No, I’m Won’t Be Going to Jail, Apparently; My 573km Visa Run

Cooking Dakgalbi in Hanoi, Vietnam (Spicy Barbecue Chicken)
May 2, 2012
Kungpao_Chicken
Bring Chinese Cuisine to Your Kitchen: Dali Cooking School
May 11, 2012

No, I’m Won’t Be Going to Jail, Apparently; My 573km Visa Run

“Ahahahahahahaha-“

The immigration officer couldn’t stop laughing for five minutes whilst my eyes were full of tears.

“I’m serious!” I claimed.

“Don’t worry! Vietnamese are very friendly!” She said.

“To Koreans?” I asked.

“No, to everyone! Don’t worry! You’ll be fine!” She answered.

“So, I won’t go to jail?”

“No.”

This is the answer I got at the end of 573 km trip in one day.

Jail? For what you might ask.

Okay, here’s the whole story; it starts in Nanning, China. For my month visit to Vietnam, I went to Nanning to buy a Vietnamese visa and cross the border by a bus. As a Korean, I get 15 days free entry but I wanted to stay a month. My hostel in Nanning was supposed to take care of the visa business for me. However, the consulate wanted a flight number for my visa because I requested ‘unusually’ long permission. The hostel wanted me to go to the embassy by myself, but I knew if I went, I would return without gaining anything. I predicted this based on my countless number of encounters with Chinese bureaucracy. So I decided to extend my visa while in Vietnam.

I entered Vietnam without a visa on 22 April and got a stamp for 06 May: 15 days.

In Hue, Vietnam, when I was trying to extend my visa; it was a national holiday. The next destination: Hoi An. Everyone said ‘Yes, you can do it in Hoi An. It will take 2 or 3 days. Don’t worry!’

Okay, so there I was in Hoi An, at a nice homestay. I asked about the visa extension and apparently, it’s only possible in Da Nang, 25 km away from Hoi An. After an hour bus ride, I arrived at 4:15pm, just before the office was about to close.

“Where’s your invitation?”

The immigration officer wouldn’t allow me to fill out the form because I didn’t have an invitation. Based on her explanation; travelers cannot travel Vietnam alone. They have to have an invitation from a Vietnamese tour company in case of some accident might happen. And this is the law. To this day, I’ve never heard of the requirement of invitation to travel to Vietnam. Have you?

Long story short, I had to go on a border run to the Vietnamese border town of Lao Bao. I really didn’t want to, but I had to. I didn’t want to take a chance of overstaying my visa. I honestly thought they could put me in a jail for it.

My travel map for 29 hours

The itinerary I was looking at was:

Hoi An – Hue, Hue – Lao Bao, Lao Bao – Hue, Hue – Da Nang, Da Nang – Hoi An

Total: 573 km.

Saturday, 05 May: I took a bus to Hue at 2:00 pm. (130km)

Sunday, 06 May: I took a bus to Lao Bao at 6:30 am. (161km)


I arrived at Lao Bao around 10:30am. No problem at the exit counter. I paid 20,000 Dong for something and got an exit stamp. The Laos entry office was quite far from where I stood. Maybe it wasn’t too far but it was quite a distance by foot and the weather was just too hot. Technically, I didn’t need to go Laos to renew my visa; all I needed was an exit stamp from Vietnam. So, I walked around the Vietnamese custom office and went to the entry counter on the opposite side.

The immigration officer gave me until 20 May 2012.

“Excuse me… I’m sorry but could you give me two more days? My flight is on 22 May.”

And he called the other officer who could speak English.

“Show me your itinerary.” He said.

A little hope; he was willing to listen to me. So I pulled out the itinerary from my backpack and showed it to him, but he was impatient; he was gone already. A female officer offered her help. I explained the situation to her, thoroughly.

“Sorry, I really want to, but I can’t. It’s the law.”

I started explaining to her what I’ve been through. How I couldn’t even buy the visa, how I got rejected to extend the visa, how I’m a good person and I just want to travel in your country for two more days. My eyes were full of tears whilst I made my case; it was unfair that I had to go through this much trouble.

“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m sorry, it’s the law. I really can’t.”

She came out from her booth to talk to me. I explained everything once again.

“Two days is okay. You maybe have to pay the fine, but it’s okay. You’ll be okay.”

I wasn’t sure what was okay. So I popped the question: “So, they won’t put me in jail?”

She couldn’t understand the word ‘jail’.

“Jail. Prison? Bars. Prison. Jail.” I made the gesture of handcuff. And then she goes.:

“Jail? Oh, jail. Ahahahahahaha-!!!!”

She just couldn’t stop laughing. And she told the story to all of her coworkers at the immigration office. Oh well, at least I made them laugh.

A local bus packed like Sardine

A local bus from Hue to Da Nang. Packed like sardines

Sunday, 06 May: I got a stamp that’s good until 20 May. I caught a minibus to Dong Ha. (81km) Changed the bus to Hue (71km) and after a two hour search, I finally was able to catch a minibus to Da Nang, and it was packed like sardines, seriously. (99km). From Da Nang, I got a local bus to Hoi An (31km).

