If this is your first proper backpacking stint then you may not be aware how much of a headache visas can be! When you reach the border of each country you need a visa to enter, some countries will simply stamp a visa into your passport on the border for free (this is called a VOA ‘Visa on Arrivall), and then on you go. Other countries may charge you a fortune while the most difficult b*stards will refuse you entry and you have to organise your visa before you arrive at the border!
Check out the South East Asian countries below and get an idea of what you need to sort it all out:
Thailand: South East Asia’s most popular destination. Thailand offers VOA (visas on arrival) by both land and air arrivals. If you fly in, you receive a free 30 day visa. If you arrive by land, you receive a free 14 day visa. If you want a longer visa (60 days) you can apply at Thai embassies in any other country, it’ll cost you around $30. This is possible from your home country or from neighbouring countries in the region (Laos, Malaysia etc)
Laos: VOA by both plane and land crossings – 30 days standard. The visa costs between $30 and $40 USD.
Vietnam: VOA NOT available. You MUST organize your visa before you arrive. This can be done in your home country (around $60, 4 working days) or in countries that neighbour Vietnam ($40, 3 working days). Gunagzhou, China Phnom Penn, Cambodia Vientienne, Laos and Bangkok, Thailand all offer relatively simple processes to get your visa to Vietnam. Don’t forget to sort this out before you go, you will be refused entry without.
Cambodia: VOA by both plane and land crossings – 30 days tourist visa. The visa costs around $20 but expect to be charged more by corrupt officials.
NOTE: an e-visa is now possible, but $25. You need to scan a passport photo, pay the money and receive the PDF file in 3 working days. Print out two copies and bring it to the border. E visas are only usable at the Thai crossings at Poipet and Koh Kong (Trat) and the Vietnamese crossings at Moc Bai.
Burma (Myanmar): VOA not available, you MUST organiz your visa before you arrive. If you’re going to Burma for a visa run, just to re-enter Thailand, you don’t need to prepare a visa in advance. If you plan to travel around Burma, you need to get a visa from a Burmese embassy before you fly (impossible to enter by land and travel). In Bangkok, it’s possible to get the visa in the same day – apply in the morning, and received in the afternoon. All visas are valid for 90 days, and last for a stay of 30 days, they cost around $30.
Malaysia: VOA by both plane and land crossings. Most countries get a 90 day visa for free. Malaysia are very easy going with their visa processes.
Singapore: VOA by both plane and land crossings. EU and US passport holders get 90 days, most other countries receive 14/30 days visas. Visas are free.
Indonesia: This can be a little complicated. VOA is available through most land and air ports. Often they require an onward ticket (so travel with a print out of a provisional ‘onward booking’ read:fake). Generally speaking, common border crossings offer VOA (Kailmantan, boat from Singapore etc), the visas cost around $25 for 30 days. Check your route first, before you decided whether to get the visa in advance or not.
East Timor: VOA for land and boat crossings but NOT for land crossings. If you’re arriving from West Timor (like me) get your visa in Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur ($40, 30 days).
Brunei: VOA for pretty much everyone, arriving by land or plane. Ranges from 14-90 days and is free.
All this info is correct as of November 2011, I hope that helps your backpacking adventures in SE Asia. Remember to pick up so international travel insurance too. Happy travels!