Haven’t left yet, but it’s getting close, and I’m learning how naive I am (which was totally predicted). Exciting! Here are a few things I’ve learned.
1. US citizens need visas for China and Vietnam, but not Japan or S. Korea. I’m getting my visas through Travisa. I sent all my materials to them (including my original and one-and-only passport!!!), on June 30 and will pick them up July 15 at their SF office. Cost is about $200 for each visa (most of that is the country fee). UPDATE: Travisa hasn’t done well for me. They were unable to get the Chinese visa in time. So that put my whole China trip in peril. Still in the middle of figuring out how to manage it. Evidently I naively (that word again!) explained my truthful plan in the visa application (see below) and that screwed things up. They kept asking for more information, which I believe Travisa should have caught up front. Also, Travisa sent me emails asking me for this info, even after I asked them to phone me since I was traveling and not always online. This wasted a few days per request. (Okay, my bad for not checking every day). One moral of the story: if you’re applying for a visa to China, keep it as simple as possible, even if it fudges the truth. After talking with Smarter People, it seems that this is normal – just do what you can to get INTO the country, and everything will be fine after that.
2. My original plan was to get into China and then just wing it. However, after talking with several people who Know China, they suggested that, while I COULD do it, its not easy and would take a lot of my time and energy. So….I wimped out and signed up for a 2 week guided tour with China Spree (that my friends Denise and Ricky used) called China’s Best Treasures.
The tour ends in Shanghai on Aug 23, so then I WILL do some winging it for another week, eventually flying out of Hong Kong to Hanoi on Sep 1. I was a bit annoyed about this. I WANTED to take a train for that trip, but the Chinese visa application required proof of entry/departure from China, and despite many emails to various Chinese travel agencies I couldn’t buy a train ticket to show the Chinese guvment that I was, indeed, and without dalliance, leaving. So I had to buy an air ticket on Vietnam Airlines. Grrr….
3. If you’re going to be applying for many visas, get a Duplicate Passport. Whenever a country gives you a visa (China, Vietnam, probably more) they want to stamp it in your original passport. As it turns out, I am leaving in 48 hours and my only original passport is somewhere in FedEx limbo (long story I’ll tell later). The US State Department allows you to have a second passport just for this sort of thing, and I’d HIGHLY recommend you get one before you start applying for visas. Just search on “duplicate passport” and you’ll find lots of services and info for this. Might be the same service you use for your visas.