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Vietnam Visa On Arrival – Scam or Legitimate?

Vietnam Visa On Arrival Scam or Not?First of all, visitors are able to pick up their visas at Vietnam International Airports IF they are holding a document called ‘Approval Letter’ which pre – arranged by a Vietnamese tour operator. This is 100% legal. And everyday, hundreds to thousands of visitors are  picking up their visas at Vietnam airports without a problem.

So, how comes someone or even Vietnamese Embassy’s consular refers it to scam or not legitimated?  I think because of the way people call or define the ‘Visa On Arrival’ as ‘Visa On Arrival’ is NOT existed in Vietnamese Immigration Law. As I understand, Cambodia or Laos has Visa On Arrival because I just go there, show my passport, pay my fees then visa will be stamped to my passport. But in Vietnam, you can’t do that. You must make a pre – step to get a paper called ‘Approval Letter’, once you have it done, then you can pick up your visa at the airport as normal.

The conflict on defining could leads to some difficult situation for travelers. Someone just go to the airport for boarding without a visa as they understand Vietnam has ‘Visa On Arrival’ to offer. I launched a website of Instant Vietnam Visa couple of weeks ago. Guess what? the first week, we received more than 10 requests on rush visa!!!. Travelers just realized they need a valid visa OR Approval Letter to allow boarding to Vietnam. Luckily, our team served them on time to grant Approval Letter within 01 hour, just on time for boarding, one case needed to change his flight to next day as his time was too tight up.

Back to the question Visa On Arrival is a scam or legitimated in Vietnam? The answer are both Yes and No. Yes, because Vietnam does not offer Visa On Arrival (as my above definition) and No, because you can pick up your visa on your arrival if you arrange Approval Letter in advance. With current situation, I may call it as ‘Pre-arrangement Visa Permitting’. I am not too sure about it. Someone may help on how to rename this type of visa’s definition to avoid misunderstandings and problem for travelers to Vietnam. Thank you!

Will You Return To Vietnam?

The Matt’s blog have made a big argument on Vietnamese community recently.  The discussion about his post not only attracted to people who work in hospitality industry but also millions of Vietnamese seasoned travelers. Some are objected his post and identified Matt as inexperienced tourist. Some are totally agreed with it and expressed that Vietnam Tourism should look seriously on their service.

I personally think this case is very personal point of view so I am not saying Matt has been right or wrong on his saying.  Every country has their own fan, people may love it or hate it. However, some of the issues he stated are sadly true based on my own experience after years on the road with travelers. Many thing need to be improve such as taxi scam, overcharge, street vendor hassling and so on. I also believe that small scam group is not represented to Vietnam. Vietnam is the country that you need to stay long enough to understand its people, style of life and its community.

One thing that concern me much which was a statistic stated that over 90% of visitor never return to Vietnam. It is surprising me as I witness many friends of mine repeatedly coming back, not once but few times and most of my customers feel extremely impress with country and people and urge to come back to discover the places they have not seen. Or Vietnam is always on their recommendation list. Of course, my company serve about 3,000 visitors per year only, it is too small number compare to 5 millions of total country visitor. However, I also traveled with thousands of people while doing tour guide for years and rarely seen anyone not enjoy Vietnam, some of the cases also made some people uncomfy about but I don’t think they hated Vietnam or recommend people stay away from it.

Am I being not updated? Vietnam has changed quicker than my catch? I am not too sure about it. Please kindly share your experience or opinion with a simple poll or comment below. Much appreciate it!

Will you travel (again) to Vietnam?

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Perfume Pagoda in late march 2011

Our trip started at 9 am in hanoi, after 1h30p we were present at Perfume Pagoda.On the road, around 20km far from Perfume pagoda, you may encounter a touts for boats service, meals…., but should not use their services.
Seems like the atmosphere of the main festivals still echo to this day so we feel very excited when we had recently arrived. Instead of raining on the way is the light sunshine that makes scenes become brighter and more beautiful than ever.
Our trip enlists the weekend on sunday, so we can only select the main point to visit such as Trinh temple,Thien Tru, Huong Tich cave.
Depart from the wharf, it will take about 15 minutes to reach the Trinh temple, 60 minutes to Thien Tru and from there you can catch the cable car to the Huong Tich cave.
As an amateur photographer, I also spend my time to take some images for sharing so that you may have a look at one of the famous landscapes of Vietnam. Unfortunately, images are not very good so you guys should give me your sympathy :).
The trip is perfect and ended at 4 pm, we drop into restaurant and recharge the energy after one day traveling then go back to Hanoi at 7.30pm.
I hope to have the opportunity to come back and visit more places!

Junk or Junk?

