Roadtrip to Cambodia

I’m back!  Due to a combination of factors; a change of school, no wifi, a touch of laziness, and frankly nothing happening, I have been tardy in posting.  So it gives me pleasure to write about my latest adventure; a border run to Cambodia!

As you may have read before in my previous post about my visa run to Laos, you can see and do a lot as well as meet some great people to make your time worthwhile.  The difference in this trip, to the Baan Pakkad-Phsar Prum border crossing, is that it was not the destination that was the highlight of the trip but the journey itself!

I mentioned to a co-worker that I needed to go to Cambodia to get my visa stamped for another 30 days on arrival back in Thailand and he suggested I take my motorbike.  I think he was half joking but I took him seriously, did some research, asked a friend to join me, and that weekend off we went!

My friend and I, another Canadian, met up for breakfast and did some last minute fact finding before we set off.  As our luck would have it, it started to rain heavily.  The rain was so heavy that I could barely see in front of me from all the rain distorting my vision that I put my sunglasses on.  This helped me somewhat and ultimately helped persuade me to stick to the mission and not head back.

Cambodi2

What really made the drive more enjoyable, after the rain had lightened to a drizzle, was the beautiful scenery; luscious green landscapes for miles around, mountains off in the distance, the occasional waterfall, and the bemused looks of soldiers at occasional checkpoints to see a farang that far out in the countryside driving a motorbike.

Cambodi3

For those who are interested in driving motorbikes on long distance journeys, as opposed to just jetting about in town or on an island, I found no problems on my small bike and I just followed what other Thais on their bikes were doing; stick to the side of the road and you should have no problems!  Occasionally this is not possible and you will have to mix it up with cars but if you just drive responsibly and move out the way for oncoming cars, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Cambodi10

At the Thai side of the border, Baan Pakkad, things were very simple.  We just went to the immigration building, got our passport stamped, had them inspected again at the checkpoint, and walked over to Phsar Prum in Cambodia!  After walking a couple hundred meters through the ‘no man’s land’ we went to the Cambodian immigration building and filled out some forms to get our Cambodian visa which cost 1500 baht but could be cheaper if you pay in USD, which is the de facto currency in Cambodia.  They asked for a picture for the visa but we didn’t have any and it was not a problem.

Cambodi9

Now, because we were only in Cambodia for the afternoon we didn’t write how long we expected to stay in Cambodia.  When the immigration official asked how long we intended to stay we were vague and said a day, this turned out to be important for when we went to leave.  They said ok, and then handed back our passports with the green Cambodian visa attached.

Cambodi8

Immediately after walking down the main road to have a look for somewhere to eat we had guys on motorbikes asking if we needed a ride and if we wanted to go to Battambang.  We politely declined their offers and kept on walking.  The main attraction of Phsar Prum seems to be casinos.  I had not known it before going there but there were at least four casinos in this small town.  My feeling is that because gambling is illegal in Thailand, wealthy Thais come to the Phsar Prum to gamble.  We went inside one of the casinos to have a look and inside we were surprised to see how busy it was.  Inside were mostly middle aged men smoking while playing slot machines, blackjack, poker, and roulette.  My friend inquired as to whether he could play with just 1000 baht and they said yes but what I figured was going to happen would be that he would have to buy in to certain games and that ultimately if he won big, he might not walk out of there with money as we were just two foreigners in a country famous for scams and corruption.  He wisely decided against playing and we left to find a spot to eat lunch and enjoy a beer before crossing the border back to Thailand.

At the Cambodian immigration building we were thinking about what they were going to say considering we had just come to Cambodia a couple hours ago and now we were leaving but figured they must be used to it as to my knowledge quite a few foreigners were doing the same as us; dipping into Cambodia to return to Thailand to get the 30 days on arrival visa*.  To my mild surprise the official said that we had to stay the night because the Cambodian visa was for a minimum of one day.  I said that we had to get back to Thailand that day because we had urgent business.  Then he said, ‘ok, 300 baht’.  I honestly laughed because this was totally something I was half expecting to happen.  After a brief discussion we agreed to pay and then the official promptly stamped our passport and off we went back to Thailand.  I suppose we could have argued with them and asked to see their superior but I felt it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

Cambodi4

Back on the Thai border we had no such problems besides a funny look knowing we had just left and came back, clearly just for the purpose of getting the 30 days as our visas were about to expire.  And with that, we were back on our bikes with a sense of relief and accomplishment with the rain having stopped.  With the rain having stopped and there being less traffic, we were able to cut the drive down to about an hour and a half.  All in all it was a productive day and a new experience for me; a road trip on my own bike in Southeast Asia.  The first of many I hope!

Stay tuned for more posts and thanks for your continued support! J

 

*I should also state that 30 days on arrival by land is for G7 countries and was only relatively recently changed from 15 days.

Advertisements

Visa run to Vientiane

A common part of life of an expat is the dreaded visa run.  A visa run is basically a journey to another country to renew, extend, or get a new visa.  In my case and many other teachers in Thailand, I had to leave the country to change from a tourist visa to a work visa.  Most expats head north or south depending on their location; south to Penang, Malaysia, or north to Vientiane, Laos. Due to me being out in the Isan countryside, my visa run was to Vientiane, a place I visited last September (and got left at the border!)  This post will give you a rough outline of what to expect and my own experience.

