Thursday, April 28, 2011

Visas coming through

My Indian, Vietnamese, and Cambodian visas have been processed, issued, and obtained! Next up is Brazil and possibly China...

The process of obtaining Visas can be an exercise in patience. Ideally, you'd want to be able to enter and exit any country as you please, but diplomatic relations between two countries affect whether there is a requirement for you to obtain a Visa - permission to enter a country. The process can take many days, and you probably should practice humility when dealing with a country's consulate...since they basically have the ultimate say in whether you will be granted permission to enter their country.

You are able to obtain Visas in various ways - either at the airport, printed off the internet, through a third party agency, directly at the consulate, or through snail mail. Each country has their own requirement.

As of now, I am trying to obtain as many visas as I can while I'm still in the United States, so I don't have to take any travel time applying at a consulate in another country. The Vietnamese and Indian Visas were obtained in San Francisco since their consulates were located there. The Cambodian Visa was obtained on their website and printed out. The Brazilian and Chinese Visas will be obtained in Los Angeles at their respective consulates. I believe most Walk-Up appointments for Visas take anywhere from 2-5 business days.

The quickest way to figure out whether a Visa is required is to go to the DOS Travel Website, click on the country you are interested in, and then scroll down to the "Exit/Entry Requirements". Here are notes I wrote regarding each country I may visit:

Vietnam - May obtain a VOA (visa on arrival) at the airport or at the Vietnamese consulate prior to travel. They have options to obtain 1 month single or multiple entry, or 3 month single or multiple entry.

Thailand - No Visa required if staying fewer than 30 consecutive days, and less than 90 days total in a 6 month period.

Cambodia - E-Visa can be obtained online. 30 days, single entry for $20 + $5 processing fee.

Indonesia - Visa required. VOA may be obtained for private, temporary, pleasure visits. $25 for a 30 days.

Philippines - No Visa required. Maximum stay of 21 days.

Burma - Visa required. $30 + $40 processing fee. Can obtain through snail mail application to the Consulate in Washington DC. I plan on obtaining my Burmese Visa in Thailand, as I hear it is quicker and more convenient. Also, I heard that you must show proof of having at least $300 USD when arriving at the airport.

Laos - Can obtain Visa at airport. Need 2 passport photos. $35 for 30 days.

India - You must go through a third-party outsourcing company, or apply by mail. The fee is $60 (for 6 month multiple entry) + $13 processing if applying through the third-party company. Family members may submit the documents on your behalf. I had my sister bring it in for me and the process took 24 hours. Pretty quick turnaround.

Nepal - Visa can be obtained at the airport upon arrival. $25 for 15 days, $40 for one month, and $100 for three months. Apparently, 2011 is the Year of Tourism in Nepal.

Greece - Based on the Schengen Agreement, which was a treaty that was signed to create Europe's borderless "Schengen" area, operating as one state for international travelling purposes, travel is free for 90 days.

Turkey - You can obtain a 90-day Visa sticker at any port of entry for $20.

Czech Republic - Schengen Agreement (See Greece)

Spain- Schengen Agreement (See Greece)

Germany - Schengen Agreement (See Greece)

Morocco - No Visa required for 90 days.

Brazil - Based on reciprocity, $140 is charged for a 90 day Visa.

Argentina - $140 for a Visa if you enter through the Ezeiza or Jorge Newbery Airport. You can avoid the fee if you enter from a different place, either on land, or in another airport.

Peru - No Visa required.

One issue that will come up for a "round the world" traveler like myself is the requirement upon arrival at customs of proof of your plans to leave the country. I assume this is done to ensure that you don't plan on coming to work in the country and end up staying there. Most people show their return airplane ticket as proof, but I will have a problem, since I won't have a roundtrip ticket anywhere. Some people have suggested that I created a "planned" itinerary from expedia or and present it, even though I haven't really purchased a ticket, but sadly, I think I will just have to plan both my means of entry and exit into a country prior to arrival...

Another issue that will come up is whether I will have enough pages in my Passport. You can purchase additional Visa Pages for your passport for $82 dollars, but the process takes around 5-6 weeks! I'll just cross my fingers for now and hope that I have enough space in my passport. If not, I'll have to go to the US Embassy in whatever country I'm in...

Monday, April 18, 2011

picture perfect 2

Been trying to get in as much LA before the trip. It's difficult being efficient with time when you have so much of it to use, as ironic as it seems.

Been having a couple random BBQs at my West Hollywood residence, taking advantage of the socal weather, my front porch, and my neighbor's BBQ. Was able to rekindle a friendship with my 1st grade best friend before she left California for Illinois! It had been almost 20 years since I last saw her, but thanks to the powers of Facebook, we were able to find each other.

Hangar 18 (Hawthorne, CA) - Been trying to get in some additional physical activity on my free time. I was first introduced to bouldering when I bought a Groupon to take an introductory class at the ARC in Arcadia, CA. Bouldering is similar to rock climbing, but without the harnesses. The bouldering "problems" are usually short distances and crash pads are used to prevent serious injury in the case that you do fall off. The "problems" range in difficulty from a V0 to around a V16. I've only been able to complete V0s and maybe one V1 problem. The video above is a V0.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (Miracle Mile, Los Angeles, CA) - Free every 2nd Tuesday of the month. There is a pretty extensive and varied collection here. I usually get too tired to really see everything in one visit. I spent most of the time checking out the Bauhaus, cubism, and abstract expressionism collection. There is a Tim Burton exhibition showcasing his artistic works starting May 29, 2011. 

