Saturday, 14 December 2013

Visa run to Poipet, Cambodia

With only a few days remaining on my visa it was time to do the dreaded visa run to activate my second 60 days in Thailand.  There are numerous companys set up to arrange transport and everything for you, but from Ayutthaya to Poipet, the border town in Cambodia it's only a 4 hour drive and Fai said she would take me. I thought we should stay one night in Poipet to break up the journey, I also wanted to visit the casinos, such things that don't exist in Thailand. It's coming up to Christmas and I wanted to treat myself. We found our way to the border very easily and I even drove Fais car for some of it. Upon arrival to the border it was ridiculously unclear on what we were supposed to do or where were supposed to go, we thought we would be able to take the car accross but turns out we couldnt. We found somewhere to park and headed to border control stupidly leaving all our stuff in the car, we thought we could go back to get it but no, we got that very wrong.

After finding a place that looked official (there are dozens of fake touts trying to sell you false information/directions) we handed over our passports and got a stamp officially departing us from Thailand. We then found ourselves in no mans land, we weren't in Thailand, we weren't officially in Cambodia, just on a very bizzare stretch of road full of scammers, casinos and duty free markets. It was then very apparent we couldnt go back to the car. Many expletives were said on my behalf, I knew if I was to go back to the car I would have to activate my second Thai visa thus wasting it. It was then at that point that a guy approached us and said Fai could cross back to Thailand easily so she could grab the bags while I wait, I thought that wasnt too bad so off she went back accross the border while I waited desperately. I figured she should only be 10 minutes but over 20 minutes had passed and I was getting very restless. This place was seriously was a hell hole, I thought she might be in trouble. I decided it was time to ask someone whether I could go back accross the border without activating my second Thai visa, perhaps by paying a small bribe. It was a long shot but to my astonishment they said I could and I didnt even part with any cash. Off I went back accross the border, the wrong way, with no paperwork, it was all incredibly sketchy.

As soon as I was accross I ran straight for the car, here I found Fai with someone I thought was hassling her though I quickly ascertained that he was indeed helping her.  I think he was part of the police or army and he came to her aid after she was being followed and hassled by someone else. I thanked him greatly and offered him a couple dollars, without him who knows what might have happened. After we had our bags we headed back accross into no mans land where I now had to work out how to get a visa to let me into Cambodia.

After chinning off the multiple people offering us bullshit fast track visas I found one place that again looked offcial, they had convincing uniforms but looking back I very much doubt they were. I knew the price was 20USD but he was asking for $35. I told him it was too much and I wouldn't pay it, I tried my hardest to have it dropped but only managed to knock off $1, he had me in a vice really so I had to cough up. He then disappeared across the road somewhere with my passport and 5 minutes later it came back with a sticker. Honestly there were no clear directions here on what to do, I understand the basics of crossing into other countries but this process was absurd.

So here we were in Poipet. My thoughts? That it's an absolutely stinking sess pit covered in clouds of dust and rubbish. You could immediately tell it wasnt Thailand, I mean Thailand has its fair share of rough places but nothing on this! We found our hotel we booked where I immediately cracked into an Angkor (Cambodias national brew) I seriously needed it at this point. After getting our heads together we bravely ventured back out to the streets to hit the casinos.

I expected more backpackers to be in the casinos but in fact I was the only one, the vast majority are Thai who come here to gamble as its illegal in Thailand. I had a 3000 baht limit and played a bit of roullete and pontoon (there was no black jack anywhere?!) The croupiers all looked very jaded and bored and I wasnt really feeling it, after a hour or two I ended up making 500 baht. There was free alcohol so I was playing slowly and just taking advantage of that, it wasn't a good of a night as I had envisioned so we headed back to hotel very much ready to leave the next morning.

We were woken around 6am to excessive traffic noise with people sat on thier horns, it was pain staking. After a few more hours of restless sleep we checked out and headed back to the border. It was here I made the fatal mistake of not properly departing from Cambodia before I joined the hour long que at Thai immigration. After finally getting to the front the incredibly grumpy officer said "you not depart Cambodia,  you not depart Cambodia" I was very confused, I figured the que I was in was to both depart and enter me from one country to the other, I didnt see any other place that I was supposed to go first. I now had to go back out onto the street to find where I obtained the departing stamp, after finding what looked to be the right place I got the stamp, went back to the immigration officer where I was luckily able to jump the que, and there I was, back in Thailand. Thank god!

My first visa run I have to say was nothing but a big headache, I think doing it on my own was a good though, if I had gone with a visa run company who would have done it all for me then theres no real challenge. Its also good because I now know exactly what to do when I finally go to explore Cambodia further in early February. What I also know is I will not be stopping in Poipet, I will cross the border and get as far away from it as quickly as possible.

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