I arrived in Hoi An at 7:30pm.

So, I traveled 573 km in 29 hours. Five buses, two motorbike taxies, one taxi and one bike ride home sitting on the back. It was a hell of a journey and still I didn’t get what I needed. But at least I’m valid for another 15 days. And hopefully, like the lady said, they won’t put me in a jail for overstaying two days. Or maybe another border run to Cambodia? Maybe not.

Wish me luck!

Have you ever been to a crazy border run?

For those of you who were worried about my visa run, I got 15 days. Still, it means I have to overstay 2 days but I won't go to jail for that, apparently. I gave the immigration office a big laugh.

Juno Kim
Juno Kim
Juno Kim, a happiness-seeking storyteller. Photographer, writer, and trained mechanical engineer. Life-long nerd. I left the cubic farm to follow my true love: the world. A firm believer of serendipity, astronomy enthusiaster, and living by passion and love in life. Currently, on a quest to discover stories and find the place where I can call 'home'. Follow my journey through @RunawayJuno and Google+ .

37 Comments

  1. […] Taken on the bus from Hue to Da Nang, Vietnam. On my way back from the crazy border run. […]

  2. That’s just crazy!! I’m so glad I have a Canadian passport — I extended my visa in Hanoi for an additional month for 10 bucks. It took a few days, but no hassle at all.

    At least you are not going to jail! That’s some comfort I suppose… 🙂

    • Juno says:

      Only 10 bucks? Wow, that’s crazy! I spent way more than 10 bucks and all the hassle! Aghh. I can’t believe they put me, the fellow Asian through this trouble! Glad you didn’t have any problem.

      • Nguyen says:

        Koreans, Japanese and Southeast Asians all get visa-free entry into Vietnam. Koreans get two weeks, if you wanted to stay longer you should have applied for a visa beforehand. I don’t see how this is racism against a fellow Asian. Canadian passport holders would not have been allowed into the country without a visa and the same applies to all other Western countries. So please explain to me how we are being racist to Koreans?? There are tons of Korean tourists and expats living in Vietnam and they all get treated much better than most locals. Now compare that to how Vietnamese immigrants are treated in South Korea…

  3. I’ll be traveling to Ho Chi Minh City in next 2 weeks and will exit the border on the way to Siem Reap, then border exit again to Bangkok. My visit in each country is just a total of 2 nights only, so I guess I will not encounter any problem. And this is the first time I will do this kind of thing. Good luck to us! 😀

    • Juno says:

      I’ll be wishing you luck! Yeah, only 2 days won’t be any problem. All these countries you listed are travel friendly places, so you’ll be fine!

  4. Ele says:

    Even though I live in the ES and we have free movement agreement, last week our bus was stopped at the border with our neighbour country and they had a passport check. We have to kinds of documents: an ID card and a passport. Some countries accept either, some only passports. I was dreading when I handed over my ID card. It was such a short trip but the wrong document might have ruined it all. So, yes, I have been border frenzy.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Yikes! That sounds like a stressful experience! The bureaucracy of visas and travel documents can be a real nightmare! We had a bad experience at the French consulate in Canada. I was going to study but my, now husband, was coming along to work for a year while I went to school. So we needed different visas. Mine they accepted with health insurance for just the 9 months I’d be studying, but when he went in with the same insurance they flat-out refused him, saying he needed a full year’s insurance. He begged and pleaded with them and ended up running down the street in Toronto to the first travel agency he could find and buying insurance for the other 3 months. It cost him more than the first 9 months! He ran back, pleaded to the camera-person who controlled the locked door into the consulate and was eventually allowed to enter. After a stern lecture, they finally agreed to put his paperwork through.

    • Juno says:

      Yikes! THAT sounds like a stressful process! Glad he finally got his visa though! Isn’t it crazy, how difficult can it be? After all, my visa run costs much more than just buying a visa. I don’t know who I’m giving money to anymore. This is just a little downside of traveling and living abroad, but it’s worth it 🙂

  6. Andi says:

    Thank goodness you didn’t go to jail! What a looooong day!!!

  7. Barbara says:

    Whew! I too am glad you didn’t go to jail! Passport situations can feel so harrowing. It happened to me right after some drug bust at the Turkish-Bulgarian border several years back. I was an American and they were completely suspicious of all Americans at the time, so I had to unpack my bags in front of several dozen on-lookers. And at the top of all my stuff when I opened my suitcase? A heap full of tampons. 🙂

  8. Mike Bugno says:

    Yikes, this does not sound fun? Did Jr. go with you? See you in just a few days.

  9. Wow, what a story! I will be curious to see what happens to you – it isn’t May 22 yet! 🙂

    I know many people have made a border run. Your story was entertaining but more importantly you aren’t in jail. Hope all of this works out!

