Flicking through my journal, I found this story as a diary entry from last summer when I was in the middle of prepping for exams while simultaneously trying to prepare for my post-graduation travel plans.
With a rather extensive trip through South East Asia planned, any time that wasn’t spent revising or sleeping was spent buying flight tickets, booking hotels and doing visa paperwork. For a lot of people, completing paperwork of any kind is a bore – but visa paperwork is in a whole new level of it’s own. Tick the wrong box, sign on the wrong line and that’s not only the appointment you’ve spent three weeks waiting for waited but often, it’s also your visa fee lost. The stakes are high.
Laos was one of the countries I needed a visa for but their paperwork wasn’t exactly straightforward. I called up the embassy to clarify what I needed to put down and when the visa would be ready. As I was explaining myself, the guy on the end of the line suddenly asked me “Why you going to my country?”.
Somewhat taken aback, I said “Well, you know, I’ve heard the scenery in Laos is very beautiful so I would like to visit and see for myself…” I added a few other reasons, trailing off into silence when I wasn’t sure what more to say. The voice at the other end just said “Hmm, ok” and then the line went dead. I sat there for a minute or so just staring at the phone, wondering if I’d been put on hold or something but he’d actually hung up on me.
After filling out the application form as best I could, a few days later I went up to London to drop off my passport and submit my application. The Laos embassy is tucked away on a quiet residential street near Paddington. Low-key and unassuming, you’d be forgiven for walking straight past it none the wiser.
I arrived at the Laos embassy a little early and seeing that there was no-one in, sat on the wall outside and read my book. A chapter or so later, a black BMW swung into the drive nearly knocking me off the wall. The driver leapt out to check I was ok – I was fine. He nodded and smiled as three men in suits clambered out the car and went into the embassy.
Walking in, I was the only person there. Without looking up, the man working there motioned for me to take a seat on the sofa.
He finished what he was doing, came out from behind the desk and sat down on the other sofa. He looked at me more closely, curiously and then grinned. “Beautiful girl!”, he said.
Confused, I just pointed at myself and said “Me?”. He nodded and said “Yes, you’re the one who called the other day. You think Laos is beautiful, right? I ask you why you come to Laos like are you visiting for tourism or business but you just tell me it’s because Laos is beautiful! You’re so funny!”.
Facepalm. So that was what he’d been on about! That made so much more sense. Laughing too, I paid, handed over my passport and waved him goodbye.
When I returned a few days later, I was, again, the only person there. The man who I’d met previously saw me. “Hey! Beautiful girl!” and the other two staff burst out laughing – seems word had got out about me then! All three of them got up and came and sat on the sofa next to me watching as I double checked the dates on the visa with those in my diary. After checking it was all correct, they showed me out and waved goodbye from the door – such a lovely bunch!
There doesn’t seem to be much information about the Laos Embassy online – the best source I found was checking their Facebook page or calling them +44(0)20 7402 3770. They do have an email but response time (at least in my experience) was slow : firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re travelling through South East Asia, it is possible to pick up a visa for Laos from the Laos Embassies in Hanoi and Bangkok. In addition, it is also possible to opt for VOA (visa on arrival) if you are flying into one of the main airports – however be ready for some insane queues.
On a final note, it’s always good practice to check the FCO website for up to date information on Laos before you go and to make sure you have the number of the British embassy/consulate wherever you travel to. You’ll think you’ll never ever need it but it’s worth keeping a copy of!