We enjoyed traveling around the South of Vietnam so much that we failed to notice that our one month visa-free stay was expiring. We thought of doing a visa run either to Cambodia or Laos but we finally decided to just apply for one while in Vietnam. We figured the cost would be same with less hassle. How wrong we were! We were in Dalat when we thought of having our visas processed in Buon Ma Thuot, the capital city of Dak Lak province. When we got to the Immigration office there, we were informed that extensions of social visit visas are temporarily on hold due to tensions with the minority. I honestly don’t understand the connection. Maybe they thought we intend to stay long-term in Buon Ma Thuot and may get in the middle of a conflict if in case it happens.
After a few stops on some towns on Central Vietnam, we have finally reached Da Nang, the third largest city in Vietnam. We knew we’d probably wait a while for visa processing so Da Nang isn’t the place for staying put for at least a week. Not that we didn’t like the city, in fact I was surprised by how developed yet surrounded with natural beauty and clean the city was. It’s just that we didn’t find a place to stay that fits our budget.
We hopped on a bus to Hoi An after an overnight stay in Da Nang. Hoi An is a better choice to stay for a week or more according to some travelers we’ve met and of course, according to Lonely Planet guidebook too. We weren’t disappointed. More on Hoi An in future blog post.
Upon reaching Hoi An, we wasted no time and asked several travel agencies on visa extensions because our visa was expiring that day. Price range was between US $60 – $110 for each visa. Too expensive. We thought it would be cheaper if we extend it ourselves in Da Nang.
Then the beginning of the nightmare… the next day, we took a local bus to Da Nang. While waiting for the bus to leave the terminal, I asked an old woman sitting beside me the fare cost for the 1 hour trip. She showed me a 10,000 Vietnam dong bill. Suddenly, the bus ticket woman seated at the back hurriedly went to where we were seated and started talking to the old woman and a young man in front of us in Vietnamese. One of the first thing I forced myself to learn in Vietnamese is saying numbers the local way so listening to what they were discussing, I knew what’s coming up next. When the bus left, there were only 4 passengers including us. The bus ticket woman started collecting money for the fare. As I expected, the young man passed her 30,000 dong. Then the old woman passed the same amount too. When she asked for our payment, I gave her 20,000 for 2 people. Again, as I have predicted, she started arguing in Vietnamese, that the fare is 30,000 dong then pointed to the 2 other passengers who paid same thing. Calmly, we told her in broken English and Vietnamese so she could understand us, 10,000 dong from me, 10,000 dong from my friend, nothing more. End of discussion. She still won’t give up and raised her voice so we told her we want to get off the bus. She sighed and motioned to us with her hands that we stay on the bus. A few minutes after, I saw her passing money to the 2 other passengers, which of course is the excess 40,000 dong that they both paid.
I cannot believe the incident that just happened! For a very small amount, the bus ticket lady made accomplices out of the 2 strangers to cheat us! I felt sick and remembered the restaurant stall owner in Lak Lake. But deep within, I felt victorious for not allowing myself to be cheated.
Back in Da Nang, we went straight to the immigration office. We were surprised when the officers told us that they cannot extend the visa then referred us to a travel agency. Is this one big conspiracy? How and why can’t they extend our visa? The immigration office should be the only place to do that legally! So out of curiosity, we waited for the representative of the travel agency. She told us the cost would be US $80 for each visa. Forget it! We asked other travel agencies around Da Nang. The cheapest that was quoted us was US $65 and the highest was US $100 for each. We gave up and we decided to either exit Laos for US $25 bus fare or have the visa processed in Hoi An for the same amount as Da Nang. At least we don’t have to travel all the way to pick up our passports.
The next day was Friday the 13th, (March 13). Believing it was a sign not to push our luck in Immigration if we cross Laos with the possibility of being charged a crazy amount by Vietnam Immigration officials for over-staying, we had our visa extended at Mr Hung’s in Hoi An for US $80 each. Ouch! A big burn on the pocket. Travel agents were inconsistent too. Some say over-staying up to 3 days won’t really raise alarm bells, some say Immigration officials may charge up to US $100 for each day.Also, we won’t really save a lot if we exit to Laos instead. At least, we got the visa concern off our backs and now can explore Hoi An without worries.
After 8 days of eating well, walking around, biking, cooking class, shopping for tailored pants, taking photos in and around Hoi An, we finally got our passports back. We were surprised to see that the visa extension actually cost only US $35 for each as stamped on the visa sticker. More than twice the amount we have paid. Oh well, no wonder I notice these travel agents toting the latest mobile gadgets. When we asked why the price quoted us was way too high, the travel agent won’t even bother to explain but just threatened to cancel the visa if we want. I don’t see anything wrong with asking for at least a breakdown of how we were charged when we clearly see on the visa sticker that the cost was only US $35. I would understand a few dollar commission, but more than double the cost? Clearly a rip-off.
The only good thing was we got more weeks to explore Vietnam which in the end, was all worth it.