I probably should have explained what a “visa run” actually is before telling you the tale but I got so caught up in the detail while I was on the journey that I forgot to mention it.
So what is a visa run?
From what I’ve done and learnt ~ my understanding of a visa run is when you leave the country, go to another country and return back to the country you came from to get another visa so you can stay in that country for longer.
That’s exactly what I did – I went all the way to Cambodia, entered, got my visa and departed all within the space of probably an hour. Once I got my departed stamp – I went straight back into Vietnam with another visa.
Apologies in advance for lack of videos and pictures ~ photos are completely prohibited while you’re crossing the border so all I have is my memory and words with some videos before and after..
***Stay tuned for the video of the whole journey ~ coming soon!***
The story continues…
To recap where I was up to in my last blog…I went to get my invitation letter (a legal requirement to re-enter the country straight after your visa expires if you want to stay), struggled through river floods and waited for a long time to get a Grab driver to the bus stop. I eventually found the bus stop and met a group of three lovely people from the Philippines.
We waited for the public bus for about 40-45 minutes ~ basically until the driver felt like going (at least that’s what it felt like anyway).
Once he opened the doors, we all hopped onto the bus and made our journey towards the Moc Bai border ~ the closest border to Saigon.
It was extremely uneventful but gave me plenty of time to document my journey and post it up for you 😊
But what happened after was the exact opposite of the bus ride.
I mean I really didn’t know what to expect to be honest but I didn’t expect it to be that much of a long process and roller coaster. It was definitely a fun experience though and taught me a lot about doing a visa run in Vietnam!
We left at around 2.15pm and arrived at around 4.30-4.45pm. Once we all hopped off the bus, we started walking towards the departure office.
I must say, I was SO glad that I tagged along with my new friends (Jay, Jojo and Lennie) because they’d lived in Vietnam for almost 2 years and crossing the border wasn’t new to them – they’d at least done it about 3 times so they knew where to go, how much we were supposed to pay and all that jazz. If I didn’t meet them, I guarantee you the trip would have been far more frustrating and confusing.
We had to walk quite some distance to get from the bus stop to the immigration office. The sun was setting by this point and there were many trucks parked to cross the border as well ~ it almost looked like a traffic jam of trucks.
I went straight to the toilet once we got into the immigration building and then we went towards the area you queue up to get your departure stamp. We were approached straight away by a guy who wanted to ‘help’ us cross the border and get our stamps but my friends were determined not to accept ‘help’ from anybody because they would charge you a fee which made getting the visas even more expensive when it’s already an expensive process.
We politely declined and went into the queue.
At first, the line was really small – I thought to myself: “this isn’t too bad at all, we’re going to get through in no time.”
But then something happened…
A couple of guys (including the guy who tried to help us) pushed in with some passports with a note stashed in-between the pages of each passport ~ these were the people paying their way to get their stamp.
We knew from talking to others (and from experience) that the “helpers” paid the immigration official a bribe to prioritise their stamp over everyone else’s
At first I thought it was ok to let a few people to push through because we were at the very front of the line by this point…but boy was I so wrong.
One by one, more and more people kept pushing in, every single person had money in their passports. And the helpers would keep coming to make more additions on their piles. At times they would bring stacks larger than the size of their face to the table while we just stood there patiently….hoping he would finish stamping everyone’s and call us to get our stamps.
But the longer we waited, the more people kept pushing in, and the bigger the queue was becoming.
Eventually it got to the point where we were getting really frustrated – we’d waited for probably an hour by this point and weren’t getting anywhere…which led us to caving into following everyone else and bribing the officer.
We all slipped a 50k note into our passports and stacked them in front of the officer’s face. But even that didn’t seem to interest him. He kept on picking other stacks of passports over ours while people kept adding more and more passports into the pile.
Ugh it was never ending…surely ours was coming next???
I remember saying to Jay, Jojo and Lennie that we needed to be patient….(to be honest we didn’t really have a choice – you can’t really lose your cool at officials which can deny you entry /exit into a country).
