Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Route fixed, new passport, no visa

Eventually, I decided to avoid the Iran due to the impending elections and the uncertainty with regard to the Iran-Israel/USA conflict. These are the paper maps that cover my trip:

Nepal, Northeast India, Pakistan, West China, Kazakhstan, West Russia, the Baltic
But then almost everything that can go wrong went wrong so far:
It all started when I realized that my passport doesn't have enough blank pages for all the visa of the various countries I plan to ride through. That was shortly after my stay on Palawan, Philippines, just when I intended to start applying for visa. I was hoping there's the option to attach additional pages to the German passport. Unfortunately, this is not the case; you have to apply for a new one. The other option would have been to apply for a temporary one. The advantages are: cheaper and faster than a new one; disadvantage: only 9 pages. So I started calculating: Nepal, India, Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, Russia; at least one page for each country's visa sticker. So only 2 left for their stamps. Some countries already state in their information regarding visa application that there must be at least 2 blank pages left. I definitely want to avoid any additional, unnecessary issues at boarders, because the process itself is quite troublesome and time consuming already. Thus, I decided to apply for a new passport; express & big (more pages). It took 3 weeks and cost around 200 €. Much more , of course, than getting it in Germany because they add charges like "Unzuständigkeitsgebühr". Well, that reduced the time for the visa hunt to 3 weeks.

Old, invalid passport (left) and new one (right),
German embassy in Singapore.

In addition, I had booked a flight to Saigon/Ho Chi Min City just about the same day, my new passport was supposed to arrive. If I were lucky, my new passport would have arrived just one day before my departure. Technically, I was lucky, but the German embassy in Singapore still relies on snail mail to inform you about the arrival of your new passport. Thus, I could only miss my flight and book another one to get my new passport or still use my old one. Due to the short amount of time left, I thought I should try to get at least one visa in Vietnam. Therefore, I picked up my passport on the next day and flew to Saigon two days later than scheduled. In Vietnam, however, I wasn't successful in applying for the Indian (processing time of 5 working days would have exceeded my stay) nor for the Chinese (they wanted to see a letter of invitation from the travel agency).
Back in Singapore I tried the High Commission of Pakistan next: "Where is your flight ticket?" "I'll travel overland." "Why do you want to go to Pakistan?" "Because I heard it's an interesting country and it's on the way back to Germany." "Where is your Indian and Chinese visa?" "Well, I'll get the Indian visa in Nepal and for the Chinese visa I'm still waiting for the documents from the travel agency." "OK, please have a seat in the waiting room, we will check your application." 10-15 min later: "Your application is OK, you just need a letter of invitation from a friend in Pakistan." (side note: I called them a couple of weeks ago and asked what documents I need to bring. I was told, a booking confirmation for the hotel is enough.) Luckily, the student body at NUS is quite divers so it didn't take long to find a Pakistani who is willing to do me a big favor. Her name is Gulmina and her father is ambassador of Pakistan - not it Singapore though - so she actually knows some of the people at the embassy. Therefore, I believe my second attempt beginning next week will have good chances to succeed.
Meanwhile, I received the documents from the Chinese  travel agency via email. Just in time before my flight to Bangkok (BKK), Thailand, where I have to organize the air freight of my motorbike. Chinese embassies offer the service of urgent visa application so that you can collect the visa on the next day (almost double the price than normal). I was of good cheer because I had photocopies of all documents and thought it would be easy going. Well, I was wrong. End of the story: I couldn't get the visa before my flight to BKK. They had doubts about the validity of the letter of invitation. The balance so far: 2 weeks of visa hunt, 4 embassies, no visa.
Now I'm in Thailand to organize the shipment of my motorbike to Kathmandu (KTM), Nepal. One problem is already put in place: my temporary import permit expired 2 months ago. I knew it will be the case and I consciously let it happen as I got the information that it is not a very big issue if you keep it below six months. There are different rumors about how much the fine is, but all figures were cheaper than 2 return flights SIN-BKK which would have been necessary for the extension of the permit. I'll go to extend/re-apply for it at the customs headquarter in Bangkok tomorrow; supported by Mr. Thira's logistics agency Excel Transport that I entitled to send my motorbike to KTM. Let's see how it goes…