  10. Noel says:

    Sorry to hear about the crazy border run. I know it’s no fun. I did have a crazy border run experience in Lebanon, I entered Lebanon from Syria and at that border everybody has to pay to get a visa, but I know that with my Malaysian passport I don’t need visa, so after arguing for sometime, I got a 2-day visa free entry. So on the third day I had to go to the north border as I could get 1 month visa free stay only at that land border. It wasn’t as long a journey as yours, but I had to hitch rides here and there to complete the mission. I’m sure you can get more information about the fine in HCMC, might be cheaper to do a border run to Phnom Penh though.

  11. Leah Travels says:

    Oh, Juno! Bless your heart. What an ordeal. The good news is that you have a fantastic story. 😉

  12. Ruth says:

    Ohhh, that’s a long visa run but at least it’s over. Good job travel’s worth the hassles it sometimes brings, eh? I think you shouldn’t worry too much about the overstay. A colleague of mine overstayed for two months by accident because he didn’t know his visa had run out. He had a couple of $100s fine but he didn’t even have to leave VN.

    If you decide to do another visa run though, there are things worth seeing in SW Vietnam so you can make the most of the side jaunt: Phu Quoc and the Mekong Delta of course but the border town Ha Tien also has enough to see and do for a day or two too, even though so few travellers stop there.

    As for the invitation letter, I know you do need one to get the special airport pick-up visa (so it does exist) but then didn’t have to have one when I got my first VN visa in Laos, nor for any extensions. Weird.

  13. George says:

    I absolutely dread visa application etc. Living in Europe and mainly travelling around Europe I rarely have to apply for visas but they are such a pain. Why can’t we all have open borders (you know apart from the criminal activity)? would make it easier for us travellers though. 😉

  14. So glad we haven’t had to do a border run before! Especially one as epic as that. I am sure you will be fine and they won’t even check it in a weeks time 🙂

  15. Waegook Tom says:

    This gets a great big “헐” from me, Juno!!! Can’t believe that journey though – I’d have just gotten the first AirAsia flight out of there! But, I guess if you fall in love with a country, then it can be difficult to alter your plans. Hope you had a lot of beer in the evening to numb the pain of that journey!

  16. Leslie says:

    So frustrating! At least you brightened their day by giving them a joke to share with their coworkers– lol.

  17. mee says:

    Wow that is a LOT of hassle! When you said packed bus like sardines I thought it was just a normal packed bus, until I saw your picture. I have never seen it like that before! They actually put people on the lanes! (I assume they put small seats in the lanes) It looks so uncomfortable!

    ps: I just found your website as I started my own blog 🙂

  18. melvin says:

    Great story! I had a similar experience in Vietnam when we wanted to cross the border to Laos. A guy in the bus (employee for customs) told us that the border would be open for tourists. Travelers told us it’s not. Who do you trust?
    We believed the official guy & got to the border & it was closed! We had € 200 left, but nobody could change the money. Not even the banks in the city (Dien Bien Puh). We had no other cash left! We paid the last bits for our taxi ride to the border! Luckily the guy took us back to the town for free!
    There we booked a flight by credit card. Only flights we could get was to Hanoi, where we were a few days earlier! We paid more & got change back in the local currency! With that we could afford us a hostel & a beer at night! 🙂
    We arrived in the morning in Hanoi, booked a bus & left the same day for a long bus ride to Vientiane!

  19. Jem says:

    That was quite a long run.Visa applications are really complicated but good thing you were able to make it through.

  20. Sounds like a pretty horrible journey, but like most horrible journeys, it makes for a great story. Of course spending time in a Vietnamese prison would have made for an even better story…. but maybe not worth it.

    I’ve had some annoying visa troubles myself, but nothing like this. I’ve also never been to Vietnam, which may have something to do with that.

    I love the picture on the bus. I guess if you want to look at the bright side, at least there were no animals riding with you.

  21. […] his house near the bus station. They took care us closely. I had a lot of questions regarding my visa situation, and Mr. Vinh and Mr. Hoa kindly helped me figured out what to […]

  22. […] one forced me to do so, but I did it to just stay in Vietnam for two weeks longer. I thought I was going to jail. More than half of my time in China and Vietnam, I was worrying […]

  23. […] life histories, like my career changing story, why I dressed up as a ‘victim of fan death’, my ridiculous visa run story in Vietnam, some of my worst travel nightmares, the day I finally went to see Wicked the […]

  24. […] Thankfully my visa run is just a ferry ride away. I’ve read horror stories such as Juno from Runaway Juno who had to do a 573km visa run. […]

  25. Annemarie says:

    Hi Juno, just found your tory – what a crazy, scary adventure! How did it turn out? I presume you didn’t go to jail. Did you pay fine?

    • Juno Kim says:

      Hey Annemarie, no I didn’t go to jail of paid fine. I did another visa run to Cambodia again, because I was two days short. I’m not sure why Vietnam makes such a difficult visa rules!

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