VIETNAM TRAVEL

 

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VISAS

Tourist visas allow visitors to enter and exit Vietnam at Hanoi, HCMC and Danang air-poris or at any of its twelve land borders, three each with Cambodia and China, and six with Laos. Tourist visas are valid for a single 30-day stay. the government often talks about issuing visas on arrival to certain favoured nationalities, but as yet this sensible scheme has failed to materialise. Arranging the paperwork for a Vietnamese visa has become fairly straightforward, but it remains expensive and unnecessarily time-consuming. Processing a tourist-visa application typically takes four or five working days in countries in the West. It is possible to arrange a visa on arrival through a Vietnamese travel agent. They will need passport details in advance and will send a confirmation for the visa to be issued at your airport of arrival. In Asia the best place to pick up a Vietnamese visa is Cambodia, where it COST A around US$30 and can be arranged the same day. Bangkok is also a popular place as many agents offer cheap packages with an air ticket and visa thrown in. If you plan to spend more than a month in Vietnam, or if you plan to exit Vietnam and enter again from Cambodia or Laos, arrange a three-month multiple-entry visa. These cost around US$95 in Cambodia, but are not available from all Vietnamese embassies. In our experience personal appearance influences the reception you receive from airport immigration - it you wear shorts or scruffy clothing, look dirty or unshaven, you can expect problems. Try your best to look 'respectable'.
Business Visas
Business visas arc usually valid for three or six months, allow multiple entries and the right to work. Getting a business visa has now become cheap and easy, although prices are about double those of a tourist visa. It is generally easier to apply for a business visa once in Vietnam, after having arrived on a tourist visa.
Student visas
A student visa is usually arranged after your arrival. It's acceptable to enter Vietnam on a tourist visa, enrol in a Vietnamese language course and then apply at the immigration police for a change in status. In reality, the easiest way to do it is to contact a travel company and have them help you make the application.
Visa Extensions
If you've got the dollars, they've got the rubber stamp. Tourist-visa extensions cost as little US$10, but it is easier to pay more and sort this out through a travel agency. Getting the stamp yourself can be a bureaucratic nightmare. The procedure takes two or three days and you can only extend one time for 30 days.
In theory you should be able to extend your visa in any provincial capital. In practice it goes smoothest in major cities, such as HCMC, Hanoi, Danang and Hue, which cater to mass tourism.
Re-Entry Visas
It's possible to enter Cambodia, Laos or any other country from Vietnam and then re enter without having to apply for another visa. However, you must apply for a re-entry visa before you leave Vietnam. If you do not have a re-entry visa, you will have to go through the whole Vietnamese visa nonsense again. Re-entry visas are easiest to arrange in Hanoi or HCMC, but you will almost certainly have to ask a travel agent to do the paperwork tor you. Travel agents charge about US$25 for this service and can complete the procedure in a day or two.
VOLUNTEERING
There are fewer opportunities for volunteering than one might imagine in a country such as Vietnam. This is partly due to the sheer number of professional development workers based here, and the fact that development is a pretty lucrative industry these days. For information on volunteer work opportunities, chase up the full list of non- government organisations (NGOs) at the N60 Resource Centre (Tell: 04-832 8570; www.ngocentre.org.vn; Hotel La Thanh, 218 Pho Doi Can, Hanoi), which keeps a database of all of the NGOs assisting Vietnam. Try contacting the following organisations if you want to help in some way: 15 May School (www.15mayschool.org) A school in HCMC for disadvantaged children, which provides free education and vocational training. Street Voices (www.streetvoices.com.au) Donate your skids, time or money to help give street children career opportunities. Street Voices' primary project is KOTO Restaurant; check its website to see what you can do to help in Vietnam or Australia. The other avenue is professional volunteering through an organisation back home that offers one- or two-year placements in Cambodia. One of the largest is Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO; www.vso.org.uk) in the UK, but other countries have their own organisations, including Australian Volunteers International (AVi, www.australianvolunteers.com) and Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA; www.vsa.org.nz). The UN also operates its own volunteer programme; details are available at www.unv.org. Other general volunteer sites with links all over the place include www.worldvolunteerweb.com, www.volunteerabroad.com and www.idealist.org.