Friday, May 25, 2018

Visa Ping Pong

Cambodia has been excellent, but as travel goes it is time to explore new places. Next up, Vietnam. The first thing to remember is that Vietnam is an incredible country with a rich and diverse history, it is not a war. As with so many countries today, I need a tourist visa to enter. My situation is not complicated but it could get tricky if I am not careful. Let me explain.

I entered Cambodia, as I did with India and Nepal, on an E-Visa. You register for your travel visa ahead of time on a government or government approved website. The questions are for all standard information plus you must upload a scanned passport style photo. India was a bit different. They needed information going back to my mother and fathers details. They wanted no history or trace of any connection to Pakistan heritage. Visa's are usually approved within 24 hours and entry into the country is a breeze. That being said, using an e-visa usually requires entry into the country in a designated port, usually an airport or seaport. Land entry is not accepted so be careful and do your research first.

Now my Cambodian dilemma. I entered the country using my e-visa without issue. You need to print out a second copy, which contains a bar code, to leave the country. I don't ask why, I just do what I am told, a rarity for me. My first thought for Vietnam was using an E-visa but that meant flying into Ho Chi Minh. From Phnom Penh it is only a 45 minute flight but that sounded dumb to me. The most common mode of transport between capitals is the 6 - 7 hour bus ride. That being a land border so now leaving Cambodia could be an issue. Shit, I do not want to fly.

In Phnom Penh you can go to the Vietnam Embassy to fill out the paperwork, including a photo, to apply for your visa. It can take 2 to 3 days. However, there is another option if you are going to use a land crossing. Following recommendations from various travel blogs I used Cine Travel. I went in at 10 am on Wednesday, gave them my passport and departure date, paid the $42 and picked up my passport with my new visa the next day at 5:30. With that I discovered that the land border being used by most major bus companies on this route accept the e-visa to leave Cambodia. The Governments are evolving for the sake of tourism, nice.

Now, add to the mix is my requirement for a Bangladesh working visa. I sent all the required documents to my school and they will send me a letter of invitation, very much like China. One of their requirements is that I sent them a scan of every "used" page in my passport. Like India the Bangladesh government wants to see where you have been. I found this odd but it's a political thing so I don't ask why. When they send me my letter I have one week, 5 working days, in which I have to find an embassy or consulate to get my visa. No pressure thanks guys. In Vietnam its Hanoi, In Malaysia its Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia would be Jakarta or else Singapore, all stops on this trip. The Bangladesh visa will be an epic adventure when that time comes. Bangladesh, what the hell am I thinking?

Think about long term budget travel for a minute. Let me try to explain why I did not take the easiest or most convenient way to Vietnam, the 45 minute flight. Budget travel is exactly that, budget. Don't get me wrong, I am not on a GAP year using my parents credit card or a recent university graduate wanting to do things as cheap as possible including sleeping in $4 a night dorms but drinking $30 a night worth of booze. I miss those dumb days. Anyways, I work when I travel so doing things "as cheap as possible" is an option not my mantra.

* transportation costs can slightly vary.*

Option 1
Getting an e-visa to Vietnam - $25
Flight to Vietnam - $75
Tuk Tuk to airport in Phnom Penh - $10
Tuk Tuk/Taxi to my hotel in Ho Chi Minh - $15
Total travel time including getting to and from the airport, being at the airport a few hours early and flying time estimated to be 5 - 6 hours
Total cost:$125

Option 2
Visa to Vietnam using Cine Travel - $42
Bus to Ho Chi Minh - $18
I get a hotel pickup in the morning and I can walk to my hotel in downtown Ho Chi Minh
Total travel time including being at the bus station 15 minutes early and land border processing time estimated to be 8 to 9 hours
Total cost $60

The first thing you might say is take option 1. It's more expensive and what's $65 but it is faster and more convenient. I hate the word convenient but more on that later. Sure that would be a good option but if I save the $65 that pays for my hotel in Ho Chi Minh for 5 nights. Now, I know your probably thinking, "My god, $13 a night for a room, what kind of drug infested flea bag place are you staying in?" That's pretty funny. First I am actually splurging at $13. With a bit of effort I could have found a single room for $10. If I wanted to go to a dorm they run about $4 - $5 a night but at my age when I enter a dorm it crushes the sensibilities of anyone under the age of 25. I am staying at the Thien Phu in District 1, right in the heart of downtown. Click here to have a look. You have to understand that travel and living in SE Asia is "Cheap as Chips"

Second, lets face it, flying sucks, even a short haul flight. As I have said before I like taking the bus when traveling. You can not see the countryside from 25,000 feet. I am taking Giant Ibus and the bus is new, air conditioned and includes Wifi and power outlets for each seat. So taking the bus is a bit longer but the trip is more enjoyable, my E-Visa works at the land border to leave Cambodia and savings pays for my room in Vietnam. It was an easy choice.

Now, back to convenient. I do not know if this word makes me angry, makes me sick or just aggravates me. We have accepted it and  have become co - dependent on it. Therefore we do not question when we are charged for it. Wasn't that just good customer service not so long ago? Convenience fees at banks, when buying sporting event or concert tickets online or the convenience of using your credit card to make purchases.  How often do you go to the convenience store knowing you will pay more for milk or break when the grocery store is just a bit further away. It makes us unbelievably lazy and complicit. As with entitled, I think these are a few of the most dangerous words in the English language. For the record, Selfie is the saddest.

As for travel, it can be a bit tricky but you need to keep you long term goals in mind when on budget travel. Sure it can take a bit of work. At it's most frustration you must ask yourself the following questions. What do I want to do? Where do I want to go? What do I want to experience? How long do I want to travel?. For the record, on any trip my last day I usually book myself into a really nice airport hotel with a pool. I drink overpriced drinks, eat over priced food and have a workout in the gym. I sleep in a big comfy bed, probably order room service and arrive for my flight rested and ready to go...because flying sucks.

In the West I think we tend to toss money at a situation hoping to make it easier or convenient. We don't want the hassle but will complain about it later. For me being On The Road (I am reading Big Sur by Jack Kerouac so I had to toss in a Kerouac reference ) it's a luxury I seldom use. I am in no rush to get anywhere or do anything and in your daily lives neither are you. It's so easy to use  "I am so busy"  in today's world  when asked "how are you" I need things to be more convenient or easier. Next time someone says they are "so busy" ask them why and ask for details. You may be surprised by the silence or the angry defensive rhetoric that comes back at you. We are all so busy being busy.

Wow, where did that rant come from?. I better go for a $5 message...and no, she will "not love me long time"..maybe. Get your mind out of the gutter.

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