Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Cambodia - Crossing the border and ATMs

How do you distinguish yourself from the competition? With lots of imagination!
It's been a long time since we've published a post. When you read this we are in fact already back from the trip and flatout trying to make a living. The post below is thus somewhat dated... but we thought you might like to read it anyway. Another day another dollar, a former employer of mine used to say. Today it was another border another visa. I've written before what I think of visas, which isn't good, but at least Cambodia doesn't send you to some embassy, which for some reason always seem to be located in the middle of the busiest cities in the world. You can't park anywhere and getting there with public transport is quite often a nightmare too. Cambodia is different, you get your visa at the border, which is valid for 30 days and costs US$30 each. On paper it all seems easy, but is it?

Yes it is, and no it isn't. The process is simple, easy to understand and relatively quick. No pages and pages of non-relevant questions to fill in, no bank statements, no proof of airplane tickets... Getting the visa took just 10 minutes... try that at an embassy! Finding out where to go took longer than getting the actual visas. Leaving Thailand was more complicated and time consuming than entering Cambodia. The photo below shows you what to expect... It's an over commercialised zone where emphasis is put on casinos and duty free. Finding out where to go for passports and bike entry is complicated. Follow the instructions though or you will have big problems getting back in again.

In between the casinos and duty free shops are a few 'officials' who
should organise your visas and other relative paperwork. Last step
is the Carnet de Passage (yes this was required in Cambodia)
There are a lot of comments on the net about corrupt border officials on the Cambodia side, but nobody asked us for money... except one tourist police officer who gave us the option of what he called VIP treatment...:-) We declined. I'm not a VIP and don't want to be treated like one either. On the Cambodia side things are simpler than in Thailand but at the same time more confusing. Confusing because the border is jam packed with casinos and thus full of people everywhere. The first thing to organise is a visa then continue to the tourist police who will direct you to immigration to have your new visa stamped. The last thing to do is have your Carnet de Passage stamped which happens at Customs. The confusing bit here is that you have actually left the immigration/visa complex and are already in Cambodia before you can have your Carnet stamped. Stamping the carnet is literally a 2 minute affair here, the first time we've actually seen anyone doing this as it should be!

All in all the whole process took 2-3 hrs (Thailand and Cambodia side together). The biggest mistake we made was not changing money at the border. Our tanks were full, so we thought we would be ok until Siem Reap and do it there, but it was a hot day and we were out of water... There are ATMs, although not many, to be found along the way but having tried 5 of them, we gave up. I have a Visa and a Maestro card but both of them would not work. On the screen came messages like 'your bank is closed' and 'incorrect amount' without specifying what the correct amount would be. During one of the attempts a bank employee came to help and even he could not get it to work (despite the ATM proudly displaying it would accept visa). 

The bank employee wrote on a piece of paper that 1 dollar is 4000 Cambodian Riel and that I thus had to type in 400,000... which didn't work either. Arriving at the guesthouse, operated by an Irishman, we found out why: Cambodia's official currency might be Riel but the country works in US dollars! As we had inserted a foreign ATM card, the ATM had assumed I wanted US dollars... so in effect I had asked the ATM to issue me 400,000 US dollars... no wonder it didn't work :-) 

At the border we had been warned about Cambodian driving, which according to the Customs officer was worse than in Thailand. It is different allright but manageable. What we did notice is a distinct class difference. Car drivers here seem to think they are more important than motorcycle riders, probably because the less financially fortunate ones ride bikes here. In general car drivers display little, if any, social behaviour... but then again locking yourself up inside a metal cage fitted with tinted windows isn't real social to begin with. At the end of the day we reflected on our entry into the Kingdom of Cambodia and were looking forward to the very special couple of days yet to come... more on which in the next post.