80 Days of Visits and Visas
Eighty days back in the UK, one mammoth spreadsheet organising seeing over 40 sets of family and friends and then, rather than one flight to Vietnam, the fun(!) begins.
After being back in the UK to catch up with family and friends, we intended to catch a flight to Vietnam. This would have involved checking through Skyscanner for the best price, booking the trip and getting an E-visa. Within two hours, we would have been done and dusted.
But, we have taken our heads out of the sand, and realise we are in the midst of a climate crisis. Our carbon footprint, with all our flying, has been dreadful (We are offsetting this), and so, if we want to continue our #GrownUpTravellers, we need to make a few changes. One of these changes is to fly less. Our visit back now had another dimension. Organising our visits to over 40 sets of friends and family during our 80-day stay was a mammoth project. So in addition to this, I now had a journey involving eight countries, multiple coaches and train rides and some complex visas to arrange to get to Vietnam. I had my work cut out, that’s for sure.
First on the list was to renew our passports, I only had six pages left and many countries require two pages remaining. Those four sheets were going to be quickly used up, perhaps even before we’ve left the UK. (What’s missing from the front of our passports now?)
Next, what was our route going to be? With the aid of the fabulous www.seat61.com, www.realrussia.co.uk and booking our Russian and Chinese trains with www.rzd.ru, and www.china-diy-travel.com, plus a visit to see our friend Bahar near Rotterdam, an outline was devised:
Coaches through Europe
Six Trains (including St Petersburg, Moscow and Siberia Railway) through Russia
One train and a trip to Mongolia where we stay in a Yurt with locals
Nine Trains in China
Get some warm clothes
Hang on a minute. What’s this I have read? Are tourists not allowed to travel on the train from Minsk to St Petersburg? But I have booked tickets! It transpires that two years ago, Russia stopped foreigners coming into the country by train from Belarus. I contacted the Agency, who informed me that, “Yes, some of our customers have been deported from Russia; however, we do have customers travelling by train in August. Would you like me to inform you how they got on?” “Er – no, thank you. Please, can we have a refund?”
Also, getting a visa for Belarus was proving somewhat challenging. It requires an invitation into the country, but no hotels (even the Hilton) would provide this. Luckily, Tim discovered that if we fly into the International Airport in Minsk, stay for a few days and then fly out to St Petersburg, we don’t need a visa. Oh well, we need to take two flights. After booking, I did realise that I could have booked a flight directly from Warsaw to St Petersburg, missing out Belarus. Hey ho! Let’s hope Minsk is worth exploring.
My advice is that if you need visas to Russia and China, give yourself plenty of time. The visa forms need stakes of information, and you need to personally visit the Visa Application Centres as they take your fingerprints, then you are required to return and pick up the Visas a few days later. For the Russian visa, we needed to include:
An invitation into Russia (we managed to get this from a hotel booked through realrussia)
details of our parents,
passport details of our sons,
countries with dates we have visited in the last ten years (the visa form didn’t have enough room to add all of our countries, so I compiled a spreadsheet as an addendum),
an agenda of where and when we were visiting,
bank statements for the last three months,
recent three passport numbers,
details of current and past employment including names of managers and phone numbers,
Urine sample and toenail clippings…ok, I made that up.
The Chinese visa was pretty similar, but also needed a printout of every accommodation for both of us. They checked that each date coincided and both our names were included. Good job I was systematic with printing these out, together with a detailed schedule of our trains with proof of booking. Plus we needed to show our exit train details and accommodation in Vietnam.
Even the Vietnamese e-visa was not as simple as I expected. I needed to include the entry and exit point from a dropdown list. The train from Nanning in China was passing through Dong Dang in Vietnam, but that wasn’t on the list. I was flummoxed. I asked various people with the help of Facebook and TripAdvisor, but with no success. What to do? Argh, the obvious. I went down the list, finding each place on Google Maps and eventually found Huu Nghi, which is in the province of Dong Dang. I was nearly pulling my hair out! Hurrah! All Visas, accommodation, coaches, trains and flights (boo) are booked; we nearly saw everyone that we intended to see (sorry if we missed you) and are now on our next adventure. See you on the other side.