Well. Things didn’t quite go according to plan after our last blog.
We had a flight booked from Surabaya to Ho Chi Minh City, with a short stop over in Singapore. Everything went great; we stopped in Singapore, got our foot massages, used the incredibly connected WIFI, and ate Western food (although Carter did not get his McDonalds). We boarded the plane to Ho Chi Minh and we were off to Vietnam! Added bonus was that we were finally meeting up with our friend Hayden who we hadn’t seen in 15 months as he was living in Australia this past year.
So, we have a great flight, we land in HCMC and the only thing we need to figure out is how we’re going to get USD money out for our Vietnamese visa on arrival. There’s been ATMs and Money Exchange booths everywhere in other airports though, it’ll be easy! As we get up to immigration, we have to fill out an entry application but regardless of this, we are now armed with the money, our 2 properly sized passport pictures and valid Canadian passports, we are set!
We are called up to the immigration desk. The officers are dressed in what I can only attribute to formal military outfits, looking super official and stern. We smiled (as the nice Canadians we are) and politely said “hello, we’re here to apply for the Visa on Arrival - here is absolutely everything you need because we are SO prepared”. He shuffled our documents and quickly said “where’s your letter?”... “what letter?”... “you need letter of approval to enter this country” Carter and I look at each other confused. “Sir, this is what we’re here for. An approval letter for the visa on arrival. We have all the documents for the visa”
“Sit down” the officer said and took our passports.
Carter and I sit, looking around at others to see what kind of documents they have. There are people getting passport photos... we have those, check. There are people getting out money... easy fix, ATM and or credit card, check. And then we start seeing people with prestine letters in a protective sleeve with an official looking red stamp. Shit. What the heck are those?!
Not even 15 minutes later he calls us back up and with absolutely no remorse or hesitation says “you have no letter of approval. You cannot enter Vietnam. We send you back where you came from. I will get the airline. Sit down”
WHAT?!?! IN. THE. FRIG?!!?
Now panic sets in. We have done all our research, talked to so many people, HOW did we miss this?! There’s no way they can send us back, we’re polite Canadians, there must be a mistake. So I get on our only working device and connect to the internet. Yes, we have 4 devices between the two of us but my cell phone was the ONLY one with battery life.... and it was at a whopping 3%. (Note to self: charge EVERYTHING to the MAX when it comes to a travel day. Another lesson learned.)
I get onto the Vietnamese government website and see that we can pay extra to expedite the visa application, 4 hours. Done! We will just apply for the visa as we sit and wait in immigration, easy peasy. They’ll understand that and let us in!
Next thing we know, 2 airline representatives, a security guard and immigration officer come to get us. They have paperwork with the same official red stamps we saw on the other travellers documents. Yay! They’ve decided to give us the approval letter! WRONG. They ask us to sign the papers, which are all in Vietnamese, so we just simply asked “what are these for?” The immigration officer holding them, violently pulls the papers out of Carter’s hand and walks away with them... and then the next thing we know, we are being escorted through security to a plane because we were now officially DEPORTEES of the country of Vietnam.
Carter. Is. Rattled. And I’m in shock. If any of you know me, I try to always stay positive, looking at the siliver lining. So as we’re getting escorted by 5 airport personnel, I am saying “it’s okay, just a slight set back... we are paying for the story... this is a good experience... live and learn... it will be an easy fix. We will get back to Singapore,get on wifi and just wait out the 4 hours it takes to get a visa. We’ll be back on a flight to Vietnam to see our good friend Hayden in less than 8 hours!”
How many times in a day can I be so WRONG?!
No one will speak English to us, although we know ALL of these officials can. No one will look at us, they just keep rushing us on and yelling at each other. We get to a gate and finally one of the airline representatives says “you are flying back to Singapore” so I respond “how long until the plane comes? We can buy our visa now and stay in Vietnam!” Apparently, the plane was being delayed soley for us to board. It is the exact same plane we JUST arrived on. Great, back to Singapore... where we just came from. Just like the immigration officer had said.
