|Nong Khai railway station is small but very neat and clean one with all possible amenities|
|View of Nong Khai station and the road beyond from the window of international train|
If you are travelling by train no. 69 and wish to catch the connecting international shuttle train from Nong Khai to Thanaleng station in Laos, but are worried about the delay; then you need not be. The shuttle train will wait for the arrival of this train, as most of the passengers it carries onto the other side of border arrive by train number 69 only.
|This two-coach international shuttle train takes you to the other side of Thai-Lao border|
|Yours truly...just before boarding the shuttle train. It was an amazing experience for me|
|Train has a total 80 seats. The seats are comfortable, though all of them are rarely occupied|
No worries! They don’t start until all passengers have bought their tickets, cleared immigration and boarded the train. When we took this journey, there were not more than 40 passengers on board the two-coach shuttle. So, relax and enjoy the moment when train crosses over to Laos from Thailand.
|There is just one small booth that controls immigration process at Nong Khai railway station|
|A single person was manning the booth. They told us it is same daily as there is never a rush|
There is no Visa-on-Arrival facility at Nong Khai station. What they have there is an immigration booth where your passport is stamped in or out. So, if you plan to arrive directly at Nong Khai station from Laos on your return journey, then you must possess a valid Thai Visa on your passport. Or else, you must return via shuttle bus that leaves you directly at Nong Khai Immigration where they provide V-O-A if you are eligible for it.
|Just after the shuttle train left Nong Khai station. It eventually runs on the Friendship Bridge|
|And the train passes through the Friendship Bridge. It is still the Thailand side of the border|
|The Mekong river separates Thailand and Laos. The border is somewhere near the blue flag|
|We reach Laos. Flags are the only indicators to tell us that we are now in another country|
|Thanaleng is the only station in Laos, which receives and flags off just a pair of trains daily|
|Visa is issued at the first window in arrival area. It is the busiest window when train arrives|
|The submission of visa form and fee, and collection of passport are done at the same place|
It was totally hassle-free. And the staff was friendly. They didn’t even check our accommodation reservation. And also, none of the passengers alighted at Thanaleng had to pay any money other than the required visa fee, as it had been mentioned by many travellers in their accounts on internet. No stamping-in fee, no service fee… absolutely nothing. So, relax! Just take your passport back and head towards taxi stand.
|A make-shift counter for booking your transportation to Vientiane. Rates are displayed there|
|It was one of the last two taxis available by the time we got our visa. It charged us 400 Baht|
|Just before leaving for city. We had three more travellers to divide the fare amongst us|
There is a bus service too for Vientiane. But for that, you have to walk a few hundred metres till you reach the main road, and wait there for the bus that comes from Buddha Park. The bus takes you to Talat Sao (the Morning Market) bus station and a ticket costs just 5000 Kip. If you don’t have Kip, they will ask for 20 Baht, which is okay as far as the conversion rate is concerned. At an exchange counter, 20 Thai Baht will fetch you around 5200 Kip. But, keep in mind that pick-up van or taxi will drop you at your hotel or guesthouse, while bus leaves you at Talat Sao. From Talat Sao, you end up paying around 10000 Kip (roughly 40 Baht) per person to your choice of destination. So, if you could form a group of 7-8 people before leaving the station, then a taxi or a pick-up van is cheaper and more convenient option.
|The air-conditioned bus from Talat Sao bus station of Vientiane to the Friendship Bridge|
A tuk-tuk would ask for 1,00,000 Kip from Talat Sao to the border, but we had been told that they could settle for 50,000 Kip. But a bus is far better option, which charges just 6000 Kip per person. You can’t get tuk-tuk for the border from just anywhere in Vientiane; you have to come to Talat Sao. Be wise! There is no need to pay huge amount to tuk-tuk when you have a far economical and convenient bus service. The bus conductors don’t understand English, so tell them you have to go to Mittraphap (Thai and Lao word for Friendship).
|Return journey to Nong Khai. This time it is shuttle bus that takes us from Laos to Thailand|
|Near the border on the bridge. Lao flag on the left; a little further Thai flag on the right side|
|The rail line separates from road on the bridge. All road transport stops when train passes|
|The shuttle bus is nearing Thai Immigration. All the visa-on-arrival formalities are done here|
The international shuttle bus runs every 10-15 minutes and takes not more than 2-3 minutes to take you to Thai side of the bridge. The conversion rate is very bad for bus ticket. It should be around 16 Baht for a 4000 Kip ticket. So, better keep at least 10,000 Kip per person if you wish to take bus from Talat Sao and then international shuttle bus from the bridge.
Text and Photos by Ajay Garg