When I left you yesterday, Amy and I were stranded ‘in Vietnam’ and so we resorted to gesticulating wildly to the bus conductor in the hope of getting some help. A guy came running over and before we knew it he had our passports in our hand and was muttering ‘money!’ and ‘wait here five minute’ pointing to a patch of muddy ground at the side of the road. He appeared to be something to do with another bus that was loading its passengers and so I initially thought we were going to board that bus back to Cambodia but snuck a photo of both him and the bus in case he did a runner with my passport.
Oh no, that was not the case as that bus and our original both drove off and Amy and I were left stranded. Amy tried unsuccessfully to get her passport back from the guy whilst I desperately called Pichchip to ask what to do. His only words of advice were to not give the guy money which was all well and good but as I looked up I realised I had more of a problem as Amy and the guy were disappearing round the corner.
I quickly said bye to Pichchip and ran off after them and when I caught up found Amy getting extremely frustrated and angry with passport guy. I very calmly said to thim, ‘we don’t pay money ‘and then in rudimentary Khmer said ‘I am a volunteer’.
That seemed to do the trick and before I knew it I had the passports in my hand. Amy grabbed hers and wandered off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And so I casually wandered in what I thought was the direction I should be going and before long arrived at a door. On entering I saw more immigration desks and with Amy now back in tow headed towards them.
There was only 1 desk with a queue and so we waited. And we waited and waited and then we waited some more. The immigration officer certainly was in no hurry to do any processing, slowly taking a passport, gazing at it for a while before gazing into a corner (presumably at a computer) then up over the counter and then back to the passport over and over again. To amuse myself during this long (and very hot and sweaty as there was no A/C) wait I set myself a challenge to take as many covert photos as possible whilst standing right next to a photography prohibited sign.
This entertained me for a while and then, just at the point that I was running out of things to photograph (there are only so many signs, officers and piles of passports you can take) it got interesting. There had been two white guys in front of us in the queue and one had gone through seamlessly (if slowly).
The same could not be said for the second. There appeared to be an extreme amount of looking back and forth going on and after a while the white guy (an American judging by his accent) said ‘I have another one’ and handed over a second passport. This woke Mr Immigration up and he proceeded to lift the passports to the light and look more intensely between the guy, the passport and the computer. Suddenly he signalled for the guy to follow him and they marched off into the unknown with the immigration guy returning a few minutes later – alone.
I decided at this point it might be an idea to be on my best behaviour, put my phone away and adopted a patiently waiting face whilst I waited for my turn like a good girl.
Thankfully my turn came and went without incident (although the American did reappear just as my passport was being checked, denying all knowledge of the other white guy when I told him that he had come back looking for him!!!!) and I was soon outside again with no idea where to go until I spotted a forlorn looking sign lying up against a lamppost pointing the way. Amy and I headed off and eventually found ourselves back where we started, at the border of Cambodia and once again reunited with Pichchip.
I queued and was duly granted my B visa marking me as an official NGO volunteer in Cambodia and after having both hands fingerprinted I was once again back on Cambodian soil.
This whole process, which basically involved walking in and out of one side of a building the size of a large barn before walking around to the other side and doing the same again, had taken approximately one and a half hours and I was knackered and sweaty. And then, joy of joys, we had to walk back to the canteen where we’d had lunch to get the bus back to Phnom Penh. Yes, that’s right, the lunch canteen that was 3kms away! We plodded slowly along the side of the road being approached by endless motorbikes (sadly we didn’t have our helmets with us) but with not a tuktuk in sight. In Phnom Penh you can’t walk 5 feet without being offered a tuktuk ride, but at the border nil, nada, nothing.
Pichchip bought iced cold water for us half way and some delicious fried bananas for our arrival which we gratefully wolfed down whilst drinking sweet, sugary, but ice cold Sprite.
The bus finally appeared and we got on and headed home. Thankfully the journey was free of porn this time but sadly the conductor decided to stop the tolerable action movie halfway through and replaced it instead with Cambodian Karaoke playing at full pelt. I cranked up the volume on my music, choosing to play the most energetic dance tunes I had available to try to drown out the racket (without success) and then to add to the cacophony the guy next to me started snoring – very loudly!!!
After what seemed like a lifetime (sadly my ability to find beauty and joy in the surroundings had upped and left by this point and I was plain old grumpy curmudgeonly Sara) Phnom Penh loomed onto the horizon and we again crossed the Ton Le Bassac bridge back into the city.
11 hours of mad, crazy, stressful bonkersness over I arrived back home exhausted but safe in the knowledge that my stay in Cambodia is now assured.
Here’s a few general pics from the day: