The problem with visas

Nha Trang Skyline

After the successful result of the TTM trade show in Thailand, my buddy Hau and I have undertaken the task of designing some new and exciting tours in Vietnam that for the moment, very unique and not offered by anyone else. The tourist areas in Vietnam have become so commercialized and “same same” in so many cases that sometimes it is difficult to get a feel of what Vietnam is truly like, but instead a false impression of scams, greed, and aggression. The latter is notVietnamat all and I have found my place inVietnamtrying to help that small percentage of travelers that want to experience a more authenticVietnam. With this goal in mind, we have now completed a number of itineraries that combines adventure in “realVietnam”, along with most of the desired tourist destinations. I will post some of these itineraries in the future, but for now, I will hold back as Vietnamese companies are the perfect models of mimicry. I want to be sure that they are realistic and doable, but more importantly, executable before others start copying our efforts.

Mekong fisherman

Today, let me tell you about how red tape can complicate things with a tale I am experiencing at this very moment. For a while now I have been living inVietnamsupposedly retired, but working all the same. According to immigration inVietnam, a person is required to have a Visa. Before I relocated here, there was a certificate of Visa exemption that was good for the life of the passport. I applied and was issued the exemption that had the stipulation that it was valid for 90 days at which time a person could have it renewed for 10 dollars, or exit and enter the country and have it re-activated. It sounds sort of silly for a “Visa Exemption”, but a person has to live by the rules. After 9 months inVietnam, immigration changes the rules on the exemption that it could no longer be simply renewed (unless perhaps sliding some cash which I try not to do). I was not aware of the change and ended in a big argument with the head of

On tour

immigration for my area. He angrily took my passport telling me he would fix it and I had it returned days later with a 3 month single entry Visa with a family endorsement. This visa could be renewed for a period of time. I carried on quickly running out of pages in my book with stamps and other country visas. One occasion I had the head immigration again in another confrontation and in this case Mai was with me. It seems he was frustrated that every 3 months I was in his face but he liked me, so in the end, I was issued a 1 year, multi entry visa with family classification. With all the travelling I do, nobody can seem to figure out what visa number to use to register me, and the customs people are confused when I re-enter the country. Now my one year is coming close to the end and I have decided to get a residency card that would solve my issues.

Oh Oh….. My passport expires in one year or so and the residency card can only be issued for the length of the passport. I thought no problem; I will get the shorted card and

A homestay I frequent

extend with a newly issued passport when I return fromCanadanext year……nope! The office that is responsible for issuing the card is required to send my passport toHanoifor 15 or more days. Eeek! I cannot. I have to host a tour of the Mekong Delta for a VIP in a couple of weeks. Ok, she said…. After that… Eeek! I am then off toCambodiafor a company retreat. I also have the issue that without a passport, I cannot do my job. If someone wants to travel to the highlands or even overnight in Tuy Hoa, I will have no passport to register with the hotel and my drivers license is often not enough. After some brainstorming, here is what is happening right now.

I made an emergency one day trip during when I was free to the Canadian embassy inSaigonwhere after a little red tape, I left my passport for renewal. I will be issued a new 48 page passport and I was temporarily issued a notarized photocopy. The copy cannot

A shipyard in Nha Trang

be used to fly, so I was to take a night bus or train back home. The copy should allow me to keep working and stay in hotels though I know from experience that photocopies in many places…even notarized will not be accepted. Hopefully when I return for the Mekong Delta trip, my new passport will be ready for pickup and I have requested the old one returned. I will then submit my new passport for the issue of my residency card and hopefully be able to use my old passport to travel.

With all goals accomplished, I boarded a busy night train that had no beds left. I was forced to take a soft chair and endure a ride from hell for 6.5 hours back to Nha Trang. I do not look forward to having to return toSaigonby train or bus for the upcoming tour.

P.S….. A bit of bad luck maybe?

A Metro stands in its place

I have been looking for a cruiser motorcycle for a long time and upon return to Nha Trang, by chance I have come across a rare 1100 cc Honda Shadow for sale that I am interested in purchasing……. Only one snag…. I cannot get the money from the bank to purchase it as I do not have a hard copy of a passport. Oh well….. Maybe fate is involved in the game.

