Last weekend was nearing the date when my visa would expire, so I needed to get a Re-Entry stamp. This means I have to cross a border, get a departure stamp in my passport, and then re-enter, effectively activating my second 2 month visa. This can be done free-of-cost on the same day, if you so desire.
As odd as it sounds, this is the way most SouthEast Asian countries handle immigration. I needed a stamp that said I left, but I already had freedom to stay another 2 months free of charge or paperwork. No I could not extend my stay [okay, I could – bit only by 7 days and that cost $60]. No I could not pay a fee to activate the next 2 month visa. No I could not visit immigration and do anything to change the situation.
I had considered a trip to Myanmar over Christmas, but then my re-entry would start my 2 month countdown too early and it would expire before the end of my probationary period. All of this to explain why I found myself on a bus heading to Cambodia Saturday morning.
The Cambodian border and town of Poipet is a 3-5 hr drive from Bangkok, and this border has the needed immigration checkpoints. Which means that getting there is a cinch, everyone within 20 miles knows where to point confused foreigners with a passport and camera and there are approximately 3,500 scans going on in the general vicinity.
I hate mornings. Thus I took the 8:30 am bus, versus the 6:15 option, from Bangkok to “te bodah” (aka The border). Internet went out at my house that morning, so I didn’t get to finish reading the blogs about safety and immigration procedure at this particular border. Well. Everyone living there probably relied on the border for their income, and I am becoming wise to scams, so off I set.
Amazingly, the ticket booth sold roundtrip, sameday tickets for under 11$. Giving myself 4 hours to get there, 4 hours for immigration fussing and wandering, I chose the last bus home – 4:30 pm.
The trip wasn’t comfortable, but the only thing of note that happened was that I woke myself up sleeptalking.
Got to “te bodah” and realized once again, I do not think like a Thai. The bus stop – with shopping! – is 3-4 kilometers from immigration. I had purposefully asked the ticket booth woman about walking to the border, she said it was doable. Now…just to find out where I actually needed to go….I asked the woman who confirmed my return ticket.
Her: Immigration? That far. You take tuk-tuk or motorcycle.
Me: Okay, but I want to walk. Which direction is it?
Her: Better you take motorcycle.
Me: Okay. Maybe. But. Let me look first. Which road?
Her: Which…road? Motorcycle right here, ma’am.
Me: Okay…I just want to see first. If I go outside, do I go left or right on the big road?
Her: Immigration…you take…left [said in Thai, but I do know directions – Thank God!].
Me: Okay…and then. Where do I turn? Which road to immigration?
Her: Any road. You go any way.
I gave up and took a motorcycle taxi.
As I left, I saw a group of my fellow bus-riders, all Foreign from a few.countries. They had refused the tuk-tuk, the motorcycle and the guide to walk them to the border. We hadn’t spoken, but I could hear them loudly discussing how to move forward, and how best they would avoid the overpriced hulligans I was paying to take me to the border. Overpriced or not, I’m pretty sure I got there first.
The border awaited…