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Category: Advice

The Trick To Getting A Bhutan Visa (500 Error Solved)

Bhutan requires a visa from tourists of most countries and on the surface it looks straightforward. However, like most things about visiting Bhutan things aren’t quite a simple as they might seem. Some of the steps to getting the visa can be cumbersome but there is a trick to speeding up the process.

500 Error Fix

Many users who visit the Bhutan visa website and upload their passport information and photo have encountered this dreaded 500 error. Your first instinct is to refresh a million times and eventually try to start the process over again only to get another 500.

bhutan 500 error

Instead, you should email the site’s official IT department to let them know about the 500 error. Once you do, they will manually add your account in the system and you’ll be able to login without issues. These are the email addresses (found in the conformation email you get when you created a site account): [email protected] or [email protected]

Response times are about one to two business days. You’re almost to the finish line but there is another thing to be aware of so you don’t slow your application down.

Bank Troubles

There is a cost to obtain a Bhutan tourist visa as well as a sustainable development fee you must pay. Another problem you might run into is the payment gets stuck at “pending” and never changes status. In these cases, email the accounts personnel ([email protected] or [email protected]) to make them aware. They’re likely going to tell you to simple re-try the payment (with the original still stuck on pending).

paro festival bhutan

Of course, double check with your credit card to make sure you haven’t been double-charged but once you have completed a successful payment, you should be ready to submit your online visa application. After 3-5 business days you will get a response but keep in mind they won’t email you like the system says it will. Because, of course.

Despite the mild hassles though, traveling to Bhutan and seeing sites like the iconic Tiger’s Nest makes it all worthwhile.

How To Visit El Chorrillo: Panama City’s Most Dangerous Neighborhood

Located adjacent to one of Panama City’s most popular touristic neighborhoods is El Chorrillo, considered one of the most dangerous parts of Panama’s capital. El Chorrillo is often called a “red zone” by locals – a place to avoid, fear, and steer clear of. There is one person though who is leading visitors through El Chorrillo and giving a glimpse into a story of history, neglect, and change.

Next To The Boom

The historic and touristic neighborhood of Casco Viejo is expanding and demand for more land have begun eating into El Chorrillo and driving both prices up and residents out. Local guide Victor Peretz who runs Local in Pty takes small groups through the winding streets where in 1989 the United States invaded the El Chorrillo, home of Manuel Noriega’s military base. El Chorrillo has never recovered truly and has been plagued with violence.

el chorrillo panama city

Victor takes you through the pain of El Chorrillo as well as the daily life within the neighborhood. (Shown in the video above.) El Chorrillo is vibrant with local domino games (an elderly favorite), education initiatives (which Victor is an integral part) and Panama hat maker Mario whose family has been there for three generations.

Changes For Better Or Worse

As Casco Viejo become more expensive, property owners are slowly buying land and constructing new buildings in El Chorrillo. Right now most of the activity is on the borders but the trend is clear – Casco Viejo is moving into El Chorrillo. A slow tidal wave that brings with it uncertainty, co-working spaces, and expensive apartments in a gentrification story familiar in many large cities worldwide.

el chorrillo tour panama city

Victor shows you the present while putting perspective on the past as premonitions about the future become apparent. Overall the walk through El Chorrillo is enlightening and not uncomfortable as you have an experienced guide navigating you through otherwise tricky streets. Victor can be reached by Instagram, Facebook, and email ([email protected]). Tours run around 3 hours at a leisurely pace and begin from Casco Viejo. I can highly recommend Victor’s tours if you want to see a part of Panama City that might otherwise seem unreachable. The tour of El Chorrillo was the most memorable part of my visit to Panama City and gave a contrast with Casco Viejo I would have missed.

This Free App Is The Fastest Way To Get Through U.S. Immigration

dulles airport

After a long flight there’s nothing less fun than waiting in a long immigration line at passport control. There is however a way to speed up the entire process using an app provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Here’s how to use Mobile Passport Control (MPC) to skip the long lines.

How MPC Works

MPC is a free app available for iOS and Android created by the U.S. government. The MPC app lets you digitally fill out a customs declaration form, upload a picture of your passport, and your photo of yourself as you would with a passport agent. In this case though the MPC app lets you bypass the manual process of having your passport looked over by an agent.

MPC users have their own separate line and is available for use at over 33 airports and some seaports of entry. (A current total of 48 sites.)

Who Is Eligible?

