Saturday, October 4, 2014

Visa Run cum Border Tour

One more hour to go before the Police office resumes work. I went back to the guesthouse to lay my back a bit.

It's the Motorbike; I got a very cheap offer from a garage back in Hanoi for a Honda Dream bike for around 152 dollars, and I thought I can drive around Vietnam for, not just the north, but including the central region (since i've already done south vietnam in my first visit 2 months back).

With only 6 nights, 7 days left in my Visa, From Hanoi, we thought about going Northwards, as I see, there have been border crossings where traveller did not need to cross to the other country (this case China which I don't have and require a visa). I've also checked with some travel agencies and  said I can do it, though I am kind of hesitant. But I thought it was worth trying as if it works, we are that close to the Ban Gioc Waterfall in Cao Bang (said to be Vietnam's biggest).

It took us a full day to drive to Haiphong, so we thought about staying there for a night; 5 nights to go.

The next day, we drove into Catba Island. Catba was very nice to chill out as accomodation was cheap and was fronting the sea, but inasmuch as we'd like to hang out further, I had to move. (One full day) 2 nights spent in CatBa island, and then we moved further. 3 nights to go.

From Catba, we drove into Halong and spent a night in Halong Bay at a traveller friend's place. 2 nights to go. 

From Halong, i was very hesitant of whether it will work or not. I was thinking about just doing it the sure way (Vietnam-Laos border) but it was too far away; about 600kms. Mon Cai border is just 160kms away so i thought it was worth the risk. What I was thinking then was, in case it don't work in Mon Cai, I'd take the night bus to hanoi, and from hanoi, drive it to the Lao Border.

It was an endless driving on a green and diverse landscape; We couldn't even take pictures as I was trying to make it to the border cut off time; otherwise, there would have been no point and the rushing is of no use.

We made it 15 mins before 5pm at the Mon Cai border (Lonely planet says this border closes 7pm though); Unfortunately, without a visa for china, they said they can't let me out. They were offering to extend my visa right there for $45 but I have a feeling, it's not an "official" process (bribe). I did not bother. I would have been OK with it, if it'll go to the vietnam government, but if only to the pockets of a one or few, i'd rather not.

I was so frustrated, but there was no choice nor a time to whine. I've called up other travel agencies, and was told it shall be possible. There was so little time and too much risk. The other problem that wrecks my mind is that i got into a blog about a guy overstaying for 2 days and had to pay more than $100 for an issue caused by an immigration officer (stamping 28 days instead of supposed 30days). Then we thought about taking the risk at Lang Son; we assumed, at worst case, i'll pay the $45 charge/request.

Second day of full day driving at speeds we would not really be doing; The road to Lang Son won't even let us run more than 30kms per hour. Unfortunately, I was refused again in the Lang Son border. Then again, the immigration officer there advised me to go to a Police station and request an extension; This is the first time I've heard of police being able to do extensions of visas, but, it's the immigration who advised, so I thought there must be some truth to it.

It was already turning late at night, and at some point, I ran out of gasoline too. My meter shows half full, but apparently, it broke, and at a location of speeding trucks and no lights but of passing vehicles and the full moon above. My travel pal julie had to get gas for me, and I had to hang on.

A little while later, she came and drove to the Police Station. With the help of a Couchsurfing guy Leo in Haiphong who translated what I needed, the Police advised me to take a rest for the night, and come back the next day for a fix.

The next day, I came back, and was asked to go to Immigration. A motor taxi dropped me there, and there was a lady who spoke a bit of English.

After some explaining, unfortunately, the answer was, I have to drive to the Lao Border. I called up the Police officer, and was told to come back to the Police station at 2pm.

I came to the Police station ahead of time. After waiting for about 30 mins and no sign of the Police I'm supposed to meet, I sent him an SMS; Minutes later, he replied saying he's coming.

