So Thailand’s offering free tourist visas until March 2011. The best place to get one (so I’ve heard) is Vientiane, Laos. The city itself is kind of sucky because it’s kind of expensive (compared to Chiang Mai) and there’s not much to do but you only have to stay overnight (it takes a night for them to process your visa) and then you don’t have to go back for another 6 months.
Supposedly the best visa to get is the double entry tourist visa – it means you can enter Thailand twice. Each time you enter it’s good for 2 months, but you can pay a 1900 baht (about $60USD) extension fee to get an extra month – so for around $120 you can stay for 6 months and you only have to cross the border one time, after 3 months (2 months + 1 month extension).
A minibus roundtrip between Chiang Mai and the Nong Kai (a Thai city at the Laos border) costs about 1800 baht. It’s about 10 hours each way, which is a bummer – but the minibuses are airconditioned and if you’re lucky there’ll only be a couple other people on the trip with you. You give immigration your passport and if you’re American, $36USD (it varies depending on what country you’re from) or 1540 baht. It’s a lot cheaper right now with exchange rates to just give them USD instead of baht. That gets you a Laos visa for 30 days. Then, you have to pay 20 baht for a short bus trip across the border over the “Friendship Bridge”. Once you’re on the Laos side, you have to get a tuk tuk or taxi into Vientiane city… which will cost you about 200 baht if you’re alone, less if you can talk the taxi driver down and you have more people with you to share the fare.
The visa application hours at the Thai consulate are only in the morning, and you can only pick up your visa and passport in the afternoon after 1pm. Things you’ll need: an application form, 2 passport photos that you have to glue to the application form, your passport, and a photocopy of your passport AND of your Laos visa. There’s a bunch of little places set up around the consulate area that’ll take passport photos, fill out your application form, and photocopy for visa for around 200 baht. It’s cheaper to just do all this stuff yourself, the Thai consulate has a photocopy machine upstairs and you can probably get passport photos done cheaper elsewhere.
There’s a lot of guesthouses and hotels around town, and the average room rate seems to be 600 baht a night for an aircon room, some places have wifi. Food is a little more expensive than it is in Chiang Mai, I ended up finding a minimart and just living off of snack type food and cans of tuna for a day and a half.
After you pick up your visa, you’ll need a ride back to the border – which will cost you around 200 baht, unless you can argue the tuk tuk driver down. The tuk tuk will take you to a taxi truck, which will take you to the border. Then, it’s 4000 kip for a bus across the bridge to the Thai border. Hooray!