La Descarga (Hollywood, CA) - A small Cuban rum bar complete with a cigar lounge, live music, and hourly burlesque shows. I'm not much of a rum drinker, but heard great things about this bar. When you go upstairs, you are led to a room that looks like a small office or apartment. The host welcomes you and opens what appears to be a closet, which actually is the entrance to the bar downstairs. Think The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The bar is open 8-2 from Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations are difficult to get on Saturdays, but I was able to get one after 2 weeks. There is also a strict dress code, so be sure to look dapper. The video above was a snippet of what I captured on April 16, 2011.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

first flight booked!

Just booked my first leg of the trip!

Saturday, May 21 on EVA Air

LAX (Los Angeles)-TPE (Taipei)-SGN (Ho Chi Minh City)

It ended up being cheaper to book directly off of EVA Air's website compared to

picture perfect

I purchased a Canon t2i DSLR camera as a Christmas gift to myself in 2010, and I plan to use it during my travels. The thing is, I have no clue how to take good photographs and have had zero training on how to use the different functions. Until now, I've resorted to using the "auto" and the "non flash" functions to take all my pictures. Some of my friends with experience using these cameras just suggested that I play around with it whenever I have a chance and figure it out on my own. I planned on taking a class at Santa Monica College, but never got around to doing it during busy season in February.

I've sort of created an ever-changing LA Bucket List, as evidenced on the right side of this blog. They are just a bunch of things that I have wanted to do in Los Angeles, but never really got around to doing, and I wanted to hit as many of them before I left. Hopefully I can use my camera and learn some more tips and tricks while crossing off my bucket list in the process.

Here are some pictures I've taken (any constructive criticism would be appreciated):

Sturtevant Falls - Sierra Madre, CA - A great hiking place just a little past Pasadena with an impressive, yet easily reachable waterfall. I went on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and it was packed, so parking ($5) was a little bit of a hassle. Well worth it though.

Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific - Long Beach, CA - I came here to watch a friend perform with his dance team. Apparently, the aquarium hosts different cultural events every now and then where they leave the premises open after hours and people can come listen to music, watch cultural dances, eat food, and also look at all the aquarium galleries. Aquarium of the Pacific - Taste of Asia Event

MOCA (Pacific Design Center) - West Hollywood, CA - The museum space at this location was rather minimal, but there is currently an exhibition called "Rodarte: States of Matter" (pronounced "Roh-dar-tay", as corrected by one of my fashion friends) where some of the Black Swan tutus are on display. Photography was not allowed inside the museum, but it was fascinating to see some of the materials desigers Kate and Laura Mulleavy used to make these costumes, as well as their own collection. We're talking cheesecloth, Swarovski crystals, vinyl, leather, wool, cobwebs, etc. There were both the white and black collection, culminating with a view of the final tutu Natalie Portman wore on the last scene of the movie, special effects and all.

Bigfoot Lodge - Los Angeles, CA - Located near Culver City, the inside of this bar resembled a log cabin, as seen in the picture above. Great $5 happy hour list. I believe it is from 5-9 everyday. The drinks are high quality and the bartenders know how to mix them.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

finding the right backpack

I spent the last three weeks trying to figure out which backpack I should buy for my trip. There are so many different features on each backpack that I felt completely lost. Walking into R.E.I. left me flushed and flustered, so I asked some friends, family, and store workers for advice on what features I should think about.

  • Lumbar Support - Each backpack has its own special material that is used to provide lumbar support and airflow.
  • Weight - Different backpacks use different fabrics that can really make a difference in how heavy the pack is.
  • Carry-on Restrictions - The size of the bag can make a difference over whether you can carry the pack on-board during a flight, which can save you beaucoup bucks.  
  • Loading Space - Each bag has a number, which represents how many liters each pack is able to hold.
  • Loading Accessibility - Some packs load in the front, some load in the top.
I decided on the Osprey Kestrel 48:

One of the biggest factors for me in choosing a pack was whether I would be able to carry-on at the airport. I wanted to save on baggage fees and also have my stuff with me at all times to avoid getting it stolen or lost. Each airline has it's own carry-on restriction and I'll have to press my luck each time I go through security, but  any way to lower the chances of theft or loss would be ideal. While the pack probably wouldn't fit carry-on requirements if it was filled to capacity, I figure I wouldn't ever really have it completely full. The frame of the pack is also bendy, so I could contort it to fit those carry-on requirement boxes at airports if needed.

The pack is top loading, but also has a zipper at the bottom which provides additional accessibility. My sister recommended that I get a pack with bottom access since it would be a hassle trying to sort through all my belongings from the top in the case that I needed something that settled to the bottom of my pack. 

I found most Osprey products to be very lightweight. The pack is made of nylon and most reviews on R.E.I.'s  website seem favorable for this brand. The entire pack weights 3 lbs 10 oz.

I purchased mine at R.E.I., and they were able to provide assistance on how to put the backpack on correctly. They also provided pillows and sandbags to fill the pack so that I could get a good sense of how it would feel if I had all my stuff inside. They also recommended that I walk around the store for 10 minutes with it on to make sure I'm getting the proper back support.

One less thing to purchase for this trip!

Retail Price ($159)
Less 20% REI Member Discount ($31.80)
2 Carabiners ($4)

Total with Tax ($142.68)
Less REI Member Dividend ($8.90)

Total Paid ($133.78)