We drove onto the immigration office. After parking, the Police called up someone, and later had the other police speak to me. I was told the same thing this morning. It has gotten more frustrating, just when i'm so pressed with time, I did not know why i had to wait until 2pm, and drive to the immigration (and not even walk onto the office). Whatever transpired, I think could have done right then and there in the morning.

Again, whining won't help. I asked julie to pack up real quick and we're driving to Hanoi.

From Lang Son, it was 160kms to Hanoi, and because of the the highway, gladly it took us only less than 3 hours to drive it. 

I was initially thinking of driving it further, but i thought, the more I rush, the more frustrating it becomes. I told myself, money is nothing compared to what I have been putting myself into.

The following day, we drove early onto the Na Meo border. it's 255kms away from Hanoi. The road was not as great as that of Lang Son-Hanoi; Half of what we've driven was also highland. By 5:30pm, we were in Mau Chai Village, and I decided to call the day there. It's about 130kms to go, and with the terrain, it's not so safe to drive at night.

Leaving Mau Chai for the Na Meo border

I woke up the next day earlier than usual; It's my second day of overstay, and I am preparing myself for, maybe, a series of questioning on the border.

I started driving at around 9:30. It was an even worse road, I would every so often look at my maps if i'm in the right direction. The route goes into smaller and even more remote villages, much of which is unpaved, and muddy. I would get so worried on how bad it can get further, and if it may be a good idea to turn back, and reroute while early. Then again, just thinking of how long i've driven so far, I just went forward. 

It took me 13 hours to get to the border, arriving at around 5:30. At around 4:30, I was driving a little bit recklessly already just to make it on time. I was on self pity, for having to endure all these, in these past days, just for the sake of a stamp.

the road to the Na Meo Border between Vietnam and Laos

the road to the Na Meo Border between Vietnam and Laos

the road to the Na Meo Border between Vietnam and Laos

upon stopping at his store, this old man saw me quite dusty and took a rag and shook it off. Would not even give me the rag to do it myself

the road to the Na Meo Border between Vietnam and Laos

the road to the Na Meo Border between Vietnam and Laos

the road to the Na Meo Border between Vietnam and Laos

I parked the bike, and asked for the passport control. The room seems empty, seemingly closed. 

Then, somebody walked in. i explained, I badly need to get the exit stamp; The immigration officer asked for my passport.
I have told him ahead I am on overstay for 2 days, but it dont seem like he understands. My phone is drained, I plugged it onto my power bank.

Immigration officer looked at the stamp, and was shaking his head upon seeing the expiry date of the visa. I was pointing to my phone, while saying, I'll call my friend to explain.

I went out to get a cigarette while waiting for my phone to come up; Meanwhile, immigration officer walks out of the office and took his phone to, i suppose, talk to his superior.

Right on time, the phone came up, and I quickly dialled Leo's phone, and told him about the situation. Immigration officer meanwhile walks right back in and calls me; He was ready to stamp my passport, and I passed the phone to him. After talking to Leo, he proceeded to stamping. No other words were utterred, while i repeatedly said "thank you, cam on, thank you"

No fines, no other questions, no forms, no ban. Thank Goodness it's done.

This post is part of the #limbonisASIA tripSee link for more stories, detailed expenses and itinerary


  1. Hi there.. We are about to crossing Vietnam to Lao border at Na Meo, can I ask you, what documents (except Passport of course) did you provide to officer? I expect the blue card (of motorcycle) and that's it? Did you have a valid driving license for Vietnam by that time?


    1. Hi Dan, u need the receipt of the sale as well. A letter stating you bought it. No driving license required. Honestly, it was not necessary to get a temporary vehicle import, as other friends from europe did not get one. They just park on the side, and then drove. I did it on another time as well. The cost is $10, and if u arent bothered of 10$ u may as well pay it so u dont have bigger problems if ever police stops you on te laos sidez then, have the same green card stamped on the other side of the border at laos just as a sign that the lao immigration knew that u entered with a bike. I was once stopped by laos police somewhere, and showed them the stamp. No fee paid at that time.


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