Travel: Something To Declare

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Trouble spots:

Vietnamese border crossings.

"My wife and I have just returned from a tailor-made package, which was intended to give us a taste of southern China and Vietnam using the recently restored rail link between Kunming and Hanoi. When we arrived at Hekou, the Chinese border town, the customs police indicated in pidgin English that our Vietnam visas were no good. The visas had been obtained months in advance, via our British travel agent, from the Vietnamese Embassy in London.

"The border police said that they were not valid and a $400 [pounds 250] fine would sort the problem out. Needless to say, we were outraged by such a large demand and sat tight in our seats refusing to give any money. I asked to telephone the British mission in Hanoi, but was refused amidst a lot of laughter by the police officers. After considerable protests, I was taken from the train, leaving my wife alone with five police officers.

"Eventually I was allowed to telephone the travel agent's representative in Saigon, who managed to reduce the `fine' to $200. With time running out, I reluctantly agreed to pay it, but asked for a receipt. This request caused so much anger that I was told I would be arrested and locked up.

"I rejoined the train a few minutes before departure, finding my wife distressed, having experienced a degrading and humiliating search of our clothing. On arrival in Hanoi, we spent the next day trying to get our money back. Eventually the cash was refunded by local agents, yet much of our leisure time was lost whilst writing reports for everybody!"

Mike and Anne Reynolds, Kent

This report is from the new edition of Wanderlust magazine, published yesterday, price pounds 2.80; subscriptions: 01753 620426.

The new edition offers a free passport cover (for the Euro-style document). Wanderlust has teamed up with The Independent to offer a free copy of the magazine, plus a passport cover, to the 10 best tales of tricky/trivial border crossings.

Send your entry to: Passport, Travel Desk, `The Independent', One Canada Square, London E14 5DL, to arrive by elevenses on Monday, 8 Feb.

Bargain of the week:

Italy, Denmark or Germany for pounds 60. The winter-fares war on air routes to Europe intensifies next week when Go (0845 60 54321) launches a five- day seat sale. From 7am next Monday until 11pm on Friday 5 February, the British Airways offshoot is cutting prices on all its routes. Fares from Stansted to Milan, Venice, Copenhagen and Munich are set at pounds 60 return. Tickets to Rome, Lisbon and Bologna cost pounds 70, while Edinburgh is pounds 40.

The deal applies for travel from 15 February to 25 March. Travel is barred on Fridays and Sundays. A two-night minimum stay is required.

True or false:

The only way to reach South America's leading tourist attraction is on foot or aboard a Russian-built helicopter?

For the next fortnight, at least, unfortunately true. The railway line from the city of Cuzco to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu was blocked this week by a landslide. Walking to the historic site along the Inca Trail is still possible, but latest reports say it is very crowded. The alternative is a shuttle service operated by a single ex-Soviet helicopter, for a fare of around pounds 100 return. The track is unlikely to be repaired for another two weeks.

A likely story:

"My bag's checked in, so the plane will have to wait for me." From Monday onwards, this will no longer work for British Airways passengers. You could be denied boarding and made to wait for the next available plane.

International aviation rules insist that travellers must accompany their luggage, and aircraft captains are not permitted to depart until all passengers with checked-in bags are on board. But computerised baggage systems are becoming more sophisticated, making it easier for airlines to offload the luggage of tardy passengers.

British Airways has instituted a rule saying all passengers must be at the boarding gate at least 10 minutes before departure. Any later, and staff will use the Baggage Reconciliation System to remove your luggage from the aircraft hold.

You will be given a seat on the next flight, if space is available; for some destinations, the wait could be a week.

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