Nhat Ky Xe Day 7: Sa Pa -> Lao Cai -> Sa Pa Approx. 70km
While Michael leisurely wandered about Sa Pa for the day, I rose early and took off for Lao Cai. It was a beautiful and easy 35km drive, but once I arrived I realized that it is a far larger city than I had expected. Since it lies directly on the border with China (Hekkou on the Chinese side), its a major business hub. I immediately got lost. As I always do.
Lao Cai is not exactly a tourist destination. I had a hard time finding anyone who could understand my attempts at pronouncing the Vietnamese word for “police”. Finally, I located a police station and with much difficulty communicated that I would like a visa extension. One of the friendly police officers walked into the street, ordered a random citizen to stop, and commanded him to direct me to the immigration office. I followed on my bike through a maze of tiny streets until my guide stopped in front of an even more secret-underground-HQ-looking building than the one in Sa Pa and told me to wait until 2pm when the officers would go back on duty (after their daily 2-hour+ lunch break). He failed to point out that the office I wanted was actually across the street from where he took me.
So I waited. And waited. I had a cold drink nearby. Then waited more.
It was well past 2pm; I decided I was at the wrong place. I walked around, passport in hand, trying to ask random people about the immigration office. I almost gave up, but at last a nice gentleman understood my question and pointed me to the unmarked door of a building directly across the street. Inside I found a set-up similar to the one in Sa Pa: a couple of guys in a very plain room behind a very plain desk. It took them all of 2 minutes to look at my passport and tell me “No.” I tried everything I possibly could. I even jokingly got on my knees and begged, but nothing worked. No extension. “Try Hanoi” they told me, but that wasn’t really an option. I decided to give up when they started to get suspicious about my employment status in Vietnam. I did manage to get out of them that I would incur only a small penalty, if any at all, for overstaying my visa by a week or less.
Oh well, a complete waste of a day! Back to Sa Pa in time for dinner and a good night’s rest, for the next day we’d be driving right off the map into Ha Giang. Valid visa or not, I decided against turning back.