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Old 06-19-2012, 12:41 AM
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Hanoi (Vietnamese: Hà Nội), the capital of Vietnam, and also its second largest city, is a fascinating blend of East and West, with Chinese influence from centuries of dominance, and French design from its colonial past. It is largely unspoiled by modern architecture of the 1970s and 80s, and is now going through a modernization that is making it a rising star in Southeast Asia.

Invading forces from every direction agree: Hanoi makes a fine capital. It has held that title for more than a thousand years, through several invasions, occupations, restorations, and name changes. The Chinese conquered the imperial city of of Đại La in 1408 and renamed it Tống B́nh. Le Loi repelled the invaders in 1428 and applied the name of Lê Thái Tổ (黎太祖); for his efforts, he received the crown and a slew of legends about his heroic exploits, many centred around the Hoan Kiem Lake in the Old Quarter. The Nguyen Dynasty gave the city its modern name of Ha Noi in 1831, but they had transferred power to Hue by then; it remained there until 1887, when the French made Hanoi the capital of all Indochina. It changed hands again in 1954, when it was ceded to Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh after almost a decade of fighting, and it became the capital of North Vietnam; upon reunification in 1975, it assumed that title for the entire country.

The first western-style universities in Vietnam were founded in Hanoi, and today, it is the leading centre of scientific study and research in the country. Hanoi retains much of its older colonial charm, despite the battles that have raged over it; conflict had the side effect of making it largely oblivious to modern architecture, and as a result, few buildings in the city centre area are higher than five stories. The Old Quarter is second only to Hoi An for uninterrupted stretches of colonial and pre-colonial architecture, well-preserved on dense warrens of narrow, wonderfully atmospheric streets. It trades the commercial boom and sprawl of Ho Chi Minh City in the South for a more understated charm, worth enjoying for an extra day or two, and with countless transport options and travel agents, it makes a perfect base for exploration of the North.

As you walk along the street, you may find that people start talking to you. It is a cultural norm there to make conversation with strangers. They might ask you where you are from and other general questions. And be very cautious especially if a lady will approach you and over-solicitously insist that she is a student without being asked what is her station in life.

It takes awhile to get used to that. However, there are times when you find this friendliness extremely helpful, such as when you are lost or need help.

The Tourist Information Centre, ☎ +84 4 926 3366, Dinh Tien Hoang, just north of Hoan Kiem Lake, can provide a fairly useful map (bewilderingly, the blow-up of the old town is missing making it useless in that part of town) and other English-language advice, as well as limited free Internet. They aren't completely without bias.

There are self-help interactive screen information booths around the Old Quarter but their purpose is to superficially conjure the image of coming-of-age "Vietnam has arrived" impression to the unsuspecting passerby. An example was an inquiry typing out the American Embassy as prompted by an empty field, then it flashed on to the next interactive page asking for which district (one may not be aware that the US embassy has branches in every district) - smart and amazing!
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Old 06-19-2012, 12:42 AM
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FAQ – Visa on arrival (VOA)

If you are planning to arrive in Vietnam by AIR at Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi or Da Nang airport, an alternative to obtaining a full visa stamp from the Vietnamese Embassy in your country is to opt for a very simple and cheap visa on arrival (VOA). Once issued, this visa is exactly the same as an embassy/consulate issued visa with the same limitations and conditions attached to its use.

The VOA paperwork is not a full visa, rather you employ an agent (before you arrive) in Vietnam to obtain an official letter of approval that you present at the VOA desk when you land. Upon payment of a stamping fee ($25 for a single entry visa, $50 for a multi-entry) you will receive your passport back with a full visa inside. Most sites ask about your present nationality as part of the application process, and provided you qualify you can apply for a 1 month or a 3 month visa, single or multi-entry. The amount charged by VOA agents for their service varies from $14 to $50, depending on the type of visa and the agent in question. Some tour operators and travel agents offer cut-price VOAs in the hope that you will book tours with them.

The only disadvantage of VOAs is that the VOA process at the airport can be slow, particularly at HCMC airport (Tan Son Nhat), where things can become pretty chaotic if people do not form an orderly queue. HCMC airport is Vietnam's busiest and has far more traffic than the other two airports, so in the high season it is not uncommon to have to wait for an hour or more, particularly if you are stuck behind a large tour group. In Hanoi and Da Nang, and even in HCMC in the low season, during quiet times of the day it can take less than 15 minutes to get your visa and pass through immigration - indeed you are likely to arrive at the baggage carousel before your bags do.