The MPC app can be used by U.S. citizens, legal residents, Canadian B1/B2 citizen visitors and returning Visa Waiver Program travelers with approved ESTA. This includes most of the European Union citizens, Australian, and Japanese citizens, among several others who are eligible to use MPC after their initial U.S. visit.

Set Up Before You Fly

A lot of people realize there’s a faster way through immigration using the MPC app when the airline staff announce it’s an option. By that time though uploading everything and getting your account created might be too tight, assuming you have an Internet connection at the airport at all. Therefore it’s best to set up the MPC app before you take off on your trip and it only takes a few minutes to get everything ready.

Then once you land, find the MPC line, scan the QR code on your phone shown in the app, and enjoy waiting for your luggage. But hey, at least you didn’t spend any unnecessary time looking at people’s back in immigration lines.

The Worst Websites To Book Flights With

There are a lot of reasons to not use any of these sites but terrible customer service, undelivered bookings, and general hassle are some of the main offenses.

1. eDreams

edreams

Let’s start with the first offender, eDreams, a site that keeps their airfare listings low by basically not having a customer service department and by sneaking in fees right after you book. For starters, eDreams shows you the absolute lowest price you’ll definitely not be paying when searching. A lot of aggregators do this but eDreams is a particularly bad offender where your final fare can be 30-50% more than what you’re first shown.

Another shady practice many have come across with eDreams is they show you fares with their “Prime” membership discounts included.

So, for example for a flight from New York to London is might show a $535 round trip. Notice the greyed out fine print in the video above though and it’s actually $608. But eDreams automatically includes a free 30 day trial of prime when you book, which isn’t very clear – because Prime is $59 a year – so many people are unwittingly charged a month later for a service they didn’t explicitly sign up for.

You have to click to “Show other fares” to see the true price.

2. SmartFares

smartfares

The trick SmartFares likes to do is show you low prices for a fare, then when you do book, will send you their confirmation code. That’s not confirmation by the airlines – a few hours, up to a day passes, then they say your flight wasn’t booked because the airline raised their price. They’ll then (hopefully) send an email asking if you want to book at the new, higher rate. If you try to cancel, they’ll charge you a fee to do so.

There are in fact so many issues with Smartfares that they’ve included an entire section in their terms about charge backs and credit card disputes. Basically saying you agree to not dispute any of their fees with your credit card and they you’ll be charged a $250 charge back fee if you attempt to dispute.

You know things are bad when there’s several sections in the terms on how you can not get a refund for botched bookings. My advice, avoid using SmartFares when possible.

3. GoToGate

gotogate

GoToGate is so bad, in my testing, I wasn’t able to book a single flight. All were dropped, requests for refunds ignored, and there are fees for handling refunds. And believe me when I say, Gotogate will fight you and your credit card tooth and nail for that refund or charge dispute. They’re really nasty to work with so avoid them. Seriously, you can find a flight elsewhere.

There Is Hope

All services and booking sites not to mention airlines, screw up. They make mistakes are incompetent, some percentage of the time. With enough customers, even a small percentage adds up. But with eDreams, SmartFares, and GoToGate, that percentage is very high. To stay in business they make refunds difficult, charge fees wherever they can – and just enough people have a smooth experience that sites like Kayak still work with them.

Keep that in mind next time you’re looking for a flight and see an unusually low price through an aggregator. It’s probably too good to be true and if it’s one of those 3 sites I’ve mentioned, not worth the trouble.

Suriname Travel Advice: Your Questions Answered!

paramaribo suriname markets

Tucked away in South America’s northeast, Suriname is a unique travel destination not a lot of people know as a, well, know. The country doesn’t have much of a tourism industry but for those who know, you might be asking these questions. And for those who don’t know, these answers might just have you asking, should I visit Suriname?

Is Suriname Safe?

Personally, I like to ask the question “why would you want to visit” a place before considering security concerns because both a more related than it might seem. Most people though want to know if a place is safe first, so let’s start with that. Like any country or city, safety varies with geography. Paramaribo, the capital city and primary point of exploration for most visitors, is relatively safe. During the daylight hours many of the parts of Paramaribo you would want to visit are accessible by bike or on foot and generally the city is fairly calm.

suriname rain forest

Wandering around is relaxed and as a foreigner you’re not a spectacle or tend to draw any extra attention. After sunset, most of the streets become very quiet as offices and shops close, so walking is generally not advised. A taxi is your best option from point A to B and there are some local ride sharing apps that make arranging transportation easier.