Almost a few minutes later, he took our stack of passports! Yes! FINALLY!
I was so happy by this point. He took mine first, looked at me and started saying e-visa.
I thought he was confirming that I had an e-visa so I just replied: “yes”
And then he started shouting at me: “E-VISA, E-VISA!”
One of the other helpers explained to me: “you need to show him your e-visa”
Luckily I actually had this on me – I have no idea what would have happened if I didn’t. And double-luckily, I knew exactly where it was too (I wish my agent would have told me this in advance).
I reached into the back of my bag where my notebook is and went through the pages – this was my usual spot for these sorts of documents.
But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but get paranoid that I lost it or put it somewhere else like in my other bag which I left in the hostel in Saigon.
Thankfully, I found it within seconds and handed it to the officer.
He looked back down at my passport, stamped it and put it up on the counter for me to take.
I took it straight away and opened the page to check I got the exit stamp – CHECK!
*phew* that could have ended really badly
The others didn’t have any issues like me.
We started walking towards the Cambodian border. The sun had already set and it was quite dark – crossing the border in the dark wasn’t the fun I must admit.
After walking for about maybe 15 minutes, we started to see these Cambodian style architectural buildings – yes! We’d reached the border. There was literally nobody in line, only one other person in front of us getting their stamp. Once it was my turn, I walked up to the counter and the officer told me to go outside to get a visa.
For some reason I thought he would give it to me there but I had no choice but to follow his instructions (meanwhile my friends from the Philippines were let through straight away).
I was a little bit concerned because I was on my own by this point…and it was dark.
I walked outside and could barely see a sign saying “Visa Counter”
I walked up to the counter but there wasn’t anyone there. Four guys were sitting out the front having their dinner. I walked up to one and asked: “Can I please get my visa?”
Eventually, one came into the office and asked me for money for the visa. I handed him USD$40 and he gave me $5 change, along with a visa form to complete. After I gave him the completed form and my passport, he proceeds to ask me: “how long are you staying for?”
Me: “I’m not, I’m going straight back to Vietnam.”
I show him the letter and he has this “oh yes I’ve seen this before many times – no worries” expression on his face.
He gives me my passport with the visa inside.
I went back to the same counter and the same officer who told me to get a visa told me to go to a different counter to see someone else.
I was extremely confused – how could it be so difficult to get a stamp?
Again, I had no choice but to follow his instructions. I went up to a different guy who handed me an immigration arrival and departure card, which I completed as quickly as possible.
Third time lucky – I give the arrival and departure card and my passport to the first officer and he finally stamps my passport.
I’m confused where I’m supposed to go from here.
Me: “where do I go to get the exit stamp?”
Officer: “you have to walk out, turn left and walk all the way around the building.”
I start walking…in the dark. My friends are nowhere to be seen and I’m not sure if I’m heading in the right direction but it feels good enough. Eventually, I see a building which says “Departure” ~ thank god!
I hand the officer my invitation letter and passport and she stamps it without hesitation and then tells me to walk straight down to the Vietnamese border again.
So there I am, walking the very long walk between the borders again but on my own this time. I get approached by some Vietnamese people on bikes, I think offering me a lift to the border but I respectfully decline them and continue to walk by myself.
Once I get back into the same building we exited through, I see a whole bunch of people sitting there waiting to cross back. Immediately, two guys come up to me and tell me they work for the department and they need one visa photo.
I give them a visa picture and then ask them how much will it cost to process my visa?
I’m shocked because I was expecting to pay USD$35 as advised and I start questioning whether these guys are legitimate.
I see another tourist who is doing the visa run and decide to verify the price with him
“Excuse me, how much did you pay for the visa?”
Guy: “It’s supposed to be $35 but I’ve heard that you have to tip a little bit so I gave them $40”
I decide to try my luck to get it down to $40
Me: “Will you do it for $40?”
