The Background: Last weekend, as we finalized the details for our rental in Hoi An, we realized we needed to get our Vietnam visas before our arrival. The official government website said that e-visa applications would be processed within 3 working days; I naïvely took them at their word.
Fast Forward Four Working Days: We woke up yesterday morning to the realization that our visas still hadn’t come through. Our flight to Vietnam was scheduled to leave at 3:55 p.m. Mr. December and I called and emailed all the contacts we could find online; none of the phone “hotlines” picked up—not even the “emergency hotline”—and nobody responded to my emails.
But… three of the visas came through in the next half hour. Three out of six. And so we started packing (worst packing job ever) and obsessively refreshing the visa application status page. Another visa came in an hour later… and then another… and then nothing. Five of us were fine, but K didn’t have permission to enter Vietnam.
Mr. December and I conferred and decided that if K’s visa didn’t come through, one of us would stay in Siem Reap with her while the other went ahead to Hoi An with the rest of the kids. But we still packed all of us up and got down to the front desk, where we expected our van to be waiting.
It wasn’t waiting. There were, however, two tuktuks. The drivers started loading our luggage in, while I wondered how on earth they were planning to fit all of us and all our gear into two four-seater tuktuks. Mr. December kept telling them we wanted a third tuktuk (which of course would take some time to arrive) but the drivers kept assuring him that two were enough. We squeezed in (poor R and K had a suitcase on their laps the whole way to the airport) because we were already running late.
Arriving at the airport, we saw that our flight was on time—so then why weren’t there any check-in kiosks for our airline? We were informed that our flight was delayed by two hours, so the counters wouldn’t be opening until three hours before the revised time. This gave us forty minutes to cool our heels, which wasn’t a bad thing given that we were still waiting for K’s visa to come through.
The check-in counters opened. Our fellow passengers were all lined up. K’s visa still wasn’t ready. As a last-ditch attempt, we contacted an agency that advertised “Super Urgent” visas in under an hour. It cost us $250, arguably less than it would have cost for another couple of nights in the Cambodian hotel and new flight tickets for two. I guess you could say it was a legally sanctioned bribe. What else do you call it when you pay somebody to call his contact and escalate the case?
Anyhow, it worked. Within fifteen minutes, K had permission to enter Vietnam. The airline staff at the check-in counter very kindly overlooked the fact that we had a handful of small extra bags (Mr. December never met a souvenir he didn’t like) beyond our allowance, and offered to check some of our carry-on suitcases for free. We heaved a sigh of relief and headed to the gate, where we suddenly had all the time in the world.
On arrival in Vietnam someone from the visa agency met us, took K to the front of the immigration line, and passed a paper to the officer who immediately stamped her passport. I had gone to the head of the line too, because of the wheelchair assistance, so we hung out and waited for the rest to join us. We reunited with our luggage and went to find a ride to our villa.
A very pushy taxi dispatcher tried to convince us to take two taxis while Mr. December firmly reiterated that we wanted one van. There were no vans available, the dispatcher said; but as soon as Mr. December opened his Grab app and looked for a ride, a seven-seater car magically materialized beside us. Unfortunately there was almost no cargo space in the trunk, so we were once again squished into the car: one in the very back with most of the bags, four of us across the back seat, and E perched on Mr. December’s lap in the front passenger seat. It was an uncomfortable ride and we resolved to just use Grab from then on.
We arrived at our villa tired, aggravated, and aching from the cramped ride. Our hosts met us and it soon became apparent they spoke very limited English. After a few exchanges via Google Translate one host went off to get us some food from a nearby restaurant while we determined which of the kids had to share a room this time. Finally, finally our hosts left us alone to eat a very late dinner and go to bed.