Day 229: Syria, give it to me… (visa I mean, nothing obscene)

Portrait of President Bashar al-Assad welcomes you to Syria

We’re in!!! After months of uncertainty and hearing recent reports of failed entry by various travelers, wind is at our backs and we’ve successfully obtained VOA (visa on arrival) at the border!

We first heard of a Hong Kong traveler who got turned back at the Turkish-Syrian border of Bab al-Hawa back in July. It appeared that rules have changed and Syria was no longer issuing VOAs. The story appeared consistent following checks on other online forums – travelers of other nationalities without pre-arranged visas were also being rejected. Bad news, our hearts sank, need a Plan B.

Over the last few weeks we’ve kept our ears to the ground and positive news seemed to be emerging. A successful entry with VOA reported early this month boosted our confidence. Then hearing through the grapevine of other travelers who have recently made it. Luck was on our side and we’d only lose time by trying.

So we edged over to the border and rolled the dice. An hour from Antakya and we were lining up for our Turkish exit stamps. Took ages… 3 hours later we were at Syrian immigrations, a complete chaos. Reminded me of a trading day at the NYSE – yelling, pushing, shoving… money folded into immigration cards or slipped inside passports were passed around to lubricate the process. Loved watching the officers pocket the cash in discreet. “Welcome to Middle East” I thought.

After several minutes in the mosh pit, we realized the visa office was at another window, thankfully a less chaotic one because we were pretty much the only non Turks/Arabs. Getting our VOA was pretty straightforward, albeit time consuming (perhaps I should learn from the money slipping): fill out immigration card, pay visa fee (US$33 for HK nationals), wait at another window for passport control, answer a few questions about where we were headed and staying, watch passports get stamped, pump our fists secretly under the window! Good to go!

Yeeeeaah!! Syria here we come!

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