Outside of Paramaribo, the same advice applies in many towns and other cities. Visits to the rain forest are a bit different – the concerns are more typical with being in a jungle environment. The highways that stretch across Suriname and link French Guyana and Guyana are considered risky, so be sure to put extra consideration into any potential car or bus rides toward the borders.

Why Would You Want To Visit Suriname?

Food. I mean, there are a lot of fun things to see and do in Suriname but it must be said and said again: Paramaribo is one of the best cities in the world to eat. The variety of cuisine which is hard to generalize but there are centuries of local east Asian and Pacific foods than have been imported to Suriname. Blending with the indigenous foods and ingredients that have slowly diverged into a unique culinary landscape, not entirely Asian or South American, but something all its own.

Not to mention the creole food or the countless Sunday markets that pop up with all kinds of street foods, snacks, and other treats. Really, Paramaribo is a foodie paradise. You can also head out to the nearby forests and see wildlife, including pink dolphins, monkeys, and caimans. There are local plantations and tours describing the history of Suriname, giving you more insight into the variation of people, food, and culture that exists here.

Two Questions In

Suriname might not be the top of your travel list if you’re not an adventurous traveler. That’s not to say Suriname is a difficult place but if you’re an experienced beginner or beyond, Suriname might be the next destination to put on your travel list. Though if you have any other questions, feel free to drop those in the comments below.

A Beginner’s Guide To Visiting Suriname

Suriname is a country that sees roughly 250,000 visitors per year putting it in the bottom half of all countries in terms of tourism. (Compare that to Chile’s 2 million in 2022.) The relatively small number of tourists to Suriname is not because there isn’t much to see, do, and eat here – it’s just that not a lot of people have found out about it.

Consider this short guide your introduction and invitation to South America’s diverse northern nation whose capital city might be one of the best foodie destinations worldwide.

Starting In Paramaribo

Suriname tends to be a warm, humid place most of the year, with a rainy season between April and September. Arriving around those months should keep you less wet (Suriname is 95% rain forest). Otherwise the weather is warm (30C+ highs) throughout the year due to its equatorial location. Most people arrive in Paramaribo by air and note that if you’re coming from a country with a risk of yellow fever, you will need a completed vaccination card.

paramaribo sunset

There are some good hotels in Paramaribo and they’ll run you about $75 a night. That gets you a large room and breakfast, not to mention central location.

Please Eat Here

Paramaribo might be one of the best cities in the world to eat. To get started, try some of the local roti – a flat lentil patty topped with a variety of vegetarian and meat options to your liking. For the ultra-local, make your way to Carili’s Roti Shop located in a quiet neighborhood in the center of town. Nearby there’s Jairoop and Roopram both competing roti shops if you can’t get enough of the dish.

suriname indonesian food

Another local favorite for breakfast (the smallest meal in Suriname) are the sausage and sandwiches from De Gadri. For dinner, there’s Martin House of Indian Food, and Lee’s Korean Restaurant which might be the best you’ll find outside of the Korean Peninsula. Mirosso for Indonesia flavors which might have you wondering: why am I pointing out Asian foods? The answer is these are not so much international restaurants as they are local restaurants run by generations of populations from Southeast Asia who arrived over 100 years ago.

Markets And More Street Food

Sunday is market day in Paramaribo and there’s plenty to choose from. The Chinese market is a good place to get produce and located close to De Gadri. Another, nearby market is the Kwatta Indonesian market, with more street food than you could ask for. There are also refreshing drinks like dawet, a cold coconut-based juice that’s loaded with sugar and tapioca. When you’re planning a visit to Paramaribo, try to plan your trip over at least one Sunday so you don’t miss the markets.

To get out of the city, there’s New Amsterdam, about a 45 minute drive outside of town. There you’ll see where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Suriname River, where old fort canons over look the horizon. Take a boat out on to the river to catch a glimpse of the local pink dolphins and tour the plantations to learn about Suriname’s colonial past.

This is just the beginning of all the things there are to see and do in Suriname. This short guide is more of an introduction to the country rather than a complete to do list. Remember, food, nature, and off the beaten path, Suriname has a lot to offer travelers.

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About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutHi, I'm Anil. foXnoMad is where I combine travel and tech to help you travel smarter. I'm on a journey to every country in the world and you're invited to join the adventure! Read More

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