This year, we decided to travel to Vietnam for our first Christmas as a new family. Travel over the winter break has become the norm for Kassandra and me, but it was a new idea for all the boys. I wasn’t sure how they would feel about “skipping” Christmas by traveling. They all seemed very excited about the news. They had big plans of how they wanted to spend their money on things in “the Vietnam”. Ugh. Apparently because they have only ever lived in the United States and in the United Arab Emirates they think every country needs a ‘the’ with it. I would like to say that after telling them once that it is just Vietnam (minus the THE) they got it, but well, let’s just say one of them is still calling it THE Vietnam despite the number of times I have corrected him.
Our adventure began a few days before our departure to Vietnam. Remember that checklist of sorts I just posted about (Travel Bug)? Well, I may have missed a few steps this time around.
Three days before our travel date, it dawned on me that I hadn’t checked visa requirements for Vietnam. I could blame it on the fact that I was dealing with so many other things trying to organize a trip for all of us. I could blame it on the complacency that comes with the fact that, being an American, any time I have traveled to another country in the past, either no visa has been required or a visa could be obtained at the destination airport. But there really is no excuse. I just forgot to check.
Turns out that Vietnam is the first country I have traveled to that requires a visa prior to arrival. This shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, it isn’t like the United States and Vietnam have always been on the best of terms. And really, considering the havoc America caused during the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is called in Vietnam), it is probably justified that I have to pay for a visa. As a side note, as of July 2015, in hopes to increase tourism, Britain, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany have been added to the list of countries that aren’t required to have a visa to enter Vietnam. I am curious to know if their visa policy will ever change to include the US. But for now, I won’t feel too bad. We aren’t alone on the list of countries required to have a visa. Canadians are required to have one too, and really, what has Canada ever really done to piss off another country?
My mistake of not getting visas didn’t turn out as horribly as I first thought it would. While I frantically searched the Vietnamese government website and read through site after site talking about fraudulent visa companies, my husband called a coworker that has traveled to Vietnam. Thankfully our coworker reassured us that we could still order the visas online in time. We used the online company he used in the past (Vietnamvisago.com). The company was very quick to respond and to get everything sorted. Each visa cost $14usd for the visa approval letter and an additional $25usd for the stamping fee once we arrived in Vietnam. Again, Vietnam is totally justifed in charging us money, but this meant we had to spend an additional $318 that I hadn’t really planned for. Of course, visas mean passport-sized photos, and although Kassandra and I have enough random passport photos lying around to play a game of memory with (and the boys actually do play memory with our photos believe it or not), Clark and the boys did not. So, off they went to get passport-sized photos taken at Grand Store in Al Ain Mall (~20 dirhams for a set of three photos).
Typically, I would exchange a small amount of dirhams into the currency of the destination country, and then exchange the rest of my money once I arrive However, the exchangery (yes, I know that isn’t a real word, but it really should be) doesn’t carry Vietnamese dong. Our coworker told us to take US dollars with us as they accept it everywhere in Vietnam. So, we converted our dirhams to US dollars to take with us.
I had also booked transportation from the airport in Vietnam (SGN) to our hotel through the visa company, so another thing crossed off the checklist. Which led me to thinking about another critical element we still needed – transportation from our house to the bus shuttle about 15 minutes away. Now, to give myself some credit, I didn’t forget that we needed transportation to the airport. In fact, thanks to Christine for the reminder about the free shuttle Etihad offers to passengers flying with them, I had reserved us seats on the shuttle from Al Ain to the Abu Dhabi airport. I just needed to get us to the bus station. Clark reserved us two taxis, but we have encountered problems with taxi reservations in the past and true to form, on the morning we were leaving – (not so) bright and early at 3:45am on Christmas Eve, only one taxi was available. The driver offered to call his taxi driver friend to come pick us up. So, Kassandra, Gabe and I took off in the first taxi to the bus station while Clark and the younger boys waited for the next taxi. There were a few tense moments when I wasn’t sure if Clark was going to make it to the bus station in time. The driver was ready to take off just as Clark got there. Whew. Disaster avoided.
The ~2 hour drive to Abu Dhabi was uneventful and the kids got a little more time to sleep. At the airport, things also went smoothly. I must say, once again, that the Abu Dhabi airport is like 1o0 times better than the Dubai airport. It is quieter, lines are shorter, employees are friendlier, and everything seems to run more efficiently in general. The only thing better at the Dubai airport is the shopping, but that isn’t enough of a reason for me to like going there.
Our flight to Ho Chi Minh City took off at about 8:20am and about 7 hours later, we arrived at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City (6:30pm local time). A representative from the visa company was there to greet us upon our arrival and show us where to go to get the visas. Word of warning, the Vietnam visa isn’t just a stamp. It takes a full page of the passport, like the UAE residency visa. This is important to know if you are running low on blank pages in your passport. It took 1 – 1.5 hours to get through everything at the airport, visas, baggage, immigration, etc.
Turns out the 6-7 person car that I reserved through the visa agency was not really equipped to handle more than 5 people, so they required us to pay an additional $35usd to get a larger vehicle. Small detail, but it was a bit annoying.
Well, that’s it for today. The journey through Vietnam will continue next time. Apparently with a house full of children it is quite a bit more difficult to find quiet time at the computer to get any writing done.