What can go wrong when crossing the border overland between Thailand and Cambodia? Follow our 2016 Cambodia adventure and find out!
“There is no certainty; there is only adventure.” – Roberto Assagioli
After one month of staying in Thailand it was the time to renew my visa. I and my Thai fiancée have prepared for a two days trip to the Had Lek (Cham Yeam) border crossing to Cambodia for the so called visa-run.
We departed from the Bangkok Mo Chit bus terminal at 11:30 pm on Tuesday to Trat – about six hours ride.
We arrived at Trat Wednesday early morning. From here we took a minibus to the border with Cambodia.
Having a Cambodian e-visa, crossing the border was fast, without any problems.
On the Cambodian side we stopped at the Koh Kong International Resort Club for coffee and trying our luck at the casino.
After a couple of hours we went back to the Cham Yeam border crossing. The immigration officer asked me for 300 Thai Bahts (about 9 USD) for, supposedly, not staying enough in Cambodia. No receipt issued.
Got the Cambodian exit visa and presented myself to the Thai immigration office.
At this point was supposed to be routine. Get the entry visa and go back to Bangkok.
The words from the immigration officer came as a shock: “Visa denied!” But I wasn’t quite surprised given the many trips I took to Thailand in one year.
“You have to go to Phnom Penh and apply for visa there at the Thai embassy”, the immigration officer said.
The biggest problem was we didn’t have time. Today was Wednesday and our wedding in Bangkok was coming on Sunday, Valentine’s Day. How can we arrive in time?!
11 am. We are walking back to the Cambodian immigration. I needed the Cambodian exit visa to be cancelled. I am asked to pay 1,000 Bahts (30 USD). I negotiate for 800 Bahts that goes directly into the immigration officer pockets.
On the Cambodian side, if you pay, you get everything you want, including a “taxi” for the 5 hours ride to Phnom Penh at 3,000 Bahts (85 USD).
We weren’t prepared for a long trip to Cambodia, and this was a really weird trip.
We got into the car only to find out the Cambodian driver couldn’t speak English or Thai or even understand sign language. We managed somehow to stop him at a rural small store for a washroom stop. After pinpointing and mimicking, we realized there is no washroom! Just the Mother Nature…
Finally we arrived at the Thai Embassy before closing. I got the visa application form and I am asked to bring the airplane ticket booking to proof my departure from Thailand. So I have to come back on Thursday to apply for the visa.
After 12 hours without food and 24 hours on the road, we decided to find a hotel nearby the embassy.
We found the “Tai Ming Plaza Hotel”. But the adventures or misadventures of the day didn’t end here. We got a room near a part of the hotel under renovation. So noisy, we had to change the room.
Now, the fun part! Inside the hotel is the “Lan Pin Oriental Creative Restaurant” – the place we went for dinner. The “creative” from the name of the restaurant may play a role in the following story,
Even if the menu was written in Khmer and English languages and clearly we pinpointed our choices and repeated with the waitress, somewhere, something happened down the “transmission” line.
What we ordered: Lamb with dry chilly.
What we got: Seafood.
What we ordered: Seafood fried rice.
What we got: Beef fried rice.
What we ordered: Green lemon tea.
What we got: Orange juice.
What we ordered: Red wine.
What we got: “Sorry sir, we don’t have white wine!”
After some arguments, we got the lamb and the red wine. By the way, the food was excellent and in enormous quantities.
And these were our adventures for the day.
On Thursday we wanted to take a tuk-tuk to a travel agency close to the Thai embassy. But the driver wouldn`t accept Thai Bahts – the only currency we had. Sooner we realized that the banks don`t change Thai Bahts and we were unable to withdraw any currency by using Visa or Mastercard.
After trying three banks, we are told to go to the “Russian Market”.
The very patient tuk-tuk driver brought us to the market. No Russians here! The name came from the 1980s when many Russians lived and shopped in the area.
I thought there should be some shady characters exchanging money underground. It is funny asking people about the money changers, when they were on plain sight, sitting at desks with glass cabinets full of banknotes.
We bought US dollars. The US dollars are accepted everywhere in Phnom Penh, otherwise you will need a big bag to carry the local money, the Riels (1 USD = 4,000 Cambodian Riels).
From here we went to reserve a flight outside of Thailand for 5 USD fee and to the Thai embassy for visa application.
And, yet, another panic moment: the visa will be ready on Monday. No, it is not possible. Our wedding will be on Sunday!
But in this part of the world, anything is possible. With a little bit of persuasion and 10 USD the date of visa issuance has been changed from Monday to Friday afternoon (next day).
Finally, time to relax. For a while…
We went to the riverside, a touristic area with restaurants and terraces. Locals are strolling on the promenade alongside the Tonle Sap river and street vendors are selling food, drinks and fruits.
We visited the Royal Palace, the royal residence of the king of Cambodia.
And we bought tickets with Thai Airways from Phnom Penh to Bangkok for Friday evening.
At sunset, a stop at the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) brings back memories of the year 2010 when I enjoyed a beer with an Australian travelling couple, Maggie and Matt. FCC is the meeting place for adventurers, locals and visitors from around the world.
On the street vendors sell English books at a bargain price. The children who help their parents selling books or souvenirs are well versed in the selling art and speak good English. They are tomorrow’s successful business-people of Cambodia!
Even if you don’t need handicrafts, buy something and help the children and their families. We bought bracelets as gifts from the two girls team featured in the photos.
End of the day, it is time to pray for a good outcome tomorrow.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway
Sleep recovery in the morning! We enjoyed a coffee at the “Tai Ming Plaza Hotel” coffee shop.
In the afternoon I picked up my passport with a two month Thai visa and headed to the airport.
A short flight, less than one hour and we landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.
After more than unexpected three days on the road, not shaved and with mostly the same clothes from the first day, plus a passport full of stamps, I might be raised few red flags at the immigration desk since the officer pushed a button. Now what?
I was taken to another checkpoint where I was interviewed by two women officers.
“What are you doing in Thailand?” – one officer asked. “I am getting married”, I answered. Then I called my fiancée to prove it.
To my surprise they all started laughing and talking in Thai. What’s going on? They wouldn’t tell me.
What happened, they were all very excited about the upcoming marriage and they wished us “Happy Marriage”!
And Sunday, Valentine’s Day, was the big day: our wedding!