So I set off from my town Chok Chai around 5:30pm and got a bus to Nakhon Ratchasima (Karot).  There I hung out at the mall for a couple hours and got some food. Then I headed off to the Save One market.  This market is open air for the most part and simply HUGE and it is possible to buy just about anything. After another couple hours in the cold (did I mention that during the days of my visa run it was crazy cold for Thailand, like 10-12c) I waited for my bus at the meeting point.  Eventually my bus arrived sometime after 10pm, late, after seeing many buses just stop and leave without me, I finally got out of the cold and crawled over the other passengers to find a place at the back of the bus next to a lovely French-Japanese saleswoman.  We talked on and off about our love of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and other great shows before both deciding to at least try get some sleep.

Along the way to the border you will stop several times for bathroom breaks (and in our case a chance to hide in the warmth of 711s).  The stops will also give you a chance to meet your other visa runners.  Ours was mostly Filipinos, South Africans, the French-Japanese lady, and a pair of British guys.  Depending on the people in your group, it will make or break the time spent on your visa run.

Depending on how many stops you make, the quality of your driver, where your journey starts (typically Bangkok), how many additional stops you make to pick up other visa runners (like my situation), and other factors, you will probably get to the Thai border town of Nhong Kai an hour or 2 before the border actually opens.  We just used that opportunity to buy more snacks and try awkwardly sleep in uncomfortable positions crammed in next to everyone else.

Around 6am you will see a massive crowd of people beginning to mill around the closed barrier.  You will then be given a tag which has the name of your visa run company so you won’t get lost in the growing horde.  When your group goes through the barrier you will get to the immigration check point building.  If you have overstayed your Thai visa you will go to a room on the left to pay and go through the border that way to link up with everyone else who go past the regular windows.

Once on the other side you will be driven directly to the Thai consulate, only a 30 minute drive thankfully, and there you will give over your passport and visa documents.  After that you head back to the hotel, solidifying friendships made during the night over breakfast, then you’ll sleep.  A lot of people tend to just sleep all day and come alive at night.  Not my group.  After only arriving at the hotel around 10am or so I went to sleep but was then woken by my new friends around 1:30pm to grab lunch.

riverfront.jpg

statue.jpg

As you can see, the weather was a bit cold and drab but it didn’t dampen our spirits.  Our group consisted of 2 South Africans, A Swede, the French-Japanese lady, a Brit, and myself.  Only myself and the Brit had been to Vientiane before but we insisted on taking us into the center of town to find a restaurant but in the end I convinced the group we head to the river front where I knew for certain there were restaurants from my time here back in September.

grouppic.jpg

We settled upon a place called Little Hanoi, the food might not have been the greatest but the big Beer Laos certainly helped foster the budding sense of camaraderie in our group.  I should also say that the Lao kip currency is near worthless outside of Laos and it is hard to find somewhere to exchange it.  Thai baht and US dollars are widely accepted in Laos and you can even get most of our change back in Thai baht.

lizards
Preserved lizards and scorpions, common sight in Southeast Asia

Feeling better after lunch and beer in our bellies we headed off to the night market which was setting up by that point in the afternoon. We wandered around looking for warmer clothes to buy mostly but the fact it was cold and we were foreigners only meant their prices were even higher than usual.  I came close to buying a couple different sweaters and coats but ultimately I thought they were too small or overpriced. Becoming thirsty again, we took a tuk tuk to a bar that the British guy insisted upon.

 

For dinner we then headed out out to an Indian restaurant (trust foreigners to go to another country and not eat the local cuisine ha!), had more beers, then headed back to the hotel.  The ride back to the hotel was fun in and of itself; we were feeling merry and singing and humming the Game of Thrones theme song, Star Wars, and our national anthems much to the bemusement of everyone within earshot as we passed by in our little tuk tuk.  You’d think that after being cooped up in a van all night we’d be exhausted, we were but the night was only just beginning.

HCM.jpg
Picture of Ho Chi Minh AKA Uncle Ho in the lobby of the hotel

Back at the hotel the dinning hall had turned into a karaoke party.  The Filipinos were unquestionably the best singers of the night.  Our group took turns singing solo or sharing a song but mostly we kept to the craic and downed bottles of Beer Lao and Hong Thong Thai whiskey.  One by one we slowly crawled up to our rooms to pass out in preparation for the long journey back to Thailand.

whiskey.jpg

The next morning was rough…I was late to breakfast and hate to eat the cold leftovers….then I went downstairs to find the rest of my group and chat with them at a cafe before returning to the hotel for lunch; lukewarm pad Thai and spaghetti with coca cola to wash it down.

From there we climbed into a mini bus and hung out at the duty free shop at the Lao-Thai border.  I was still exhausted and prompted found a quiet corner and slept for a couple hours before we had to go through Lao customs on our way out.  A another bus took us across the Mekong river where we waited to get our passports back before entering Thailand.

thailaoborder

At the Thailand customs we just filled out a Thai entry form, answered a couple questions at the front of the line to an official, went through, had our bags go through an x-ray then wait for the rest of our group to get through. After that we got on ANOTHER bus, this one taking us Nhong Kai where we waited on the first day.  At Nhong Kai we loaded up on snacks, found our van, said our goodbyes, and headed home.

So if you have to do a visa run I HIGHLY suggest you do it through a visa agency as it is much less painful and infuriating if you do it that way.  Mine cost 6,800 baht which included 3 meals, a hotel room, the buses, and the cost of the Thai and Lao visas.  Mine was actually 300 baht more than the regular cost because I’m a Canadian citizen.  Go with Meesuk Travel if you need to do a visa run, they know what they are doing and I have no complaints whatsoever and highly recommend them as did everyone on my trip. I met great people who I hope to stay in touch with and meet again, possibly on another visa run (!), had some great times, and I’m thankful I now have my work visa!!!

Ever been on a visa run? What was it like? Where did you go? What company do you suggest? Drop a comment and let me know!