorship of an employer who would handle that kind of thing or allow for it in the salary, doing it all independently, means that all of this falls to us. We are paving our own way, and it is a grand adventure. We often talk about the low cost of living here, but it comes at a price. We love it, we wouldn't change it, but it's a different world.