Applying for a VOA letter of approval on-line is very easy and there are many reputable agents, e.g www[dot]vietnamvisabooking[dot]com (using a search engine - Google, Yahoo etc. - search for 'Vietnam visa booking'). They accept all major credit cards and with some you can pay through PayPal.

On the agent's web site or by email you have to provide the following information:

Your full name (some agents specifically require the name in the exact order used in the passport, so surname first)
Present nationality
Date of birth
Passport number
Passport expiry date
Proposed date of arrival (the visa will start from this date regardless of your actual arrival date - you may enter at a later date but not before, so be sure to take time zone differences into account)
Flight reference
Arrival time
Airport of arrival and purpose of visit
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Old 06-19-2012, 12:44 AM
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After entering the information on-line or following email confirmation you will be directed to a secure web site to pay the agency fee. In 2-3 days the agent will email you the Approval letter (see image). Don't be alarmed if there are other people's names on the letter (it is common for agents to make bulk applications and all applicants' names are printed on the one letter, together with their dates of birth and passport numbers), but if you have concerns about privacy or security you should instead consider applying to an embassy/consulate for your visa. Please make sure that your surname, given names and required entry/exit dates are 100% correct. You will not be allowed to enter Vietnam before the entry date shown.The approval letter is valid at any of the three named airports but cannot be used at any land border crossing. If entering via a land crossing you must already be in possession of a visa.

Print out the entire letter of approval and don't forget to take it with you! Some airlines will ask to see the letter before they allow you to check in or board the aircraft and you will need it at the VOA desk when you arrive at the airport in Vietnam. The agent might also send you an Application for Entry and Exit visa form ( this form is available upon arrival but you will need to queue to obtain it). You should fill in this form in advance (ignore the instructions about printing two copies - only ONE is needed).

Visa on arrival is handled by the immigration service at the airports and as such if the airport is operating, so is the VOA department. It is absolutely vital that you have your visa fee(s) with you, in cash because there are no money machines (ATM's), money changers or any way of withdrawing money in the immigration hall and the authorities do not take plastic. If you cannot pay up in cash you won't get into the country and you'll end up having a wonderful holiday camped on the wrong side of the barrier until your return flight leaves. If you have a bank card, someone in authority might decide to take you out to the ATM's to get some money. Meanwhile you might starve to death etc (slight exaggeration, but you get the point), as it might be many hours before that happens.

At Ho Chi Minh City (Tan Son Nhat International airport) the VOA window is situated over to the left as you enter the immigration hall, at the far end. The counter is sign-posted - LANDING VISA. Do not join any queues for Immigration Control. When you get to the VOA (Landing Visa) window, be prepared to hand over your Passport, one copy of the Entry and Exit form, entire letter of approval and one passport size photo (the officer will staple your photo to the form if not already attached). You should then go and sit down. Even with few people being processed do not expect passports (with the visa attached) to be returned in the order that they were presented at the window.

When your visa is ready, your name will be called. You then pay the stamping fee (USD $25 single entry, USD $50 multi-entry) You must pay in cash (no change is given) in Dong or U.S. Dollars. The notes should be in good condition but it's not necessary for them to be brand new. At HCMC, they will also accept AUD - $28 instead of USD $25), €25 Euros (but no change is given). Once you have paid, your passport will be returned to you along with a receipt for your payment. Check the newly issued visa for any errors while still at the window.

You then go to the immigration control posts to be processed in the normal way. Baggage reclaim/ Customs is downstairs.

Note: Public holidays in Vietnam, e.g. Tet (Vietnam's New Year), can seriously delay not only VOA applications but also embassy issued visas, so apply in good time.

Note: Citizens of some countries do not need a visa for short visits, but please check that the following information is still valid:
- Stays of not more than 30 days: citizens of Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Cambodia and Laos
- Stays of not more than 15 days: citizens of Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Russian Federation.

Note: Extending a visa is a simple process. However you will need to do it through an agent because there are many rules and the passport will have to be sent to HCMC or Hanoi. In general all extended visas are single entry and the duration can be for 1 month or 3 months (1 month visas are not usually eligible for a 3 month extension). The cost ranges from $20 to $40 depending on the number of months and the distance from the immigration office. The application can only be processed during the last week of the current visa's validity and it usually takes 3 to 10 days.

Note: Citizens of the following countries are not eligible for obtaining a Vietnam visa on arrival. NB: The list is not exhaustive.

The various agents advertising on-line applications for VOA cannot process visa applications from citizens of the countries listed below. These citizens must obtain a visa prior to travel either from a Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate located in their country or via the Vietnam Immigration Department direct. Any approval letters issued will be declined on arrival:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea - Bissau, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Somali, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen, Zimbabwe
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