Officer: “No, $5 for coffee”
Me: “No, for $40”
They just kept repeating themselves.
I stood there in frustration, not really knowing what to do and thankfully, I hear Lennie call out my name: “Mei! What are you doing? You don’t need to talk to those guys.”
I run over to them, in so much relief and they confirm you don’t need to pay any more than $35.
The officer’s just about to go on his break but Jay convinces him to do my passport as well
But then I encounter the next issue – I only had a $100 US note and knew that they wouldn’t give me the correct change if I gave such a big amount to them. So I asked to pay in Dong.
Me: “how much is $35 in Vietnamese Dong?”
I have doubt as to whether this is the right amount so I convert it using my XE Currency Converter App.
As my suspicions had it, I was right, he was trying to rip me off….again
My App told me that USD$35 was equivalent to about 816k Dong.
So after convincing him that was the amount I was going to pay, I accidentally gave him 850k instead of 815 and he quickly accepted and walked off before I could check – sigh.
Oh well, at least I got my visa to enter into the country.
We proceeded to wait again to get our entry stamp…from the same officer who ignored us to let us exit the country,
While we were waiting again in queue, Lennie and Jay said that they had to call their agent to get someone to give them a visa (wow, it just kept on getting better and better).
We had to wait for ages again but we eventually got our stamps and started attempting to make our way back
The next hurdle….getting back to Saigon
Jay, Jojo and Lennie heard that the last public bus was at 7 from the place we got dropped off at. Because it was 6.50pm, we didn’t like our odds of making it back to the pickup point but then we saw one of the other foreigners doing a visa run waiting just outside the checkpoint. We asked him how he was planning to get back to Saigon.
Guy: “I’m waiting for a bus here. The guy told me to wait here”
I go up to the local guy and ask:
Local guy: “$10”
I quickly convert using XE Currency Converter on my phone – it was almost 234,000 Dong (AUD$14). Considering we only paid 40k to get from Saigon to the border, I thought the price was way too high and wanted to try my luck at going to the bus station to catch the same bus again.
But Jay, Jojo and Lennie seemed convinced there wouldn’t be a bus and said we could hire a car instead between 5 people and the price would be better than paying USD$10 each. Given their experience in crossing the border, I placed a lot of trust into them so I listened to what they said and followed their lead.
We offered the other foreigner to join us and walked further down – he decided to join our group and started running after us after politely declining the local’s bus offer.
After walking for about 10 minutes, we got approached by heaps of locals all looking for people to take back to Saigon. Luckily Jay, Jojo and Lennie could all speak some basic Vietnamese to negotiate a price.
The first guy offered us a ride for 800k
I still thought that this was way too steep and believed that we could get a much better price.
Me: “let’s keep going. I bet we could get it for cheaper”
Because I was so sure ~ everybody followed my lead and we kept walking.
Eventually one of the locals followed us and offered the ride for 600k
Lennie paused: “it’s a pretty good price”
Me: “Let’s just try to see if we can get it for 550 or even 500”
Again, everybody followed my lead and we kept walking until we found another driver. She was a female and was happy to accept our asking price.
At last! We got what we wanted…
But then when we all got into the car and were about to close our doors, the first guys which were trying to get the deal held our doors open and started yelling at the lady driver to the point where she told us to get out.
Arghh….we were so close.
Off we walked again…
We walked and walked for probably about another 15 minutes and the guy who offered us the ride for 800k kept on following us until we told him we were not going to accept his ride. Eventually he gave up and walked back.
Not long after he left, we found another driver waiting in his car who agreed to take us back for 500k!
FINALLY! We finally got a deal and made our way back to Saigon comfortably.
It took a while but we all successfully crossed the border and extended our visas 😊
I only managed to get one picture – at the very end of the journey in Saigon in District 1 🙂
It definitely wasn’t the most fun day of my life but definitely a great experience which taught me so much about doing a visa run in Vietnam and how to cross the border like a local.
Thanks so much for reading, I hope you enjoyed my story!