Remember That Time: We Realized We Would Never Make It As Drug Mules?

21.February 2011

Remember That Time, Vietnam

Now that we’ve returned home and have settled back into our routine lives again we find it funny how our travel stories keep coming up. Invariably one of us will look at the other and say ‘Remember That Time…’ I thought it would make a good series; a way to tell these small stories that take us back in the blink of an eye.

We got our Vietnamese visa from an agent in Bangkok, Thailand about 6 weeks before we planned on being in Vietnam. We didn’t know where else we might be able to get it and so pretty much guessed at how long we would take through northern Thailand and Laos to get there.

Vietnamese visas are strict. You must declare your entry date, may not arrive early, and must leave 30 days after entry. It cost 1350 Baht or about $44 each.

At the time that we received the visa we had not yet booked flights. Jason was pretty good at the whole booking flights over the internet thing by now so he had his eye on a number of possible flights and, when one came up that looked good, he booked it lickety split.

It was about a month later, while we were in Laos, that he checked the tickets and realized that we were booked to leave Vietnam 31 days after entry…a day later than allowed.

Yep, checked, double checked, counted out the days…one day late. Shit.

We briefly looked into changing the ticket; the non refundable, non changeable ticket and then thought ‘meh…how bad could it be?’.

We arrived at the airport super early, dressed in the best clothes we had; not wanting to leave anything to chance and wanting to appear like the ‘good travellers’ we were. Our plan was to play it cool; don’t point out the visa error; and maybe even act surprised if they noticed.

Right away, at the check in counter, the attentive agent noticed that our visa had expired the day before. We looked at her and immediately confessed that, yes, we had accidentally booked flights a day late…so much for our acting careers; over before it’s begun!

She pantomimed/explained that we couldn’t have a boarding pass and instructed us to leave our bags and go to speak with the immigration officer. In retrospect that’s exactly what you should do; leave your bags unattended in a foreign country with a strict drug policy while you go to discuss your invalid visa. Not. So. Smart.

We found the agent and presented ourselves. What a sorry heap of nerves, anxiety, and fear we were. So much for playing it cool. I was sweaty, shaky and red as a beetroot as we pantomimed/explained our situation and how sorry we were to have made such a stupid, rookie mistake.

He was gruff, if not slightly amused, as he called over another agent and began talking on the phone to someone I assumed was his supervisor. There was a lot of tsk-tsking and stern looks before he explained how lucky we were and how kind he was being as he waived all fines and signed the all-important document that would allow us to retrieve our bags and a boarding pass.

I tell the story light-heartedly but let me be clear; I don’t think it’s a good idea to screw around with visitation or immigration policy in any country. The rules are clear and it’s not hard to follow them. You can be sure that, from that day forward, we double and triple checked absolutely every entry/exit plan we had. It’s just not worth the risk.

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18 Responses to “Remember That Time: We Realized We Would Never Make It As Drug Mules?”

  1. Keith Says:

    We can totally relate to this. Amy and I were filling out our visa application in the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok, looking at the map of the country along with a calendar trying to figure out entry and exit dates. Thankfully we banked on a land crossing out from Saigon to Cambodia – much more flexible than a flight.
    Keith recently posted..A Traveler’s Perspective on the Unrest in Egypt

  2. Andrew Says:

    I have always been a bit wary of overstaying any sort of limitation. This would have freaked me out maybe worse than you. What could they have done? Just a big fine or what.. kick out of a country that you are trying to leave??
    Andrew recently posted..German Obsession with Fresh Air

  3. Kim Says:

    Oh lord I would have been freaking out. I’m already trying to teach myself to be calm in situations like that so I don’t totally lose it on our trip!
    Kim recently posted..Dreams Are Free

  4. Glenda Says:

    I’ve never had that specific situation. However, I can relate. When I’m travelling, I always think I’m going to be calm when any adverse situation comes up and inevitably, I’m not.
    Glenda recently posted..Random Amusing Challenge 104

  5. Ali @aliadventures7 Says:

    I’m starting to research visas and it all seems so complicated. Why can’t they all be as easy Europe? I’m glad they didn’t issue huge fines on you for overstaying!
    Ali @aliadventures7 recently posted..Iguazu Falls

  6. Jillian Says:

    I definitely would have been freaking out! Glad you made it through without any problems. Although I’m wondering what your “best” clothes were. I know what my wardrobe looked like after months of travel!

    Love the reflections!

  7. Adam Says:

    Yikes, I would definitely be freaking out as well. Sounds like a stressful situation. The visa situations in so many countries is ridiculously and unnecessarily complicated.
    Adam recently posted..Making the Decision- Why We Went on a RTW Trip

  8. Ayngelina Says:

    On my way out of Colombia I realized I had been an idiot for thinking 3 months instead of 90 days and I was 1 day over.

    Fortunately I was alone and I think the immigration official didn’t want to bother with me so he just stamped me out.

    I was lucky.
    Ayngelina recently posted..What I’ve learned from slinging pisco sours

  9. Micah Says:

    Great story (although I’m sure it didn’t feel that way at the time!). Reminds me of the time a friend and I forgot to get our passports stamped when we entered Guatemala (long story) – talk about an awkward exit process!
    Micah recently posted..How to Pick Your Next Backpack

  10. Erica Says:

    I usually crack under any authority figures like that. I would be a terrible drug mule.

    Shaun and I got the third degree from an immigration officer about smoking pot in London and bringing some home (neither of which we did) because we’re relatively tattooed.
    Erica recently posted..Preparation Status

  11. Gareth Says:

    I lost my departure card for leaving Vietnam, and, when telling the emigration officer he responded with “You cannot leave”. I asked if I could just fill out another one he responded with “No, you cannot leave.”

    A slight panic began to set in and I asked what I could do, his response being “How can I help?”. So I responded by saying, can I pay a ‘fine’ and how much a ‘fine’ would be. His response was “Up to you.” So 50,000 VND (about US $2) later I was boarding my flight bound for Bangkok.

    • Gillian Says:

      Wow Gareth…I’m not sure…maybe he tried to ask us for a bribe but we were too stupid? I always wondered how I would know…maybe I don’t?! I obviously need more practice!

  12. Nick Laborde Says:

    I think I need to do a little bit more planning then I wanted to do. I originally just wanted to go with the flow but I’m not sure if thats a good idea or not now.
    Nick Laborde recently posted..The undeniable power of travel and why size doesn’t matter

  13. Odysseus Says:

    I’m glad you pointed this out in a story, Gillian. Visas are such a headache, and I’m sure I’ll mess at least one of them up if I’m not extra careful.
    Odysseus recently posted..Being Brave Ish


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