I’m almost done with my series on the Trans Siberian Railway but since this came up last week, I thought I’d take a moment to write about it.
I live in Vietnam and have been living here for about a year and a half now. My first year in Vietnam I had a work visa that was valid for one year but after my visa expired I’ve been on tourist visas which has proven to be a pain. After my one year visa expired, I intended to get a visa exemption. Vietnamese living abroad can apply for 5 year visa exemptions (right now it’s $60 USD) and you can stay in Vietnam for up to 6 months. Tourist visas are only good for up to 3 months. Since my dad was born in Vietnam that makes me eligible. So while I should be able to get this visa exemption, I’ve run into a few problems which is the reason why I’m still on a tourist visa. When I was in Paris last summer I tried to get this visa exemption but the Vietnamese consulate in Paris told me I had to be in the U.S. to get it. Then when I went to China in October, the consulate in Nanning was only able to get me a one month tourist visa. After that I tried applying for one in Vietnam but it seemed more trouble than it’s worth. For one thing, my passport expires next year and the government doesn’t do renewals for new passports for this kind of visa exemption. Plus, it was extremely expensive to do it in Vietnam. I would’ve also had to get my documents translated and notarized.
This wasn’t a big deal since tourist visas are easily attainable. You can do visa on arrival in Vietnam and recently, Vietnam lowered the prices of visas on arrival. You just need an invitation letter to show at the airport, pay a fee, and you’re good to go. I normally use http://www.vietnamvisapro.com/ to get a letter. Fees range from $10-$37 for an invitation letter. And fees at the airport range from $25-$50 for single or multiple entry visas. If you only need a single entry visa, then doing visa on arrival is really cost effective compared to getting it done at a consulate.
Vietnam in the past was able to do visa extensions while in Vietnam but recently they’ve changed their rules. It might still be possible to get one month extensions but they’re pricey and you’ll need to find the right person to do it for you. I found this out about a week before my visa expired. A month before that, visa agencies tole me I would be able to get a 3 month extension but the rules for visas are constantly changing in Vietnam. With only a few days before my visa expired, I had to make a trip to Phnom Penh to get a new visa.
I’ve heard conflicting things about getting a visa at the border if you attain an invitation letter in advance but didn’t want to risk going this route since I knew for sure it would be easy to get one in Phnom Penh. So if anyone has experience with this I’d be interested to know. Getting a Vietnamese visa in Phnom Penh is really easy and fast.
Sleeping in Ho Chi Minh City
I currently live in Vung Tau so I opted to take a 2-ish hour bus ride to Saigon, stay the night, and take a 6:30 a.m. bus to Phnom Penh the next day. I’ve stayed in Saigon plenty of times at different places. I wanted to stay near District one (also known as Backpacker’s district) since my bus to Phnom Penh was located in the area. I ended up at Ngoc Thao Guesthouse, a hostel a friend of mine recommended. They have good reviews but I did not have a good experience. It seemed that most people were pretty happy with their experience there but long story short, I got bedbugs. It was horrible. My entire body was covered in itchy bites which made my ride to Phnom Penh extremely uncomfortable. I would not recommend this place.
Instead, I would recommend Ms. Yang Homestay. I’ve stayed there multiple times, it’s clean, and they have the best staff. They’ve let me use their shower to freshen up after checking out, they’ve helped me call buses, etc. Really the best customer service. It’s in District 3 so it’s away from the crazy that is Backpacker’s but still close to all the main attraction in Saigon if you don’t want to stay in District 1.
Getting to and from Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City
There are a ton of companies that have buses to Phnom Penh on Pham Ngu Lao street in Backpacker’s District/District 1. They typically leave in the morning or early afternoon. I think there also might be some night buses but I’m not sure. On the way to Saigon I took Mekong Express to Phnom Penh. I bought my ticket online beforehand just in case the seats sold out. The 6:30 a.m. buses are VIP buses which means they only seat 11 people. I paid $14 for my ticket. But it looks like they have since raised their prices to $15 on the website. In order to enter Cambodia, you’ll need a visa which you can get at the border. Most bus companies will assist you with this. The price ranges from $30-35.
On my way back to Saigon I rode on Giant Ibis. It’s a bit more expensive but the service is good and the buses are nice (they had outlets!). I paid I think $18 for a ticket and booked through my hostel in Phnom Penh. My bus was for 8:00 a.m. and a shuttle picked me up at the hostel to take me to the bus.
Sleeping in Phnom Penh
Since my trip to Phnom Penh was very last minute I didn’t spend too much time looking up hostels in Phnom Penh so I just went with the first hostel that popped up on my HostelWorld search which ended up being Mad Monkey. This is your typical backpacker party hostel. So if you like partying and want to meet new people, this hostel is pretty ideal since they have their own rooftop bar and restaurant for socializing. If you want quiet, this might not be ideal. I stayed in a female dorm that had a shared balcony with a co-ed dorm room so it got pretty loud at night and I had to ask people to be quiet so my room could get some sleep. The hostel is very clean though and the staff was helpful and friendly. I met some cool people while there but at the same time, I met lots of obnoxious “travelers.”
Getting a Vietnamese Visa in Phnom Penh
So you can either go to the Vietnamese consulate or a tourist agency to get a Vietnamese visa. Going to the consulate of course will be cheaper but the fees that tourist agencies charge are usually not that much more if you’re willing to spend the extra money and save the line-waiting at the consulate. The consulate though is not so close to the main stretch of Phnom Penh and since my bus dropped me off at the Central Market I was quite a ways away from the consulate. My friend that lives in Phnom Penh recommended Lucky Lucky Motorcycles Shop to get a visa. Their visa area is past the bikes in an office in the back. I asked for a 3 month multiple entry visa to be done same day. They quoted me $105. I think the consulate would’ve only been maybe $15 cheaper. So if you want to pay less, the consulate is the way to go but doing my visa through Lucky Lucky was SOOOO easy. I dropped my passport off at at about 1:30 p.m. and picked it up at 5 p.m. There are tourist agencies everywhere in Phnom Penh and many hostels will help you with visas as well. I’m not sure what the prices are though.
Out and about in Phnom Penh
I essentially only had half a day in Phnom Penh. I had been to Phnom Penh once before though if you want to check out that post. This time around, I visited the National Museum which has a lot of Pre-Angkor and Angkor era art representing Buddhism and Hinduism. Admission is $5 USD. There are plaques and small descriptions throughout the museum. It’s not very large but there are some great pieces of art. I was glad I had taken an art history course on Angkor Art and a bunch of religion classes on Buddhism and Hinduism as well because I don’t think the art pieces would have as much meaning for me. So it might be useful to do some research before visiting this museum. You’ll see lots of things representing Buddhism, Hinduism, and depictions of the story The Ramayana.
In the evening, I met up with my friend that lives in Phnom Penh. We ate dinner at Sesame Noodle Bar and got drinks at Tini Cafe and Bar which are in what seemed to be an expat-y area. Both places were very good though if you’re looking to escape downtown Phnom Penh.
Besides the bed bugs, my trip to Phnom Penh was relatively painless. Lots of travel time, but I was able to get a new visa and be back to work within a couple of days.