Included are a few random shots

A secluded beach with only me and my camera
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Tour designer and Guide specializing in off the beaten track tours of Vietnam

12 thoughts on “The problem with visas

  1. Hello, been reading your blog on and off for awhile now and enjoy the read, Thank you.

    My concern was reading about the visa problems you wrote about it not renewing any more. I have a 5 exemption visa. I have to finally leave the country soon for the first time and am doing a border run to Cambodia.

    I have not been able to find any information regarding what you mention about the visa not being able to renew. I am just curious what you know about this or what you can tell me about it and what troubles I may run into when I re-enter VN.

    Thanks for the interesting blog.

    1. Your welcome
      Not to worry… If you have the pale green/blue visa exemption, they will simply stamp it at the border and you will have 90 days. If the previous stamp is over 90 days (mine wes once because I forgot) there will be fines involved.

  2. Thanks Owee,

    We did have Nha Trang on the first itinerary, but a friend has recently returned from the Dalat region and did the elephant riding thing. My boys (well, two of them anyway) are keen to ride an elephant, which is why we looked at going inland. I had originally wanted Siem Reap, so we have been vascillating between all options. Yeah, Sapa will be cold and perhaps foggy, happy to layer up and wear thermals. The downside to the time of year, I guess.

    Good to hear re trains!
    thanks again, this planning caper is frustrating! We want to see everything but not possible 🙂

  3. Hi Owee,

    Love your info!
    We are a family of 5 travelling to Vietnam in December/Jan (approx 4 weeks). Our children are 10,9,7 and have not travelled anywhere before, so we are all very excited.

    We are thinking of travelling between cities via overnight train in some instances as it’s very costly to keep flying with 5. What are your thoughts, based on your experience? I’ve seen on TA many people suggest hiring a car and driver (which we thought we may do Hue-Hoi An and travel through the Marble Mountains). Do you have any suggestions re where and how to find drivers? I have posted on TA this arvo as well.

    So far we have come up with the following itinerary:

    2 days Hanoi
    3 days Sapa (understand it’ll be chilly and perhaps foggy)
    2 days Halong Bay
    4 days Hanoi + region
    2 days Hue (re-evaulating)
    3 days Hoi An (hire bikes, shopping)
    3/4 days Dalat region
    2 days HCMC
    2/3 days Mekong Cruise
    2 days HCMC
    3/4 days Phu Quoc


    Have replaced Siem Reap with Dalat region, seemed to far and too rushed. Shame, but travel with children is about being realistic!

    Trying to not book too much before we leave as I understand it can be much cheaper to book directly when we arrive. I’m not used to being that “flexible” so it’s difficult for me!

    many thanks,


    1. The North may be ccccold most likely all the way down to Hoi An and it becomes warmer in Nha Trang which is not on you list but the best destination to go with children. I might suggest 2 nights Hue 2 night Hoi An, 3 or 4 nights Nha Trang (Dalat very cold that time of year). I find overnight trains just fine as long as you have ear plugs and you book soft sleepers in the SE trains.

    1. dont leave sapa out i was there a couple of years ago with owen and i loved it but it was cold but interesting i promise.

  4. hello, im going to vietnam in december for 3 weeks, im arriving in HCMC but on the 2 january i got a flight to hanoi. do you thing its a good season to visit halong bay and sapa? thanks!!

    1. I did Halong in January….. It was a bit chilly, but not bad because less tourists. Sapa on the otherhand was very miserable

  5. Hi Owee,

    I follow your comments closely on this website and also on Trip Advisor. Any advice on a 21 day Vietnam tour? We fly into Hanoi on December 27th and fly out of Saigon on January 17th? Will be travelling with my wife and two late teenage daughters.

    Happy to mix it up with trains and planes,. Any suggestions for an itineracy?



  6. Owee,

    I truly love the country and its people, but it always seems like there is one more hoop you have to jump through to get anything done. Even then, when it was done properly yesterday, it was not properly done today.


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