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. 

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. 

Just after the immigration counters there is a currency exchange counter. I have found their rates to be better than the counters elsewhere in the airport. 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. 

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 the late 1990s. I used to get carried away and pack half the house.

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. Shown below is my current travel bag arrangement.

Most important is the bag. The brand doesn't matter as long as it is somewhat waterproof and sturdy. Mine is made by a small workshop in Japan called Hinomoto Hanpu. 

I use mesh cases for organising stuff as some airport security wants to visually inspect carry-ons. Mesh material is also suitable for packing razors, toothbrush and wet swimwear helping them dry.

  • One case for the charger and cables
  • One case for keys, stamps, currencies, transport cards, debit/credit cards, SIM cards for the destinations I frequent
  • One case for toiletries
  • One case for swimwear
  • The larger case packs one or two change of clothes
  • An iPad for writing, presentations and some work stuff
  • A noise cancellation headphone set 
  • A small camera that goes into the front pocket of the bag
A phone and a small wallet go into my pocket. I usually get an inner pocket stitched on my trousers for safekeeping the passport, some currency bills and a spare bank card. 
Light, quick-drying clothes are my favorites. Uniqlo's easy pants and Muji's Indian cotton shirts complete the sartorial department. The maximum I carry is two changes 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 that they dry in a couple of hours. 

The bag with all the stuff inside weights less than 5 kilograms. 
Carrying a small bag makes me more mobile, I can get in and out of the flights and trains faster. The small footprint of the bag allows me to store it under the seat in front of me. If I need anything beyond the things I have packed, I usually buy them locally at a supermarket. 

(photo by Anirudh)

Some folks asked me about the wallet. It is made by Nomatic and I happily recommend it.