Saturday, August 29, 2009

How The Incompetence of Hong Kong Immigration Officials Ruined My Trip

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my trip to China did not go exactly as planned. I was supposed to go to Guangzhou with Diep, where he would buy clothes (and of course, so would I), and then head to Hong Kong with Diep for 3 or 4 days, meeting a friend who I had previously met while travelling in Malaysia. It was a very simple trip, one that required me to get a visa for China, and one that required Diep get one for Hong Kong.

The trouble started when we picked up our visas (for HK visas, the Chinese Embassy handles the processing). Instead of the double-entry visa I was supposed to get (once entering China by land at the Vietnam border, and again when coming back into China from Hong Kong), I only got a single entry. Fixing it would mean 90$ USD and 5 more days, both of which I could not afford. The plan then was to get another Chinese visa while I was in Hong Kong. They would be less expensive and can process them in a couple days.

Second trouble: The travel agent advises us Diep cannot travel to Hong Kong by land. He must arrive at the international airport. I thought this was ridiculous, as all the research I had done about HK visas did not make any mention of this condition.

I took it into my own hands. I called the HK Immigration department. I also e-mailed them. And my Hong Kong friend also called them, to confirm in Cantonese. All the same answers were given: Vietnamese citizens do need a visa, but that there are no different types of visas. If you have a visa for Hong Kong you can enter however you like. You could teleport if you wanted. We hadn't gotten the visa back by then, and so we decided to just wait.

Despite this, the visa Diep got had some random stamp at the bottom, only written in Chinese characters. A translation by my roommate who can read the script: The holder of this visa must enter Hong Kong by international airport. Crap.

Finally it dawned on us, and this was later confirmed by the travel agent: The reason why the visas issued by the Chinese embassy say this is because you can't travel through China to get to Hong Kong; you would need a Chinese visa for that! Good news: Both Diep and I already had Chinese visas, and the agent confirmed this with us. When we crossed the border into China, Diep confirmed with the immigration official that this was the case: She said if he has visas for both, then he can enter HK. We were relieved to have this burden lifted off our chests.

After spending a couple days in Guangzhou we headed off to Hong Kong. Only a couple hours by bus, and my friend organised everything for us. She was waiting for us at the hotel she had arranged for us to stay at. We get to the border and... refused. I spent an all of 20 minutes in Hong Kong waiting for Diep to come out of the same kiosque as I had. Finally, after some hassling, I managed to convince an officer to take me to Diep's interrogation room.

It turns out, despite all the confirmations by Hong Kong and Chinese immigration officials, Diep has no choice but to enter by international airport. We were told that instead of paying $400 USD to fly from Guangzhou to HK, we could take the ferry to the airport, and then pass through customs from there. Only, we had to go back to China... except.... my visa is only a single entry, and I had already left China! No problem. Nothing a 2-hour wait in a stale waiting room can't solve!

We took the bus to Shenzen, and we were told that we can take a taxi to Shekou Port, and from there take the ferry to HK airport. This was confirmed not only by HK officials but the Chinese officials who escorted us back into China with the other criminals who had been refused entry.

We took a 45 minute taxi ride to the port and finally reached the medium by which we would enter the country: by water.

We get to the ticket counter, and the lady informs us it is impossible to enter Hong Kong by the airport in this way. It is only for departures.

I should mention that I was extremely sick at this time, displaying what some may describe as swine-flu symptoms. I felt like shit, but I kept my determination up until the ferry. I was ready to cough in the lady's face and then jump the boat to hijack it and make my way to their dumb Special Administrative Unit of Hong Kong.

Instead we turned around and went back to Guangzhou. I then spent all of my Hong Kong money on new clothes in Guangzhou, and decided to head back to Hanoi.

I can't understand how a government can be so incompetent and unaware of it's own laws and regulations. Diep has a 90$ Hong Kong visa in his passport that he'll never be able to use (and 90$ is a lot of money in Vietnam).


jeannette said...

Now there's a good ol' fashion travel story.

But for an enticing blog, you needed this entry first, then leave us hanging as to whether or not you find shoes in communist China.

Rebel said...

What a nightmare. $90 is a lot anywhere, and it sucks that you didn't get to do all the things you wanted to do.