19 days in Indochina

Wed 05 Jun, 2024

i 3 Table of Contents


It has been a long five years since our last trip. A combination of factors, mainly the global COVID pandemic and being focused on rebuilding of my business made travelling all but impossible. It was difficult to cope with the growing travel lust but we kept pushing back. After postponing for half a year., we finally started going through our long wish list, looking for a place that would be ideal to visit in March. After weeks of jumping from destination to destination, we finally decided to go to Indochina, with Vietnam as the main course, Laos as a side dish and Cambodia for dessert.

Indochina is a popular destination with fairly organized tourist infrastructure, so booking tickets, hotels and activities is quite straightforward. The problem has always been our limited time. Efie could only spare 15 days of absence from work and I did not want to stay too long away from the office. Once again we had to squeeze into three weeks a myriad of places and activities.

With the help of Evelyn from Realistic Asia, a local agency that covers Indochina we came up with a plan that covered the highlights in our wishlist.

The Visa

The most challenging issue was to issue the online visas for Vietnam. When I went to study in the US, I decided to spell my last name with a C instead of K and my first name with an E instead of an I. Such was the case that the Greek regulation – valid at the time – for name transliteration from Greek to English¬† was enforcing the K/I spelling. So when I renewed my passport in 2019, I asked the officer to include both spelling so my passport ended up having two last names and two first names with nearly identical spellings. It doesn’t help that I have a pretty long family name, so combing the four resulted in a very long last name string¬† that, alas, truncated to KOSTOPOULOS<OR<COSTOPOU<<ILIAS<OR<ELIAS on the ICAO line. This is the line at the bottom of the picture page of the passport that is machine scanned at the points of entry or exit. Well, the Vietnamese immigration wants the name spelled exactly as displayed on the ICAO line and this was very confusing when I tried to fill out the online visa form. Besides, you can only only issue single entry visas online and since we had to enter Vietnam three times, I had to apply for three different single entry visas. In the end after several failed attempts I managed successfully to issue two visas and failed with the most important, the first one.

With the invaluable help of Evelyn I applied again two days before our departure and headed to the Athens Venizelos airport without a valid visa to enter Vietnam. It took a lot of negotiation at the departure counter, extensive paper shuffling and a healthy dose of smiling to convince the airline agent that my visa would be ready on arrival.

It wasn’t.

Smiling, questions, paper shuffling, negotiations and more smiling until, finally, after 40 long minutes in the immigration office of the Noi Bai International Airport, I got my passport stamped. Vietnam here I come!


Our itinerary was rather complex: three days in Hanoi and Halong Bay, then fly to Luang Prabang in Laos, back to Hanoi to drive to Sapa on the Chinese border and back to Hanoi. Fly to Hue, continue by car to Hoi An, then fly to Ho Chi Min City. Continue by plane to Siem Reap in Cambodia, then to Phnom Penh and finally back to Ho Chi Min City before returning to Athens. Could it be any simpler? Definitely, but this was the only way to make it within 19 days.




Ha Long Bay