This series is going to give historical background starting from 14th of March, show hysterical moves of country leaders, and how it all affected me and tens of thousands of people stuck abroad in this situation.
Lets start with 14th of March. On that day polish government announced that all flights will be banned from entering Poland from the 15th. Giving in total 15 (fifteen) hours to come back. If you are within europe, this is difficult mission. If outside, mission as you can imagine- impossible.
The day later (16th of March), the heroic polish government announced the so called “rescue flights”. There was wide-spread propaganda saying something like “we help our citizens to come back to their homeland. The price will be (…) 1600-2400 PLN (400-600 USD) to come back from further destinations.”
Few remarks here.
First, few flights were costing a mere 5000 or more PLN from Asia, against the propaganda. And people were still buying it. Why? The panic turns off the logical thinking.
Second, after the first wave, the flights were costing indeed close to 2400 PLN. Which is 2,5 times the usual cost. As an example, in September I paid 2100 for the ticket both ways, and it wasn’t a promo – it was a regular price Poland – Vietnam. For many years now (my first trip there was in 2013, I paid nearly the same).
Third, the flights were announced 1, or maximum 2 days ahead. Flight from HCM was announced 16th, to take place on 18th at 5am. Effectively meaning that you had 1,5 days to buy the ticket (overload on servers could extend the process to hours), buy the bus ticket, travel to HCM and finally be at the airport many hours prior to departure because of the PANIC. Which gives you no room to plan anything. Just drop anything you have now and RUN. Especially, if you weren’t in one of 2 cities (HCM or Hanoi).
It was my case, I was in Mui Ne. Mui Ne is located 6 hours drive from HCM. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, in my case owning a motorbike and having a kitesurfing equipment with me meant leaving it all literally on the street, resulting in the losses many times higher than ticket cost itself.
So I decided to stay.
In the meantime, my visa was expiring in 2 weeks. The tourist offices were already overcharging heavily for visa extension services. To give an example, I paid total of 90 USD for the 3 months multiple entry visa before arrival. Now it was quoted at 400 USD for 3 months single entry, or 140 USD for 1 month. And it takes 7-10 working days, which realistically means two weeks. So I overstayed already.
Luckily, I wasn’t alone there, so talking with people from different countries revealed something that seemed like a good solution.
First was the visa extension. Some embassies (including czech) were giving their citizens a visa exempt letter, that you had to bring to the officials in HCM, pay the nominal fee (equivalent of 10 USD) and boom! your visa is extended.
What did polish embassy in Hanoi did? I called them, several friends mailed them… Answers were simple. “We don’t receive any informations on problems with visa extension” and also “please try another tourist office, there should be a cheaper one”. A huge middle finger pointed at us.
But it was just going to start.
In the next part, you will read about the flight, how polish government locked the european union subsidized flights, and how polish embassy effectively banned polish citizens from entering those flights organized by another countries that were for free, going from Hanoi to Prague.