Some time ago I started to put my free time into the Trip Advisor Forum that seems to be the in-place for travelers now so I could get back the fluency of ‘Westerner’s conversation’ that I lost when I quit my tour guide job a few years ago.  These days I find this forum useful for me (apart from spammers and touts) as I can see the ‘travel trends’ that people are moving towards, and that helps me keep ahead in business. The Halong Bay section of the forum now seems to be the hottest.  Experiences are mixed – good and bad – but that’s what you would expect with such a large enterprise.  I am not trying to recommend any specific cruise agents to you in this article, just wanting to alert you to use your common sense to help you make the right choice in general travel shopping (especially online shopping).

Purpose of your visit

You should ask yourself first: “What am I coming to the bay for?  Relaxation?  Sight-seeing?  Photography?  Luxury?  That is the first step towards choosing the right Junk boat.  If you are on your honeymoon or a photographic expedition, an affordable charter Junk can be found – or even a small capacity one would be suitable.  A trip just for relaxation may require a bit further research on Junk facilities. A few Junks now offer massage, cooking classes or Tai Chi exercising on board, and they seem to be the ones for leisure customers.  If you are not too sure about the purpose, then just choose a classic Junk that offers a basic cruise with transfer, food, and sightseeing included.  Don’t worry too much about what you might miss on a ‘classic option’ as most Junks in Halong Bay go by the same routes and you are unlikely to miss the highlights of the Bay.

Budgeting

The range of fares varies from 50 USD to 500 USD per cabin (each cabin usually sleeps 2 people). Junks are now divided into three levels: under 100 USD, under 200 USD and above 200 USD.  Personally I think the middle range between 100 and 200 USD suits most people.  These offer a comfortable cruise with nice bedding and facilities. The risk of being ripped-off is lower in that range too.  If you are looking for a relaxing trip at the end of a long journey, just choose the middle range as the safe option.

Book through an Agent or Direct?

This has both Yes and No answers!  If you are in rush, booking through an agency seems to be the better option as most Junk operators have limited access to direct customers, so they focus more on local sales partners  who employ the sales people and handle all the booking systems. The sales culture is also quite different if you try and deal direct with the operator; mis-communication due to language difficulties is much more common in direct sales attempts, and both the operator and customer lose out if the Junk departure time is missed. However, if you choose the high-end option, most of these operators offer booking online and you can deal with them directly. The deals may lead you to a good buy depending on your travel dates (high or low season or availability of the Junk). Nothing is lost to try this method if you have the time, BUT, note that there are a number of fake Junk websites on the internet now. Double check to make sure you have the correct website of the Junk you are looking for.  Making a phone call in advance is recommended.

Booking via a reliable travel agency also saves much of your time maybe money too.  As I stated above, Junk companies sell their vacancies through any available agency but the selling price will vary from agency to agency depending on their sales volume – low volume equals a higher price. Travel agencies also have the power to do a deal with a special booking you may have, so don’t hesitate to bargain when you deal with a travel agency. If you travel with your own big group for a party, school meeting or photography, I am sure an agency would fight hard with the Junk operator to get you the best deals.

Junk or Junk?

Halong is the place you should spend more time and money to enjoy even if you are budget travelers. Choosing the right Junk is important; don’t get excited and take the first cheap deal that comes along.  Safety in Vietnam is not the high priority it is in the West.   There have been number of accidents and deaths in Halong Bay because of fire and lack of safety instructions on the boats. While the Government controls security and safety for all Junks in Halong, it is difficult to monitor and control. Make sure your Junk provides at least basic or above safety equipment such as fire protection, emergency exit instructions and life vests for all passengers. Food is also important; if you are vegetarian travelers, make sure you ask for the right menu for you at NO additional charge. If you find your Junk is suspicious in any way, ask for details of the menu they provide. It is good anyway to flag to them that you are alert to these matters so that they pay more attention to your booking. There is another question to ask them: “How is your boat and service different from the others?” Check that the answers are correct.  All these things may take you a little time, but it is worth it to ensure that your time and in Halong Bay will be a time to remember with pleasure rather than the opposite!  One final thing – does the boat company do anything towards protection of the Bay’s environment?

Choosing the right Agent

There are thousands of travel shops around Vietnam now where you can place your booking. It is essential that you book your trip in advance in the high season (from October to May) to secure your seats. The better Junks often sell out in advance. Book it from Hanoi agents – they are closer to the Junk operations and get better updates and price. Spend time on the official Junk website to view the real pictures and facilities they offer. The agent you book with must have:

  • Travel license – meaning that they are an established organization and you can claim for a refund to Vietnam Tourism if something is not delivered as they promise.
  • They must understand what they sell – Make a phone call to see how professional they are, how they respond to your concerns and then you will find out how much knowledge they have.
  • Book with a company that does not own their Junk. They may steer you to better  Junks instead of just pushing their own. Ensure that you deal with a specific Junk brand rather than a non-Company boat.
  • Don’t just trust promises, pictures or other materials they provide. Ask around or visit some trusted forum like Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet.

