So one thing that's really annoying about Vietnam is that the visa laws are constantly changing. In order to enter Vietnam you need to apply and pay for a welcome letter, and then also fill out papers and take pictures and pay a lot more for the actual visa sticker in your passport.
When I first arrived the longest visa allowed to foreigners was a 3 month tourist visa. Which meant every 3 months I had to get a welcome letter, leave the country, and come back in. Which I did twice.
Pretty recently they've changed the laws. It's hard for me to say for sure what exactly the rules are now (side note: there are no real laws in Vietnam) because the multiple people we talked to have given different sides and googling it gives the previous law. But what it sounds like (and what it was for me) is that you can now only apply for a one year, multiple entry visa, which is much more expensive. Better for me, because I live here. Worse for visitors.
Anyway, in any case our visas were still running out. And me and five of my roommates still had to get up crazy early to take this bus to Cambodia to leave the country, get our new visas, and come back in.
Dealing with officials at the border is a pain to say the least. For one, from the second you get off the bus people swarm you to try and help you by offering you rides, leading you around, trying to fill out paperwork for you, and then asking for money. So you have to push past and keep saying "no". Also lots of long lines.
For two, every person will tell you different things. For example Shoe and I both filled out our paperwork with the same red pen. They accepted mine but made Shoe go back and fill it out again with blue pen. Also if your money is "ugly" (dirty or torn) they can refuse to accept it. So there are lots of distraught tourists who can't get into or out of the country because they have enough money...but no one will accept it.
For three, they can ask for however much money they want from you. The sign at the border said $135 each, but they asked for $140 from each of us and wouldn't take no for an answer. Vietnam pretty much entirely runs on bribes. By giving the officials extra money they will push you through and past the lines quickly. By being obnoxious Americans and continuously pointing out the number on the sign and asking "why?" They will be rude and make you wait much longer. We do the later. Other people I know here do the former.
|The luscious Vietnam/Cambodia border garden|
We have already stamped out of Cambodia and can't go back. But we can't move forward into Vietnam either. We are stuck on the border.
The Vietnam/Cambodia border is a bizarre place. Outside it consists of this empty garden area with big elephant and giraffe statues like a forgotten theme park. This little stand sells some snacks and drinks.
Inside it must have at one point been a shopping center...but is now a creepy dilapidated empty building. But it still has dusty glass food counters and menus. Old advertisements and broken glass cases are everywhere. It's bizarre. For a while we thought it was maybe purgatory. Here is a video from my roommate Dylan's Instagram. (side note: he's a great photographer. He has all kinds of cool Vietnam pictures you should check out).
Ultimately a crazy nice border guy helped us out. He was super helpful, made a bunch of phone calls, and just hung around and talked to us in extremely broken English. They were able to contact the company and have them fax over funds for a new welcome letter. We just had to spend many many hours at the border.
These were the first few hours. We sat out in the garden and had a beer with the official who was helping us out. We got snacks. We hunted for snails. We were so young and hopeful.
7 hours passed. We literally bought out every single beer at the border. We fell asleep on the couches. There was no air conditioning (side note: Vietnam is hot). Things got continuously worse. Eventually we get all our stuff together and wait for another hour or so in line. Eventually get back on the bus for more hours back to HCMC. Then a cab for another long drive to our apartment were we were stuck in traffic because of an accident. We joked that we'd never get home. But eventually we did. And when we did. Both the elevators in our apartment were broken.
We live on the 13th floor.
But good news. I now have a business visa (and can actually be legally employed) and I can come and go into the country as many times as I want until next October and never have to visit the border ever again.