Once upon a time, I started binge buying outdated copies of Lonely Planet for $1 each on eBay, so I could learn more about places and decide where to go. One of those guide books was for Tibet.
The more I read about Tibet, the more I wanted to go. But finding out that you cannot travel independently made it seem like a huge production that I did not want to deal with. So my Lonely Planet Tibet guide book sat untouched for a few years.
Then one day, I came across a blog post by someone who had traveled from Tibet to Nepal with a tour group. Reading his post made it sound so completely simple and a lot more affordable than I would have guessed it to be.
Within an hour of reading that post, I had a month of vacation time approved and I was going to Asia! I did a quick check of airfare and discovered I could fly to Hong Kong, travel overland to Tibet, continue onto Nepal and fly home from Nepal, with a 24 hour layover in Doha. So I get to see Doha! OH WOW I AM EXCITED!
My typical maniacal behavior served me extremely well for this trip. Instead of rushing and booking airfare RIGHT NOW I WANT TO GO RIGHT NOW, I started my intense research to make sure everything lined up perfectly with the dates.
This was how I discovered the hell that is a China visa.
If like me, you know nothing about a China visa – let me explain to you.
In order to apply for a visa, you need to show (a) an itinerary that includes booked hotels for your stay (b) proof of arrival AND DEPARTURE.
So my original plan of flying to Hong Kong, traveling across to Tibet, then traveling from Tibet to Nepal and flying home from Kathmandu, was now impossible. Because you need to show departure from China. But you cannot have that departure be from Tibet. Why? Because if you list Tibet as a destination on your visa application, it will be denied.
So let’s see here.
I cannot fly home from Nepal because I need to show a flight leaving from China.
I would then logically have to re-enter China from Nepal, so I can show a flight home from China.
I will most likely not be able to do this because most first time applicants for a China visa, do not get approved for a multi-entry visa.
I will not know what type of visa I am approved for until I apply for one. I cannot apply for one until I book flights. Because I need to show those flights on my China visa application.
Is your head spinning? Mine is.
So. I had to redo my plans to travel from Nepal back into China. This gives me a flight home from China to show on my visa application. Of course, I do not have any idea if I will be approved for a multi entry visa, so I do not know if I will be allowed to enter China a second time after using my first entry earlier in the trip. For this reason, I picked Shanghai because you can travel in Shanghai without a regular visa. You can get a tourist visa, good for up to 72 hours.
I decided that I have to deal with the Nepal – Shanghai travel plans after I find out what type of visa I get.
When I first looked into flights, I saw a flight that arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am. I did some research and discovered that the Hong Kong airport has beds you can rent hourly, and also showers. And a spa. Oh wow! So I can land at 5:50 am, take a nap and shower. Then go to my hotel at some time between 10-11 am. Drop off my stuff and go out and do the “LOOK AT ME! I AM IN HONG KONG AND I GOT MYSELF HERE BY MYSELF MY LIFE RULES!” thing until exhaustion nearly kills me.
Then I could go back to my hotel and pass out likely while it is still daylight outside. Then I could wake up in the middle of the night and head to Lantau Peak and hike up to watch the sunrise. Best idea ever. Right?
But in order to book it, I need to either have a layover on the way home, or pay an extra $300 for a non-stop flight home. There is now also the option to switch it and fly to Shanghai and home from Hong Kong. This flight option sucks because it cuts a day off my trip and does not allow me my “LOOK AT ME! I AM IN HONG KONG AND I GOT MYSELF HERE BY MYSELF MY LIFE RULES!” into watching the sunrise at Lantau Peak plan.
This option would probably also be the smarter option because instead of dealing with getting a tourist visa in Shanghai, I would need NO VISA AT ALL if returning from Nepal to Hong Kong.
But not being smart, I am just not wiling to give up my “LOOK AT ME! I AM IN HONG KONG AND I GOT MYSELF HERE BY MYSELF MY LIFE RULES!” into watching the sunrise at Lantau Peak plan.
So I debate and decide that I will indeed fly to Hong Kong and then home from Shanghai, with a layover on the way home.
Fine? Absolutely fine! Until I tried to book it.
My first attempt at booking the flight went horribly wrong. My bank rejected the charge, which was enough to set my blood boiling. But there was also only “one ticket left at this price!” so when I went to rebook, it was $200 more. Think that’s annoying? Try adding on my bank now deciding that the initial transaction was a security breach and nothing I could say would stop them from cancelling my card and sending me a new one in 7-10 business days.
To add more to this, because really, why not add more frustration at this point – I had to go to the store to pick up prescriptions. With my card now cancelled by my bank, and me having no cash on me, AND it being a Sunday so the bank is not open for me to walk in to do a withdrawal – I call the bank to explain they need to let the charge go through. They tell me that they cannot do this unless I call them from INSIDE THE STORE. Wait, what? I am telling you, I am going to this store, I will be there in five minutes. The charge is this exact dollar and this exact cents amount. But they will not let the charge go through unless I am on the phone with them as it is being put through.
So now I am standing in CVS, which is packed with people. I am saying my card number OUTLOUD, my full name, my full address, answering security questions IN FRONT OF EVERY PERSON STANDING THERE. Added bonus: the store makes you say your birth date before releasing prescriptions, so I am now also offering up that information. Why not just flash my social security number on a screen while we are at it?
What were my alternatives to this? I live in New York City, I do not drive so I did not have a car to do this in the parking lot. Even if I did, I would have not found parking anywhere closer than my apartment. I could go outside, sure. But there are more people outside on the sidewalk, walking by, then there is inside this store.
So all of this absolute nightmare, just to book a flight, that I didn’t even get to book?
I decided to take a break from this and not even think about booking a flight until I received my new card in the mail. I am actually almost glad this happened because since the failed attempt to book a flight, I read a blog where someone went to Lantau Peak to watch the sunrise. First, it’s not exactly easy to get to (according to the author) but second – he got a leech on his leg AND there was a “small rodent’ running around up top. I don’t care if he is mistaken/exaggerating or whatever – I am now PETRIFIED to do this. So I no longer care to do this.
Now would be a good time to reconsider my itinerary and arrive in Shanghai and fly home from Hong Kong – NO VISA NEEDED WHEN RETURNING FROM NEPAL. But I still don’t do this. Why? Who knows anymore.
Flash forward a few weeks:
It is time to book my flight (AGAIN!)
I ended up on a Delta flight with a schedule I do not like, but that I am willing to deal with. I used $400 in flight credit I had from giving up a seat to Los Angeles back in December. I will also have enough miles after this trip to cover a flight to Las Vegas later this year. Win/win.
Of course now I am rethinking my itinerary and may just stay in China the entire trip. I would still travel though Tibet and see the Mount Everest Base Camp. But by not crossing into Nepal, I am guaranteed 100% that I will not have visa issues with flying back into China from Nepal.
I also gain about eight or nine days in China. I could do a lot with these days. Plus, Nepal will be in monsoon season when I am there. So maybe going to a place I will likely see only one time in my life, may be better done while said place is not in monsoon season.
What I do know is that whichever I pick will be the wrong decision. And I will deal with it. That I am sure of.
Join me next month for my “Two Months Until Asia Extravaganza!” post. Who the hell knows what I will have done and undone in my plans by then. Knowing me, I could end up anywhere.
I will also start getting my vaccinations. What fun that will be.