So we were now on a plane BACK to Singapore. I asked the stewardess for our passports back and she said she’s keeping them until we land. Okay... (another moment we were completely helpless. Sure - keep our MOST important documentation hostage. Seems right since NOTHING has been explained to us so far.)
So, we land in Singapore and we exit the airplane like normal tourists... until we see yet another airport official holding our passports waiting for us in the tunnel. To our surprise, she was holding 4 passports, another couple had been deported for the same reason! (Sweet, we aren’t ignorant in not knowing the visa process, there are others in the same boat... or plane, so to speak). We are again escorted to the immigration office by 4 officials in the Singapore airport. Again, everyone is speaking in a different language which we can’t understand. All of a sudden, the immigration officer says “Back to Indonesia or Canada, which one”. My stomach sank. WHAT?! Canada?! That didn’t even enter our minds!! No. No. No.
Finally, a grounds control representative came up to the desk in order to help us. The first nice person we encountered that actually gave us the time of day and spoke English to us. She explained that because our original port was Indonesia and our final destination was Vietnam, that we were being denied entry into Singapore. Great. Meanwhile, the other couple who were also deported asked us why we didn’t just pay the $180USD fee to get the visa within an hour. SAY WHAT! That was NEVER an option for us, even though we asked (slash begged) to do that! Cue: anger.
The grounds control rep talked with the immigration officer and got him to agree that if we booked a flight elsewhere, could we go there and he agreed but he said “if they are not allowed in that country they MUST go back to Canada.” So, we decided that we would apply for our visa to Vietnam, pay extra for the 4 hour emergency rush, and book the next flight out to Ho Chi Minh City... again. WRONG. The immigration officer totally shut that down because we were deportees and they would not allow us to fly back. Okay... so now we’ve spent our 15 day tourist visa limit in Indonesia and because we haven’t been officially stamped in to enter another country, we didn’t want to go back to Indonesia and be deported (yet again) and sent to Canada. So we booked a flight to Kaula Lampur, Malaysia because you did not need a visa to enter. Perfect. The grounds control lady looked up the flights, there was one at 7am but it was full - the next one out was at 7pm. That’s fine we thought, Singapore airport was great for shopping, eating, wifi. We could fill our tim as we waited...
And then we get hit with it. We are in transit limbo as deportees, they have our passports, we are technically air-fugitives. She tells us that we will have to spend the entire time until our flight out in immigration holding! Being escorted and under surveillance 24/7! And on TOP of being in airport prison, we have to PAY to be locked up!!! $80USD per hour!!! Again, f^*%!!!!
So, GET US ON THAT EARLY FLIGHT.
We are escorted to the “holding room” - the Singapore Airport security calls it this. It is airport jail, let’s not get that twisted. We walked into one door, it locks behind us and now we’re in the middle of two steel doors. The security official scans his badge, the next door opens. Welcome to jail! We are stripped of our bags and belongings, made to read a sheet of our rights. “No cellphone use, only to call out. No pictures. No use of personal items. No this. No that.” We signed the paper saying we understood the terms and conditions (because we had a choice right?!) We were shown the “accommodations” we would be sleeping in - one male and one female dorm room with at least 20 bunk beds and blue lights so the surveillance cameras could capture you the entire time. Cool. Most comfortable and warm environment we’ve ever stayed in, that’s for sure! We were given noodles in a cup and crackers to eat. I went right to bed so the nightmare would be over quicker.
I was woken up to a phone in my face at 6am. I took out my ear plugs and my raspy voice mustered together a hello. On the other side was a LOUD voice “you on 7am flight, you pay $998 dollars now! What your credit card number?” Oh my good god. So I clarified, $998 for what?!”... So when they originally said our flight back to Singapore was free, it most certainly WAS NOT. So now we are stuck paying for the flight back and onward to Kuala Lampur. We had no choice. I asked the officer to have access to my bags (yes, we had to ask permission to use our own stuff, #jaillife) I gave over my credit card number and woke Carter up. At least we were getting out of there! We were in the holding room over night which meant we owed a LOT of money for our “accommodations” (that’s also what they refer to the jail as to make it sound better). Our first break: the officer explained that it’s the airline that collects that payment and because we were on such an early flight, we wouldn’t need to pay the “accommodation” fee. Woo Hoo! But this was still a $1000+ mistake and set back. Definitely not in our budget.
