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Tag Archives: Border Crossing

Love note to my passport

Because of complications with obtaining a work visa (I couldn’t) I was forced to do Visa runs if I wanted to stay in the country and work for my school. Along the way, I completely filled my 25-page passport and was worried about having the space to get home. So literally as soon as I rang in 2013, I headed to the Canadian Embassy to get a new passport.

Despite having the forms printed off the internet, and filling everything out thoroughly, plus extra, I was asked to fill out a new form. I handed in the new form, my two pictures, and my fee and that was it. “The new one will be sent to you.”

Seriously easy. Despite worry that I didn’t have a guarantor that could sign my photo or the documents, despite fear that I would have to spend the entire day running around Bangkok finding a lawyer to act as a guarantor for me, sign everything and follow-up with my four references and previous addresses of the past 5 years, it was the most simple process. To be honest, I think it was easier even than in Toronto.

I am excited to have 48 brand new pages to start stamping and plastering with visas. My passport hasn’t seen me through a million countries; it hasn’t been all around the world with me. But it does clearly define the last 5 years of my travel life: Amsterdam, South Africa, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and of course those random stamps through American customs despite not ever leaving the airport. WHY do they do that?

Looking through a passport is always one of those things that you reserve to do while you’re waiting in line at the border, when you’re terrified that you’ve overstayed, when you’re trying to plan the next few months of your life and wonder how in hell a visa run is going to fit into it, or simply when you’re feeling nostalgic. I love the pages in my passport. I love looking at all the stamps and all the visas and remembering the exact moments that I crossed the border and with who. I’m glad that they returned my passport in pristine condition so that I can continue to be nostalgic.

Maybe if I’m feeling crafty, I’ll make sure to save my passport in a scrapbook of the past year so that I can accurately remember dates when I look back.

I do have a favourite page, simply because I love the variety of stamps that share these two pages.

South Africa, Amsterdam, Laos, Thailand and America all on two pages..

South Africa, Amsterdam, Laos, Thailand and America all on two pages..

Do you have a favourite page in your passport? Do you sit and look back through it in the same way that I do?

Welcome to Cambodia: Would you like a scam to go with your entry stamp?

Anyone who does any research about Cambodia may come across many helpful blogs and websites warning you of all the ways that you could get ripped off at the land borders. Unfortunately, the Cambodian police don’t do much to dissuade the amount of people running around and “helping” tourists, some of them even wearing official looking badges.

When I initially decided to stay longer than the length of a Visa run, I researched as much as I possibly could about everything needed to cross the border. How much it should cost, where to go, who to trust (mostly, don’t trust anybody) and all the different scams that have been in place over the years. Luckily, I didn’t have to do it alone having met a guy through some of the teachers in Ban Phe and a couple of his friends that we met along the way.

When our tuk-tuk dropped us off on the Aranyaphratet side of the border in Thailand, we paid him his 80 baht, collected our bags and ourselves and started walking. The first thing we came across was a long walkway to the left that presented the perfect opportunity to take pictures of the bridge announcing the Kingdom of Cambodia.

After getting our Thailand exit stamps, we kind of cluelessly headed into the street, and apparently noticing our cluelessness an official looking guy comes up and just points us in the direction of the Cambodian immigration office. Being the only one who seemed to remember the instructions about where to go, everyone wanted to ignore the tout and headed to arrivals, only to be sent back to apply for the Visa before they could get their stamp. Despite our insistence to ignore the guy who kept pointing us in the direction to go, he mercilessly followed us around, “helping” us find the proper locations. Not once did he offer to help us get an “express” visa by moving us to the front of the line, nor did he ever tell us anything that wasn’t the absolute truth (yet).

The only overpayment in regards to the visa was that they had written on a clipboard that the charge was $20 +100 baht. No idea why there was an extra charge and no amount of arguing would persuade them to change their position on the price.

After successfully getting our entry stamps, our trusty tout followed us onto the free shuttle bus that would take us to the passenger transport terminal where we could either catch a bus or a cab into Siem Reap. Throughout the ride he was charming and friendly, helping Ben with his learning of basic Khmer words and phrases so that he could charm the locals. The rest of us weren’t paying him any attention, and predictably once we got to the transport station he had gained enough of their trust (I say ‘their’ because I had a bad gut feeling) and we booked a taxi and they were convinced to change all their baht to Riel. (“They won’t accept baht anywhere in Cambodia” pfffft)

The taxi was the same price as the research we had done, and afterwards I remembered reading and ALL of the blogs and websites I had read said not to change money at the tourist transport center. Why? Because the exchange rate is awful and they don’t even USE Riel in Cambodia – at least not in the areas where we were, A.K.A the tourist areas. They seriously have EVERYTHING priced in US Dollars, and only use Riel because they don’t have any American coin, so if anything costs $1.25, it actually costs $1 and 1,000 Riel.

Despite the tout, there were very few other beggers or seriously annoying people hanging around, maybe it was an off day or maybe they have some sort of scam union where all the “helpers” work together, but we weren’t hassled too much. Despite being frazzled by the heat and the weight of bags, we were able to pretty much breeze through the entire process.

Did I mention that the douche tout asked for a tip when we were getting into our cab? I was able to skirt that quite gracefully as we were trying to organize ourselves in the cab, but others weren’t so lucky…