|View from Lao immigration at the Thai-Lao Friendship bridge between Chiang Khong and Huay Xai|
Although I am living now 20 years in Thailand, I am currently here living on a 1 year multi-entry Non-Immigrant "O" visa based on the fact that I am luckily married to a beautiful Thai lady. That means every time I enter Thailand for 1 year long I will get a 90 days entry stamp. So within 90 days I have to exit Thailand and re-enter again to be able to stay another 90 days. Living only 78 km from an international Thai-Lao border that would be easy. Unfortunately the Lao government in all their wisdom has 6 months ago decided to stop giving Visa On Arrival at 6 border crossings. And you guessed right, also at the border of Huai Kon in Nan province. Now normally that would have been no problem because I am traveling a lot. Actually I had planned to be in Vietnam & Cambodia until begin March. But the Corona crisis changed my plans and luckily I did choose to stay home. Not only because of the chance of contracting the Corona virus but also because I do not want to be quarantined in Vietnam or Cambodia.
So here I am at home and within a few weeks my permission to stay is going to expire. Again normally no problem, I would take the motorbike and make a nice trip in Laos via Chiang Khong. But with the Corona crisis going on that seemed not a good idea this time. And as I am sure the Corona virus shit is going to hit the fan soon in Thailand I also did not want to wait a few weeks. So yesterday I did drive together with my lovely wife and our dog a 200 km trip to Chiang Khong via de mountains along route 1148. We left very early in the morning and did drive from Pua to Tha Wang Pha and took route 1148 to Chiang Kham and then route 1020 to Chiang Khong. And dear or dear .... if the Corona virus is not going to kill us soon then the air pollution in North Thailand will kill us within 10 years time. I thought in my hometown Pua the air was bad but Chiang Kham and Chiang Khong are much, much worse. When I was at the Lao immigrations I asked if the sight of air pollution was every day ... "Yes, every day. Comes from Thailand". And in Thailand they say it comes from Laos and nobody does anything and so the people of North Thailand and Laos are slowly killed.
But how did the border run go amid a Corona crisis?Simple and straight forward. I parked the car at the parking lot just before the bridge. There were only a few cars parked. I did put on my face mask and gloves (so I do not have to touch anything directly). Walking to the Thai immigration I only saw a few people, it was very quiet. First exit Thailand, a bit grumpy immigration officer checked my passport. And asked what I was going to do in Laos? Well nothing, just come back again and get my 90 days entry stamp again. Finger print & photo was taken. Finger print machine could be wiped clean with an old cotton. So I used my gloves to clean the finger print machine. Getting my exit stamp took me about 2 min, then walk to the bus to be shuttled over the bridge crossing the once mighty Mekong River. I had buy a bus ticket (25 Thai baht) and wait 10 min. The bus was a big air-con bus and there were only about 5 people in it.
Arriving on the Lao side before you could get to the Lao immigration there is a Health check station where someone will check your temperature. I was OK. Then I had to apply & get a Visa On Arrival for Laos (but not pay for it yet). This took me about 10 min and I had to pay 40 Thai baht service fee. Then enter Laos at Lao immigration where a friendly Lao immigration officer checked my passport. Photo was taken. After serving me he cleaned his hands and keyboard. Good! Then exiting Lao immigration I still had to pay for my Lao visa at the "Exchange Bank". With your visa you get a bar-code voucher, you give this to the "Exchange Bank" and you will be charged. As Dutch citizen I paid 1050 Thai baht. You will get another bar-code voucher that you can use to exit the Lao immigration area. Then I walked 10 meter in Laos made a u-turn and walked into the Laos immigration to exit Laos. This took me about 10 min again. Then I had to buy again a bus ticked (25 Thai baht) for the bus back to Thailand. The bus was a big bus (but not air-con) and there were again only about 5 people in it. Crossing the bridge takes about 5 min.
Then I had to get an arrival-card for Thailand, a bit weird as you have to walk into an office and find them somewhere. But while walking there an officer stopped me and asked from where I was. From the Netherlands? Then he had to check my passport. Luckily I have already a visa for Thailand, otherwise there might have been a problem. Filled in the arrival card, went to thru immigration. The friendly Thai immigration officer wanted to know my home country, where I had been in the past weeks and wanted to know where I was going to stay. I explained hims I am living in Thailand in Pua and that I am married. A gracious entry stamp was given and I was good to go. Then there was a health check station, and this was done very well. Compliments to Thai immigration in Chiang Khong!
You que up (1 person in front of me), you stand for a counter and with a thermo-camera you temperature is checked. Result is shown on a screen, I had between 35.9℃ and 36.2℃. Then you have to give your arrival card and you are asked where you have been. Especially ... How long I had been in Laos? Well I had only been 2 min, so I was good to go and walked back to my car where my lovely wife was still waiting with the dog. Good to stay another 90 days in the Land of
(It looks like that the health station registers all checked persons TM-card and check results).
While walking to my car I saw 2, probably, Dutch backpack tourists. They had no clue whatsoever about visum for Laos or Corona crisis border regulations. And if this Corona crisis worsens it would not surprise me if Thailand will soon close all borders.