As you know, crap is all around out there in this world. Whatever happens, don’t be too difficult to please as Halong Bay can please you simply by its own beauty. Have a good trip!

Official web pages of Junk Company in Halong Bay

Bai Tho Junk

http://baithojunks.com/vn/

Huong Hai Junk

http://www.halongdiscovery.com/

Emeraude Classic Cruises

http://www.emeraude-cruises.com/Halong-Bay

Oriental Sails

http://www.orientalsails.com/

Paradise Cruise

http://www.paradisecruises.org/

Indochina Sails

http://www.indochinasails.com/

10 restaurants I like from Saigon to Hanoi

Food is always the most important part of every trip. I am lucky to have chance to travel throughout my country more than one time. Every city or province in Vietnam has their own specialty. It is likely impossible to list all them here. I just want to show you my personal favored list that I often go. My choice is simple: hygienic, affordable and unique foods that you may not find in anywhere else.

Saigon

1, Pho Le (Beef noodle soup)

It tastes quite differently from most of Pho from the north. It is a bit sweeter I think. This shop serves with a big bowl, plenty of extra fresh vegetables and herbs. Chicken eggs and meat balls can be ordered as aside at small additional charges.

  • Address: 303-305 Vo Van Tan St., Ward 5, District 3.

2, Luong Son Quan (Bo Tung Xeo)

This is a popular place for both Vietnamese and tourist. It offers the beautiful grilled beef with self grilled service at your table. Beef is very tender plus secret mixed source. The other specialties are also available such as snake, scorpion and other you may not want to hear.

  • Address: 31 Ly Tu Trong St., District 1

3, Banh Xeo (Saigon Pan Cake)

The shop located in a small alley of Hai Ba Trung street in Saigon. It is always crowded by locals. There are couple of courses are served but highlight of restaurant is Banh Xeo which is the typical southern food.

  • Address: 46A Dinh Cong Trang – District 1 – Ho Chi Minh City.

Nha Trang

4, Lac Canh Restaurant

Lac Canh is small family run restaurant, it’s also famous for grilled beef but they offer in different flavors. Other grilled seafoods are also available here.

  • Address: 44 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm – Nha Trang City

Hoi An

5, Mermaid Restaurant

The one of very first restaurant opened in Hoi An. The founder owned number of restaurant in town but still keep Mermaid in purpose of providing affordable menu and unique tastes. I recommend to get some specialties of Hoi An and Stuffed Squids. They are the best in town.

  • Address: 02 Tran Phu – Hoi An Town

Da Nang

6, Quan Ba Thoi

This is a must – visit place for fans of seafood while you are in Da Nang. Restaurant of Ba Thoi offers the fresh seafood at affordable price. Just ask any locals for direction.

  • Address: 96 – 98 Le Dinh Duong – Da Nang City

Hue

7, Lac Thien Restaurant

Lac Thien is family run restaurant in Thuong Tu gate of Forbidden Citadel. The owner – Mr. Lac is deaf and mute. He is quite good at body language and foods has picture presented so it will be fine for your order. Don’t miss the special Hue Pan cake. Love this restaurant; love this family and also Mr. Coin.

  • Address: 06 Dinh Tien Hoang street – Hue

Hanoi

8, Bun Cha Hang Manh (Grilled pork with noodle)

It is busy all the time, especially at lunch. It offers a unique taste of meat and fish source. Bun Cha is also one of Hanoi specialties. Try it!

  • Address: 01 Hang Manh – Hoan Kiem – Hanoi

9, Snailed Noodle Phu Tay Ho

There are number of shops here for your choice. I think they all offer the good food. Just try to jump to the first one on the line – street. Snails are caught from the West Lake right in front. Fresh taste, a bit rubbery though, broth contents tomatoes, bones and other herbs that make a perfect combination.

  • Address: Phu Tay Ho – Tay Ho – Hanoi

10, Alfresco

The one and almost only Western restaurant I like in Hanoi (I go there quite often actually). It offers great pizza and spare ribs. Pasta I like is seafood with scream source. It is great service there too.

Those are places where I like to go, if you feel like following my routes, please click here to get the printable version. Kindly note that what I like may not the same to what you like. And do you have your own list of Vietnamese restaurants that you fall in love with? please write them down to our comment box below to show to the others. It’s very helpful isn’t it?. Enjoy your meals!

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