Thursday, December 25, 2014

Visa Run: Bangkok to Laos

I've been in Thailand for about two months now, which means I had to find a way to extend my 30-day tourist visa. And just like most other expats, I had to make a "visa run" in order to remain in the country (legally, at least). I felt more at ease using a service to do this, so I chose Thai Visa Service. The cost was very low, especially considering they included some meals, the hotel, transportation, and visa fees. I would definitely recommend them if you are making the same journey!

I had the pleasure of spending the majority of three days in one of these bad boys. The van seats about 12 passengers, and it was as comfortable as a van crowded with strangers can be. I rode from Nakhon Sawan to Bangkok (about 4 hours), then from Bangkok to the Laos/Thai border (about 9 hours). Then I took a bus into Laos. And I did it all over again after being in Laos for 24 hours!
Victory Monument!
I got dropped off here in Bangkok, and thought it was a nice view.
So I took a picture.
The journey from Thailand to Laos and back again was pretty straightforward. The visa service took care of everything, so I just did whatever they told me. First, we had to cross the Thai border. You go to the visa counter, and they put a departure stamp in your passport. After this, we handed our passports and paperwork to the man who was in charge from the visa service. We crossed over to the Laos visa border. We had to wait about an hour and a half here for them to process and stamp our passports. After this, we took a bus over the friendship bridge and into Vientiane. We had to go to the Thai embassy to give them our passports and paperwork to get our visas to return to Thailand. This took the longest, so we waited a few hours for our number to be called. When they called our number, we handed our documents over so they could process them overnight. After all of that, we went to the hotel. We crossed the border when it opened at 6 am, but did not get to the hotel until about noon. The whole morning was spent simply waiting for the next step.

After that, I hung out at the hotel with new friends. We went into the city and got some dinner and a few pints before heading back to the hotel. We left promptly at noon the next day to make the journey back. I was in Laos for a total of about 24 hours, so there was no time to get out and explore at all. But Laos is the 15th country I have been to, so that's something to celebrate!

Crowd waiting to cross from Thailand into Laos at about 5 am.

Our hotel.

A beautiful Christmas tree--made of beer bottles and plastic bottles.
Perhaps a new form of recycling?

On the grounds of the hotel.

Buddha guarding the staircase.

Skyline at night in Vientiane, Laos.

Night market in Vientiane, Laos.

I got to try some Laotian beer. It was pretty tasty!
It was all for this one little sticker in my passport!

Merry Christmas from Thailand

I know that back home, Christmas has just barely kicked off. But I live in the future (13 hours ahead of Wisco, to be exact), so my holiday has already almost finished! And in case you were wondering, the temperature got up to about 87 degrees! Definitely not a white Christmas...

 The entire day has been filled with an outpouring of love, and I must admit it's been pretty great. Thailand is primarily a Buddhist country, so they do not typically celebrate Christmas. Our school has a special English program (called MEP, which simply stands for Mini English Program), though, so we got to celebrate anyway! There are two sides to our school--there is MEP, which is basically a private school that focuses on learning English; and there is the public side, that has only one English class per week. The kids on the MEP side put on a show for the non-MEP students for Christmas every year.

First, I woke up to see a bunch of pictures from people at the Courthouse Pub wishing me a merry Christmas! Even though I keep going back and leaving, they still do sweet things like this for me. I definitely felt the love! I included a few so that everyone could see.

And then I was greeted by these lovely people at work:

The Thai teachers were definitely in the holiday spirit!

Everyone was already full of Christmas cheer and happy wishes. Every morning we have an assembly, and this time two Santas showed up to join us. After the assembly, everyone got ready for the Christmas show. Each grade put on a special performance. I teach grade 4, and they performed the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas".

Our school is quite large. The entire Christmas show was performed twice during the day because all of the students could not fit into the auditorium. Here's the audience just from the morning show!
All of the important people at school kicking things off.
A chorus from grades 5 & 6 sang some Christmas tunes.
This is one of the adorable kindy classes.
Some non-MEP dancers. They were excellent!
Some grade 4 students reciting the poem.

Grade 4!

Grades 5 and 6 combined to put on a play about the Grinch. It was fantastic, and the kids absolutely loved it. It definitely put people in a Christmas mood!

Me and Gib, my TA (teaching assistant).
Jan and I, another TA at school

I LOVED her costume!
Grade 4 and I. They did a great job, and I'm so proud of them! They're a bunch of fun kids, and I'm lucky to be their teacher.