I’m happy to report that this aspect of the trip went smoothly, despite slight lapse in confidence in Thailand. Digested read, visa was easy to get on arrival.
I’d had clear instructions from CWF to make sure I get the Ordinary Visa which is basically a one-month business visa, which has the option to be extended. I did NOT want the usual visitors visa as this is single issue only. There was a bit of an anxious moment in Bangkok airport. Apart from being tense re the excess hand luggage issue (I needn’t have been- there were signs saying 5 kg max but really, nobody seemed to care, when I went to board I was told I needed my passport verified as there was no visa. What the??? I thought it was visa on entry. I was sent to an information desk, where staff looked puzzled that I didn’t want a tourist visa, and eventually just waved me through anyway. I was apprehensive about what I might face at Phnom Penh, but actually, it was amazingly straightforwards.
Let’s have a little moment to appreciate Bangkok airport. It feels tropical, large plant displays and immaculately polished marble everywhere. Smiling staff at ever turn. It was confusing where to go on arrival, I’m glad I’ve done a few transits now and have learned just to hold my nerve. No-one else seemed to be going from London plane to Phnom Penh so I found someone who told me a gate and waved in a general direction, so that’s where I went. The flight display for a departing plane at that time had multiple flight numbers – a pick and mix of connecting flights from other airlines I presume. Free wi-fi, though I do wonder if it is in fact secure. Enough to do some blogging though. Here, appreciate the ambiance a bit. You start to feel the dislocation a bit, cultural difference kicks in. Not just the decor, but the sounds of voices, the behaviour codes. Unfamiliar script on signs, unfamiliar smells and goods.
Talking of etiquette. There was an unfortunate incident boarding the plane. Two South East Asian people, a man and a woman were already in their seats, an aisle seat and the middle one, leaving the window seat free. This was allocated to an enormously fat western guy, who on boarding, obviously took the view he wouldn’t be able to squeeze past. I think he was trying to be pragmatic/helpful figuring it’s a short flight, if they both budge up one, I can have the aisle seat and everyone will be more comfy. However, what he did was point at each person in turn and then the seats indicating very clearly his expectation they should move. The asian guy went bananas. At first I thought it was a bit of an over-reaction, and then I twigged. I think pointing at someone in this way is incredibly rude in this culture, and whilst the western guy may have felt he was being clear, he obviously came across as over-bearing and rude. I winced. It just shows how you have to shift behaviour to avoid such cultural miscommunication. I wonder how many things I’ll be getting massively wrong in the next few months.
By the way, I noticed a bit Hiroshima logo on the plane, and staff were wearing black ribbon badges for Hiroshima too. At first I though maybe it was an anniversary of some sort, I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know. A google search suggests it’s simply the sign of the city, which presumably has it’s own airport. The black may or may not be significant, it seems so to me, but then again, colour associations too are cultural.
I’d picked up some immigration papers on the plane. You have to fill in various things. Customs declaration, entry and exit pass and, most importantly the visa application. It is in English as well as local language, and pretty clear. You just tick the box which says ‘ordinary visa’ with an E alongside (I dont know why). You will need a Cambodia address (I gave CWF office) and you need a passport photo (though if you haven’t I think you can pay extra and get your photo taken there). On arrival, it was super quick clearance. Airport staff were on hand to wave us through to visa desk. A massive line of staff to process applications. I had my letter stating my placement and requesting the ordinary visa, but it wasn’t really necessary. Someone with good English said ‘I will issue ordinary visa, it is valid for one month, then you can extend, 3 months, 6 months …. it is up to you.’ No problem at all. YOu then go and queue up at the other end of the production line of visa issue elves, and once your passport has the correct visa within you are called to the counter and you hand over you dollars, $35 for the Ordinary visa, $30 for the tourist one I think.
It was very, very simple.
One bit of hilarity, and perspective. The issuing officer looked at the pictures that came through and three times tried to offer me the wrong passport, because basically there were four of us (me and three others) who were vaguely blonde but otherwise completely unalike to our eyes. I guess we all just looked the same. I find this reassuring in a way, maybe I’ll just be the blonde woman, not the fat one. Yay.
Luggage was on the carousel adjacent to the visa application and my bag was doing its little grand tour on it as I queued. Incredibly quick. Through the ‘nothing to declare’ with a wave, (you have to declare if you are bringing more than $10,000 in cash in with you so didn’t really apply to me!). The arrivals area is pretty small, especially after Heathrow. There was a man with a smile and a sign to scoop me up.
He lugged my heavy bag, I took the others and we skirted to the edge of the airport entrance, where he left me under the shade of a tree with the instruction to be careful of my bags whilst he went to retrieve the minibus that was to deliver me to my hotel.
Phnom Penh traffic has a lot more cars than Vietnam which was basically wall to wall motorbikes. It actually seems quieter here, though whether that’s because people are still away from the Water festival I just don’t know. It’s still pretty busy, loads of tuktuks which I didn’t see so much in Vietnam, but motorbikes are pretty impressively loaded and crowded with passengers. We did get stuck in traffic, but it was nice to soak it in,
I was relieved to get to the hotel though. Where I was greeted with a fresh fruit juice as I checked in.
I’m absolutely shattered now, but relieved to have arrived. Quick shower and then I need to face the meet and greet. I also need to get a large bottle of water from somewhere and sort out a sim card. Whether all of these are achieveable today I know not.
I’m in and legal. Phew.