We are again escorted to the gate. Again, we ask for our passports back because now we’re just two Canadian travellers wanting to visit KL! “You’ll get them back on the flight”, cool!
We get on the plane with our spirits lifted because we’re getting the heck out of Singapore and we didn’t have to pay the jail fee!
Fast forward two hours. We land in KL, exit the plane, ask a stewardess for the passports back as the Singapore officer said we should. WRONG. Our passports were STILL being held hostage, so yet again, we were escorted to the Malaysian immigration offices. Cue: hearts pounding and fingers crossing.
We were behind a man from India who has been freshly deported from KL. Lovely! This immigration officer was on a deportation hot streak. We get up to the front, and again, the two officials are talking back and forth in a language we don’t understand. The Malaysian officer asks “why were you not allowed into Singapore?”... well this is going to be hard to explain with the language barrier. We *tried* to explain that we were deported from Vietnam, the officials there didn’t give us the proper paperwork explaining that, we couldn’t get into Singapore because it wasn’t our original or final destination, so we want to visit Malaysia to wait the 3 days to get the Vietnamese visa. Well, I don’t know if was offended that we were only using KL as a lay over to Vietnam or he didn’t understand but he threw our passports back to the airline rep, started YELLING at the poor guy, and started talking to another immigration officer and told us to sit down.
This is is where my mind went back to Canada. Holy friggin gah. We are going back to Canada. Do we go to Vancouver so it’s closer to fly back? Do we go to Toronto to see our parents? Do I even have it in me to fly back to SEA after being deported 3 times?! Is this it?! We quit our jobs to travel for ONE MONTH. Cue: one single tear drop.
Carter went out to speak with the airline rep guy who was yelled at, thrown out of the immigration office, but was still holding our passports. He was on the phone with the airline to find out why we were denied entry into Singapore because all the documentation he had was one flipping sheet that said one sentence “unfit to enter Singapore”. So he was just as much in the dark as Carter and I were.
So Carter and I sat in immigrations for another hour, not knowing the fate of our deportee future.
We have now now been in holding/escorted/passport hostage for 24 hours. No one knows where we are in the world. No one knows what happened except for the one text I sent to Hayden “they are forcing us on a plane” 12 hours prior in HCMC. None of our devices are charged yet. We are at the end of our patience and wits.
Carter gets up again to talk to the airline rep. He does his best to explain our situation and how and why we came to Malaysia. He said if it wasn’t for this ONE piece of paper, we would be able to walk into Malaysia like regular tourists and we should be allowed to do that because we booked a flight from Singapore to Malaysia and this was our end destination, it has really nothing to do with being deported from Vietnam. The man got up and left to a customs desk. He came back to Carter and said “this piece of paper is a problem for you. Here are your passports, make sure you don’t show anyone this paper again” Carter replied with “sir, I will gladly BURN this paper right now if you want, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Carter is now finally in possession of our passports after 26 hours, he comes to get me “BAGS, LETS GO!” It was truly the best START THE CAR moment. We walked through customs, with the stupid sheet in our pocket, handed over our passports, boom, stamped, and we walked into Malaysia! Never in our lives did we think we would be ecstatic to be in Malaysia!
We got through customs and the last security check and gave each other the biggest bear hug ever!! Hopped on the closest monorail to Kuala Lumpur feeling like escaped fugitives!
Here are some photos of our 48 hours in Kuala Lampur:
Update: we are now successfully in Vietnam with Hayden. We decided to forego Ho Chi Minh City and flew right into Da Nang which is central Vietnam. We truly believe that if we flew here the first time, NONE of this would have happened because they were SO helpful and patient with all the tourists! Once again, lesson learned. Travel is definitely the best life learning experiences you could ever get. Wish us luck!!
Carter Bender & Brittany Wilson left Toronto, Canada to travel the world. Where will they be next? Follow their #cbwtravels blog to find out!