Banishing the visa bug?

Having left readers on the edge of their seats with my enigmatic signoff last time, you must be breathless with anticipation to find out what happened on Wednesday at the Vietnamese consulate. As with many serial adventures, what happened verges on the anticlimactic. The Vietnamese consulate, as you might guess, is a much smaller operation than the Chinese consulate. In fact, instead of occupying an entire building, the Vietnamese consulate occupies a suite on the fourth floor of a medical/professional building. One walks through a door to room containing twelve chairs that opens onto another room guarded by a metal detector. You are greeted by a kindly elderly lady and directed to wait. Past the metal detector are three chairs and when they empty, we are motioned toward them. No one checks our bags and the metal detector is not being used. A nice young woman behind the counter accepts your application, your passports, and your money. The fee was $65/each for the visa and $20/each for one hour rush processing. The application was also much simpler than the Chinese visa application, in particular, no letter of invitation is required. Good thing since we had not yet made reservations in Vietnam.

Back we go to the waiting room and in less than an hour a man appears behind the counter and we are again motioned forward and our passports are returned with our tourist visas. No problem. We had been told that the Vietnamese consulate was more “user friendly” than the Chinese consulate and that was certainly our experience.

So we were done before noon and we headed back to the East Bay. I had realized that I was not getting ahead in planning for the post-China portion of our trip and (until now) had thought we might need the services of a professional visa service to get our Chinese and Vietnamese visas in time. So I checked out the East Bay Yellow Pages and found a small ad for Avia Travel on Gilman Street in Berkeley. The Avia Yellow Pages ad says that they specialize in Asian travel and so we decided to consult with them. So, once back in the East Bay, we headed to Avia’s office. There we met with Sue, the proprietor of Avia Travel. She was great. I had thought that good travel agents were an extinct species. It has been a long time since I met a travel agent that was superior to what I can do myself over the internet.

The first sign of good service is that she took a half hour with us just to “throw out ideas” about what we wanted to get out of our trip to Vietnam. We talked about our our original plan and she listened and contributed ideas for specific services she could arrange. It was a true back and forth conversation to turn idea into reality. She was knowledgeable and she kept records of previous clients experiences with different segments of the trip. She respected the boundaries of cost and our previous travel arrangements. She has developed partners in Asia that specialize in personalized experiences. She was open to new ideas and is making arrangements for our train travel even though that was new to her. In fact, I got the impression that we convinced her that the train was a good option that she should add to her repetoire. I was very impressed and pleased with the itinerary we all worked out.

So here is my first plug: If you are planning a trip to Asia, contact Sue at Avia Travel (, (510) 558-2158. I suppose you might want to wait to hear about how everything worked out, but I’m convinced that Sue is the real deal. Highly recommended.

I’m still behind, but we need to hit the road. We are leaving Grants Pass, OR and will be at my younger sister’s home in Lacey, WA by nightfall.




  1. John Pepple said,

    August 26, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Here was how we got our visas for Egypt. We arrived in Cairo, found the guy from our hotel who was meeting us, and he got them for us in five minutes.

    I also needed a visa to go to Brazil, and Sarah and I needed them to go to Taiwan. Getting those was more like your Vietnam visa experience. Getting the China one sounds pretty miserable.

  2. Tim said,

    August 27, 2008 at 1:02 am


    I’m curious what each country thinks a tourist visa is worth. Do you recall what you paid for the visas to Egypt, Brazil, and Taiwan?


  3. John Pepple said,

    August 27, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    It was $15 for Egypt and was good for a month. The others were too far in the past for me to recall the prices or the duration times.

    Well, we just got back from the opening picnic, which was held in Peirce because of rain. It was not too impressive.


  4. Kristina Replogle Sullivan said,

    July 20, 2014 at 7:52 pm

    One detail to add to the VN Consulate description: the giant faded photo of Ho Chi Minh, framed, on the wall, dominating the office. We weren’t in Kansas any more…

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