Back in December 2013, on a whim I booked a flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani via Nok Air. This was for the last leg of my trip to Thailand and its neighboring countries, covering the end of January to the start of February 2014. Due to an approximately 11 hour travel time by bus or train, I opted to travel by air to save time and energy. The flight I purchased was a promotion, so changing of mind was not an option. Refund was impossible.
The Fly n Ride promo of Nok Air at a glance, without so much thought, was very appealing. When I finally got the e-ticket and skimmed through it, before my eyes appeared an itinerary of plane and coach rides that would take almost half of the total time spent in taking a train or bus. Here’s how the e-ticket looked like.
I suddenly got lost in-between confusing transfers and remorse for not making adequate research before purchasing the ticket. My only consolation during that time was Don Mueang International Airport was closer to Phahonyothin, where I would be staying while in Bangkok. The rest of the worries running through my head were calmed by the thought that I would do perfectly fine.
Lo and behold, everything went easy as pie! Here was the sequence of events that led me to Vientiane without breaking in cold sweat and without my heart skipping a beat.
FLY (Bangkok to Vientiane)
From Phahonyothin to Don Mueang International Airport, I took a cab and paid a little more than 100 THB. I arrived few hours before departure, and checking in was a breeze. No long lines and Nok‘s staff were friendly and efficient.
Don Mueang was smaller than Suvarnabhumi and had more of that domestic airport vibe. I took a quick breakfast of sandwich and coffee.
The Flight from Bangkok to Udon Thani was a brisk 55 minutes. I was not expecting for food served on board, but a complimentary snack inside a Nok paper bag was handed to me. What a pleasant surprise!
At the arrival area of Udon Thani, right beside the entrance was this counter. This was one of the first things that caught my attention. You would never get lost at all on the RIDE part of the trip, and Udon Thani Airport was just a small airport and getting lost somewhere was highly very unlikely.
RIDE (Udon Thani Airport to Nong Khai)
There were six of us who were headed to Nong Khai: two Thai women, a Korean young lady, two European guys, and myself. We were instructed by Nok’s staff to secure our coach ticket from one of the few counters lining up in front of the arrival area exit, and then we were ushered to our coach. Our smiling driver welcomed us.
The Thai women were dropped off somewhere in Nong Khai, only the four of us proceeded to the border. The trip to Nong Khai border took almost an hour. I had my passport stamped for my exit at the border. Nok Air’s service on the Thai side ended here.
Within the 1.17 Km stretch of Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, you would be totally on your own and Nok would not be liable for losses, damages or accidents encountered the moment you step into this area.
There were quite a lot of people waiting for the shuttle bus, and there was a man collecting payment for the ride across the borders. The bus ride cost 20 THB, I bought a ticket. A vintage-looking bus with wooden seats arrived.
I was able to secure a seat beside an amiable Thai woman. Despite her limited English speaking skills, she made a huge effort to let me know that she and her husband would be visiting their daughter in Vientiane. She pointed to the river and told me that we were crossing the Mekong River.
After an about 5 minute bus ride, we arrived at the Laos (Vientiane) border entrance. I completed my arrival form and had my passport stamped at the immigration counter. I carry a 30-day visa-free entry passport, so the immigration procedures went fast and easy.
There was a card fee of 40 THB in order to get to the other side of the Laos immigration building, but this was not required for Nok’s passengers; just show your plane ticket to the officer manning the gate. Nok’s service on the Lao (Vientiane) side of the border started here.
A counter with a huge yellow Nok umbrella was, again, one of the first things I saw upon entering Laos’ side of the border.
I was reunited with the young Korean lady and we talked a little while waiting for the two European guys. We waited for more than an hour but they did not show up, so only the two of us rode the coach (mini van) to Vientiane’s city center. Travel time was more or less 40 minutes.
I was feeling faint and having extreme stomach discomfort by the time we arrived at downtown Vientiane that I asked the driver if he could drop me off at my hotel. To my delight, I was told that it was a part of the service. That was a total relief! It made my affliction a bit more bearable and manageable. The Korean young lady was dropped off at her guest house first, then I at my hotel.
FLY n RIDE (Vientiane to Bangkok)
From Vientiane, I had to go back to Bangkok for a few more days of sightseeing and shopping. So, I had to figure again how to do it the Nok way. My return flight fell on a Saturday, but despite it being a non-working day everything went smooth and easy.
I was lucky that the Trans-Express office, the meeting point in Vientiane and where the coach (mini van) that would take us back to the Laos border was parked, was just about 10 minutes walk away from my hotel. I reached the meeting place early and waited for the other passengers to arrive. We left as soon as we were complete.
There were more people, tourists and locals, at the Laos border since it was a weekend, so I queued up to have my exit stamp at the immigration.
I queued up once more to buy my ticket for the shuttle service to Nong Khai border. The fee was 10,000 Kip.
The exit process took some time due to the long queues.
I rode the shuttle service (mini bus) to Nong Khai border, completed my arrival form and had my passport stamped at the immigration counter.
The coach (mini van) with Nok Air sign, which would take us to Udon Thani Airport, was already waiting upon my exit from the immigration office.
In summary, this experience was:
- Longer than taking other commercial air carriers that could take you directly to Vientiane Airport, but could be 50-75% cheaper than the regular fares from two other airlines.
- It could be a test on patience since waiting time could take an hour or so and could exhaust your energy, especially if you were feeling some physical discomfort like I did.
- Worth the time consumed in plane and coach rides and in waiting for the other passengers completing immigration procedures. It was a whole new experience for a first-time traveler or for someone who took this route the very first time.
- A window of opportunity to meeting other travelers and socializing with them. If this was not your thing, you could just give them a quick smile or simply ignore them and get occupied with your own thing (whatever it may be) – the choice was yours and yours completely.
- An unexpectedly and delightfully slick and easy adventure.
If you were able to make a scrupulous research, you must have gathered that the easiest, fastest, and relatively reasonable way to get to Vientiane from Bangkok was via Lao Central Airlines, and second to it was via Nok Air. There were also flights available direct to Vientiane via Thai Airways but a bit snobbish to the cost-conscious.