Before leaving Belfast, I organised my visas for Belarus, Russia, Mongolia & China but did not have time to organise my visa for Vietnam. This didn’t really bother me, as I had read of many people organising their Vietnam visa in various places in China while they were travelling.
There were 3 downsides that I could think of though:
- I’d need to take time out while travelling to organise the visa
- It can take a couple of days for them to process the visa, and I might not be staying in one city long enough
- I’d organised my train ticket from China to Vietnam in advance with an agency. Much more expensive, but I needed the evidence of the booking before China would give me a visa. I had this confirmation, which was enough to get the Chinese visa, however the agency refused to actually buy the ticket until I gave them a copy of my Vietnamese visa – which I didn’t have!
So anyway, after my Gobi tour in Mongolia I had 2 spare days in Ulaanbaatar where I didn’t really have much to do except hang out and rest after the tour. I decided I should try to get my Vietnam visa here rather than wasting a day in Beijing or somewhere where I actually had stuff I’d prefer to be doing.
To start with I tried to find some information about doing this in Mongolia, however I couldn’t find any information about it online. Lots of dodgy websites from companies offering you instant Vietnam visas online and stuff like that, but no blogs, travel guides or information from people who’d done it.
This is a huge contrast to the amount of information available about getting your Vietnam visa in China – heaps of blogs, travel guides, forum posts etc. I then went to the website of the Vietnam Embassy (which can be confusing in itself due to all the fakes), but found it had almost no information on it whatsoever!
In the end, I decided I’d just go to the embassy first thing in the morning and see what they said. Worst case is they’d just say no, and I’d do it in China after all. It would be a new experience for me, as I’d never been to an embassy or got a visa while travelling before.
The embassy opened at 10am, and I arrived not long after this – I wanted to be as early as possible as I needed the passport and visa done by the next evening so I could get it back before my train the China.
On the way in, the security guard had a quick search through my bag before letting me in. I explained to the man who greeted me inside that I wanted to get a Vietnamese visa and he said ok and sat me down at a desk with lots of visa application forms on it. I asked if it was ok for tomorrow and he said yes, and then walked off to leave me to fill in the paperwork.
Once I’d completed the form and attached my passport photo, somebody came back to check the form. It all looked good to him, and at this stage I thought I better confirm that I could collect it tomorrow. “3 days” was the reply. Uh oh. I explained (several times) that I needed to pick it up by the next evening at the latest as I had a train to China early the following day. The 3 men in the embassy all talked to each other, looked a bit concerned, walked around the office a bit (no idea what they were doing) and after a few minutes came back to confirm it must be 3 days.
I said that was fine, if it can’t be done in time then don’t worry about it I will just get the visa in Beijing. They didn’t seem to like this, and looked a bit concerned for some reason, spoke to each other in Vietnamese for a few minutes and then said he had to call his friend to find out if it can be done faster. After about a 5 minute phone conversation, he came back and confirmed to me it could be done by the next afternoon. It must be magic!
I double checked that I will DEFINITELY be able to get my passport back the next day, as if I didn’t I would miss my train and they said it would be ready for collection at 5pm. I should bring $100 USD in cash with me to pay for it. That seemed a bit expensive, and I’m sure I read it was cheaper in China – but I was just happy to be getting my visa.
The next day I went back to the embassy just after 4pm, and my passport and visa were ready for collection. YAY! It was a simple case of handing over the $100 and getting the passport, I had a quick check that the details on the visa were correct and thanked them for ensuring it was done in time for me.
I went back to my hostel, emailed a photo of it to the China to Vietnam train agency who then confirmed that it was all sorted, and they’ll book my train ticket. Relief! Glad it’s all sorted, and now I can relax.
I went out for Vietnamese food for dinner to celebrate!