What website to use for Vietnamese online visa and some tips

Vietnam has probably the best food in the world, and a simple online visa system. The catch is that you need one of the online agencies to process the visa for you. It is tedious to figure out a  reliable agency.  I will recommend the following two agencies that I have tried.

1. http://vietnamvisapro.com - this is my current agency of choice. They are quick. I usually get my three months multiple entry visas from them but they will also do single entry visas. 

2. https://www.myvietnamvisa.com - I use to buy the visa from them from 2007 to 2011. They stoped providing this service for Indian travelers for a while, but looks like they have started it again. 

Note that you can only use this online visa when you arrive by air (any of the three airport - Hanoi, Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City, DaNang). If you are coming in by land, contact a travel agent in Thailand, Cambodia or Lao for the visa. 

The procedure

1. You fill in the online form and make the payment via their online payment link. 

2. Look out for their email that acknowledges your submission and payment. This should arrive within an hour. Check your spam folder. If you don't see the email, just email them back. 

3. The agency will send you an email in a day or two with the invitation letter. Usually the first page is a text acknowledging that the persons listed in the following pages have been granted the arrival visa. The following pages have a list of names, including your name. Print all the pages, even the pages that do not have your name.  Most agencies will also include a link to the arrival form. You can print and fill this beforehand to save time. This form is also available at their Visa on Arrival counters. 

This is how the immigration area looks like at Saigon's (Ho Chi Minh City) Than Son Nhat Airport. Walk over to the visa stamping counters. They are marked as A in the illustration above. Submit the passport, invitation letter, filled arrival form, photo and the visa fee. They take about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the volume. You can rest at the waiting area (B). They will then call out your name and return the passport and a receipt for your visa fee payment. Walk over to the immigration counters (C) in the figure. Theofficer here with make an entry stamp on your passport.  You can then go down the escalators (D) to pick up your bags and walk out after a customs inspection. 

The procedure is similar at other airports where this facility is available. 

Some other tips for Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Just after the immigration counters there is a currency exchange counter. I have found their rates to be better than the counters outside. They will also sell you a SIM card- though it is easy to find WI FI in Vietnam, I would recommend getting a data SIM card - they are inexpensive. 

The best exchange rate in District 1 is at a small shop near the Benh Thanh Market. I have marked the shop in the map below.

Once You are out of the airport, you can take public busses to popular neighborhoods in the city. I always walk to the domestic airport next doors and take a Vinasun or MyLinh taxi from the taxi counter. It is cheaper compared to taking the taxi from the domestic terminal. Taxi is metered and usually costs around 1,20,000 VND to the city.  If you are even more adventurous, walk out of the domestic airport to the Parkson Mall across the street. You can negotiate a cyclo (motorbike taxi) from here to the city center for about 60,000 VND. 

I will also recommend getting a Uber from the airport. It is easier to get them to come to the International airport just outside the arrivals area. Uber app will ask your for the number on the pillar near your location. Many streets in Vietnam have the same first name, so make sure you are typing in the correct location. 

Vietnamese is a tonal language, it is unlikely that a cyclo or taxi driver will understand a foreigner's pronunciation of Vietnamese words. I bring up my destination on Google Map on my phone and take a screen shot. Once the place is stored as an image on your phone, you can zoom in and show the text to the driver. This is a must with cyclo guys as many of them are older gents who can't read small text. 

If you are reaching Saigon or Hanoi during the day, and don't mind staying in the backpacker area, don't worry about booking in advance. There are loads of economical hotels and hostels at Pham Ngu Lau in Saigon and near the northern shore of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. Just ask them to show your the room, walk in the room, check the cleanliness and wifi strength etc and take the room if you like it. It is perfectly fine to politely decline if you do not like the room. 

Google map links 

Hotels near Hoan Kiem late in Hanoi https://www.google.com.sg/maps/search/hotels+near+Hoàn+Kiếm,+Hanoi,+Vietnam/@21.0327747,105.8482498,16z/data=!3m1!4b1?hl=en

Hotels at Pham Ngu Lau in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) 

Takoyaki laments

Your are born of flour and octopus bits. Born as a shapeless dollop, the woman keep prodding you, turning you and shaping you. You are so happy to have such a lovely mom. But just when your heart swells and you turn brown, the mom packs you in a box and off you go.

