Taking a walk in Cambodia - the Visa-run

It’s time. My 90 days in Thailand are over, my visa is running out.
Dr. Golf, boss at my current workplace, the Premier Pet Hospital, and his student Tong have already figured out a plan: I need to leave the country for a so called visa-run. I can come back and, thanks to the good old German passport, stay in Thailand for 30 days without a visa. Not as a student, officially, only as a tourist.
As long as I don’t fly out, I can even come back the same day I leave.
So Tong, his girlfriend Meen and our mutual friend Ton drive me to the border.
We get the day off in the hospital, and off we go with a car full of people, snacks and water. The closest border to Bangkok is Cambodia, about a four hour drive away. It’s a pretty straight line though provincial Thailand. As we get closer to the border, more and more busses appear, and signs start to accumulate: “truck weighing station”, “border market 20 km”, “border 15 km”.
We get a little lost in the small town that is supposed to be our destination, but finally we find the parking lot we were looking for. On the other side of the street, behind some food stalls, is the sign I need: “To Cambodia”. 

A huge iron gate and a fence block the way of the train tracks, and people, scooters, tuk-tuks and cars are all out on the tracks and the street. As we push through the crowd, the three students realize that they didn’t bring their passports. I’ll have to cross the border alone.
Tong gives me a little pep-talk: Be aware of all the scammers around here, only trust people in uniform. Spend two to three hours in Cambodia, then come back. And he wants me to send him a message as soon as I’m there.
So I follow the sign, staring right in front of me and ignoring the loitering men, walking behind the women in pairs of two with their tiny purses and two small plastic bags each. I come to a big building with stairs, but the border guard points to an escalator. On the first floor, I pass a big crowd and am suddenly third in line. Show my passport and hand in the departure card, get my stamp and leave Thailand. The other side is confusing, but I just keep walking straight. There is a coffee shop, a hotel, a casino and a small, dark (not black…) market, and lots of people, none of whom look like travelers. Some shout something at me, some reach out their hands, but I keep walking. I’m not there yet. Finally, I see another sign: “Arrival”. I fill out a form, show my e-visa and passport. How long will I be staying? Just today. I get the stamp and the policeman shoos me off. I’m in Cambodia and surrounded by yet another crowd. It’s noisy. People shout, cars honk. “Tuk-tuk to market!”
They wave from the other side of the street. “Taxi, miss, Taxi!”
“Bustrip to Phnom Phen?”
“Bus to Angkor Wat, very cheap!” 

I shake his hand off, stare forward and keep walking. As it gets a bit quieter, I take out my phone to text Tong: “I’m in Cambodia, see you in two hours.” But my Thai SIM card isn’t working here. So I walk down the street to find some Wi-Fi. Taxis slow down next to me and motorbike-drivers honk and wave from the other side of the street, but I ignore them as good as I can. Finally, I find a café that has internet and lunch for me, and I can even pay in Thai baht.

At first, I don’t really see big differences between the two neighboring countries, the food is the same, the architecture similar, and I can’t tell the letters and languages apart. 

But as I become calmer, I begin to see it. They are driving on the right in Cambodia. People smile a lot less. Also less: plastic. And money. Clearly. 

Only in this café it looks like anywhere in the world: Well-dressed college students with their coffee and laptops, and smartphones charging.
Time to take a walk in Cambodia.

The further I get away from the border crowd, the more I like it. I’m deep inside the small town Krong Poi Pet now, and people actually smile back at me. Children wave. Scooters still honk, but the drivers don’t want to offer me anything, I’m just the only foreigner around.
Trees are growing between the houses, a few cows walk around on the dusty roads. I pass a market where the vendors lie in their hammocks behind the vegetables. Above their heads: big cargo containers. Small wooden ladders lead up there. It’s where they live.
Outside, by the huge piles of waste, children play hide-and-seek.

gas station

Tofu without any packaging!

Two hours later, I’m back in the crowd. Past the shady creatures and aggressive taxi rivers, I find the counter that says “departure”. Another stamp and I’m out. More people who try to push their services on me. They can help me cross the border, they say. Thanks, I’m fine, I’m quite capable of walking over the Friendship Bridge that was given to Cambodia by the Thai and French, past the hotel, casino, the little market and the coffee-shop. Another big building, another flight of stairs I’m not allowed to use (although the escalator this time isn’t even working), another big group of people sitting around but apparently not waiting in line. I show my plane tickets for next month. This time, I only need to fill out a form, no photo required. With that German passport, I can stay in the country for thirty days as a tourist (not as a student though) without a visa. The officer explains to me that when I leave, I will have to pay three days “overstay” at the airport. This is still cheaper than extending the visa again (more on that here).

“Second visit to Thailand?” he asks. I nod. The last one was about three hours ago…
I get my stamp and after passing through a narrow fenced walkway and an entrance that has one door for men and one for women, I am back.

I left Thailand, thus, I can stay.


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