Sunday, 22 July 2012

Visas and Vaccinations

It has been a while since we updated our blog but, to be honest, we don't really think much of what we have been doing over the last 6 weeks or so will be of interest to anyone (even us!).  However, we have been busy and are ready to go.  It's just a shame we have still to wait another 5 weeks.....


We applied for our visas in order of need and so once the Russian letters of invitation were received, the online application was completed and I duly trotted off to the Russian Visa Application Centre near Old Street.  The process was painless and I returned 5 days later and picked up our passports with our Russian visas firmly glued inside.

The Mongolian visa process was complicated only by the fact that I couldn't complete the process online and there were several different versions of the application available to download on the internet.  I chose one and hoped for the best.  The usual documents were required - travel insurance, evidence of funds to support you during your stay, as well as a letter of invitation from a recognised tourist agency which was kindly provided by our Australian travel agent. 

The Mongolian Embassy is only open for visa applications from 10.00am until 12 noon so I set off early, only to find no trace of the Embassy at the address provided - no flag, no brass plaque, nothing!  Upon closer inspection at the address I noticed a small typewritten paper sign directing me to the basement of number 8 Kensington Court where there was indeed a very small office with a nice Mongolian gentleman behind a counter.  I handed over the documents for inspection and after a few moments, he handed me back the letter of invitation telling me there was a mistake and that the letter was addressed (in Cyrillic script) to the Australian Embassy!  He glanced at me and said "Don't worry, I believe you" and told me to come back in 4 days to pick up our passports, which I did.  If only all visa applications were that simple and straightforward.

I was now ready to tackle the Chinese visa.  We had decided to apply for a 90 day visa on the basis that we would probably only get 30 or 60 days which we would then extend while in China.  Not ideal but extensive research made us wary of the arbitrary process for Chinese visa applications, not just in the UK but around the world.  The Lonely Plant Thorn Tree forum is an invaluable source of all information travel related and much information was gleaned from regular contributors on the China branch.  I won't set out the lengths we went to but if any is interested in how to maximise your chances of securing a Chinese visa you can find it here.

Long story short, I delivered our applications together with all the paperwork to the Chinese Visa Application Centre in the City, near Bank Station and was advised to return 3 days later.  3 nailbiting days later I returned to pick up our passports and when I tentatively sought out the visa page I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw we had been granted 90 days visas!  We are over the moon as this means that we will have time to travel to the Silk Road area in western China, as well as venture up to Inner Mongolia.  We have had to juggle our bookings in Vietnam as we will be arriving just before Christmas but we are so excited to be able to spend 3 whole months exploring China.


We nearly didn't bother as the cost of vaccinations and antimalaria tablets is astronomical.  The NHS provide only the basics, much to the frustration of GPs who clearly understand the importance of vaccinations in managing serious diseases but are strictly prohibited from providing what many consider to be a public health service.  My GP was helpful and informative, as far as the guidelines allowed.

The Practice Nurse at our surgery was, I am afraid to say, bloody useless.  I sat in the surgery as she copied down a list of all recommended vaccinations not provided on the NHS from the NHS Fit for Travel website (which I could have done myself and saved both us a lot of time).  She was unable to advise me on whether any or all of these were appropriate and told us to go to a travel clinic (which we were going to anyway).  The cost of all of the vaccinations on her list would have set us back about £700 EACH.  It is no wonder budget backpackers often don't bother as the cost is almost prohibitive and as I said we considered not bothering ourselves but the small bit of sense of wisdom acquired with age prevailed.

Malaria tablets were also a dilemma - 3 months supply for both of us is going to cost about £450.00.  After much discussion we agreed it wasn't worth the risk - north east Vietnam and almost the whole of Cambodia is high risk for malaria so we bit the bullet and will take enough to protect us while we are in affected areas.

Travel clinics vary widely in price and we went along to the South London Travel Centre near Oval tube where the prices were very reasonable.  The doctor there was well informed and didn't try to sell us anything we didn't need.  He advised rabies, Hepatitis B and Japanese Encephalitis on the basis of the length of exposure in the risk areas.  We discussed whether it was appropriate for ticke borne encephalitis which is a problem in Siberia in spring and summer but as we would be arriving late September it was not considered necessary.  All in all, it was a painless process and although expensive, not as expensive as an inexperienced and disinterested Practice Nurse would lead you to believe. 

Cash/Access to Funds

This is something else we have also debated and researched at length.  We are taking our current account debit cards, some US dollars and a couple of currency cards (Caxton FX seem to be the best option).


This is turning into a battle of the sexes.  Paul's packing list consists of passport, money, iPod, and a change of underpants.  Me, on the other hand, I have been accused of preparing to survive a nuclear holocaust.  In my defence, I do not intend taking many clothes/any make up/toiletries etc, but I have stocked up on shampoo bars, toothpaste, razors, and a first aid kit that would probably not be out of place in a war zone.
We now feel prepared and ready to leave.  Paul has 3 weeks left at work and I am about to start packing up the flat.

Bertie Wookster
Finally, meet Bertie Wookster.  He shall be our companion on our travels and no doubt the subject of many photographs at various signs along the way.




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