The cutest bookseller in the world

A part of my heart is lost in Rangoon, somewhere between street 27 and 28, across the Scotts market on Montgomery Street. This is where I met the world's cutest bookseller. Every visit to her bookshop ended up in me finding a book on Burmese history, and trying to negotiate the price down, and the cutest bookseller always winning. Don't tell her that I let her win, just to see that victorious smile. One more week, and I would have ended up as the leading authority on the nation's history.  You can travel half the world but there is no point, if you can't make a little girl smile.

Beach combing in Niigata

Back in 2008,we went beach combing in Niigata (North West Japan). We found a bottle that had floated in from North Korea across the Sea of Japan (North Korea, China, Russia and South Korea are on the other side of the sea). We went back today to see if we can find something interesting. Nothing from North Korea this time, but enough stuff from China and South Korea.

The giant concrete tetrapods are breakers used to reduce the energy of the waves to prevent soil erosion.

Books and Trips and down by the delta

I like the Mekong delta, specially at night. Everything burns in the day. Your shirt is a rag with sweat. But at night there is a cool breeze, distant thump of a motor boat crossing the river, It is like the whole universe was made, humans evolved and split into cultures, just so that on a night like this, you could overload your senses with lovely faces reflecting the glow of street food lights and sticky-rice-spicy-chicken.

Back in Saigon, we had yet another session of Trips and Books. "The Little Prince" and "Old Man and the Sea" were most discussed. As for destinations - Burma seemed to be everyones favourite. One of our participants bakes some cakes for us. 

Missing the Krasue

Anyone up for a horror movie? I miss the floating severed head with hanging entrails ghost in Cambodian movies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krasue

We also had a readcamp, discussed books on economy, education and some fictions that deal with the theme of living away from ones birth country.

Come..ours is not a caravan of despair, the ethnic enclave in Kuala Lumpur

My hobby is collecting secret places in the cities I frequent. On some days, when the sky is deep blue, and if some little kid smiles at me, I feel magnanimous, and reveal my secrets to the folks around me. Last Sunday, I shared some of the ethnic enclaves in Kuala Lumpur with a colourful bunch - some residents and some travelers. We went to a Burmese place, where ladies in thanaka and lyongi served us tea and mohinga. Next we climbed up a narrow staircase past a Rambo Supermart (perhaps they sell supplies to take over a small country)  for some Nepalese momo. For desserts, we explored the Filipino enclave for halo halo. The survivors of this intrepid trek ended up at what is probably the cheapest and most colourful watering hole in KL. Next time, I am in KL, I will reveal the only Cambodian cafe in the city. Come if you are keen, ours is not a caravan of despair.

Earlier, I was in Saigon, yet another city that is full of secret places. I met some more lovers of leaving, and talked about getting lost in far away lands. 

And in Djakarta, I miss the conversations in the park.

The art of traveling light

Look at my bag (the one on the left) as I enter China sometimes in late 1990s. I used to get carried away and pack everything that I might need. Over the years, as I discover new fabrics, technology etc, and as I learn to live with less and less stuff, I have been trimming what to carry. This is my current arrangement.

Most important is the bag. The brand doesn't matter as long as it is somewhat waterproof and sturdy. 

The stuff inside, I use mesh case for packing sundry stuff, as some airport security wants to visually inspect stuff and mesh is a good material to pack razors, tooth brush and moist swimwear, helping them dry faster.

  • one case for the charger and cables, keys, currencies and cards for other destinations
  • one case for toiletries (some airport security like to able to visually inspect stuff)
  • one case for swimwear
  • the larger case packs one or two change of clothes
  • a notebook - doubles as storage for tickets, maps etc
  • iPad for writing and presentations
A phone and a custom made wallet go into my pocket. I usually get a inner pocket stitched on my trousers for safe keeping the passport, some cash and a spare bank card. 

Light, quick drying clothes are my favourites. Uniqlo's easy pants and Muji's Indian cotton shirts complete the sartorial department. The maximum I carry is two change of clothes (in addition to what I am wearing). I experimented a lot with different fabrics and brands finally settled on these for their easy availability across East Asia, and the fact they dry in a couple of hours. 

The bag with all the stuff inside weights less than 4 kilograms. Carrying a small bag makes you more mobile, you can get in and out of the flights, trains faster. If I need anything beyond this, I usually buy them locally at a supermarket.