Running for the Visa

Tomorrow my visa runs out. A one month tourist visa extended by another month. I need to change it to a business visa. As when I first entered the country I chose a tourist visa thinking I could change it to the renewable business visa whilst I was in the country. Alas it wasn't to be so I needed to leave the country to come back in and change it to business.

My first thought was to have a small holiday and go to Bangkok. Then I thought I can't do that as Bangkok is fairly expensive compared to Phnom Penh and isn't as beautiful. Although now some parts of Phnom Penh are strikingly similar to Bangkok. Aeon Shopping Mall, Diamond Island, Nagaworld and others as this city begins to develop for the western world. So then the plan was created to get a night bus, arrive, cross the border to turn around and come back again. All very exciting stuff to write home about.

Bought the ticket advertised as having free wifi, luxury legspace, a snack/water and a towel which cost ten dollars. I bought it way in advance on Wednesday ready for Friday 20:00 departure time 20:30. Eight hour journey time arriving at the border at 4 for the border to open at 6 with space for wiggle time. There was a lot of wiggle time. Probably didn't leave Phnom Penh till 21:00 due to folk arriving late then when we did get going stopping for them to buy supplies for the journey and what have you all whilst us 'barangs' are none the wiser to as to what was going on. Only hoping it was going in the right direction. As of the earlier promises, what was fulfilled:
Wifi: X
Legspace: My chair was above the stairwell so couldn't stretch out as I was afraid of hitting someone as they went downstairs.
Snack/Water: Perhaps the first stop I was meant to buy it for myself? Otherwise nothing doin'
Towel: Turned out to be enlarged wet wipe.     
So it was a great start as you can imagine. Trying to sleep whilst stopping every once in a while for people to get off and continue their own journeys. Whilst being on the stairwell this was brilliant as they bumped past you to get down and out. During that time I possibly slept for 45 minutes. Then eventually these other foreigners got off at Battambang 3/4 of the way in. I took the chance to nick their 'luxury seat' and slept contortedly for the last two or three hours.

We arrive in Poipet. A place I've only seen of through a car window mostly. Dropped off at 4am in pitch darkness and left to deal with it. My pride meant I wasn't going to get a Moto when I could walk it! Off I pop down the road, feeling really safe in this slightly dodgy, dark and shady areas of a city. No worries at all...I arrive to the unopen border crossing which has the feeling of a refugee camp as many locals waited for the chance to get through to Thailand. Whether it was to work or live I don't know. Many had some big bags. People do what they need to survive. I completely understand it. They give up so much to make sure their children has what it needs to grow up in a better environment. All for the better.

I sat and waited for an hour and a half till the foreigner part opened. Luckily I was front of the queue. Good choice by me for the bus I went with for all the times to line up. Everything was so seemless as it was just that early in the morning. No problems at all when it came to getting a business visa. It cost $30 rather than the $25 that was advertised. Ahem* say no more. As previously mentioned they do what they need to so they can survive.

Its now about 6:30 first time I have seen Poipet without being chaperoned because I have a sticker on my chest it was upto me to find a bus. Luckily due to my earlier walking I had spotted a rather swanky bus station so I swanned up to it after being harassed by motos to take me to their bus stations. Hoping I could just hope onto the next available bus. This wasn't so easy as it turns out they were full for the day... Swine! Who could dare take this quick minibus away from me...Never mind I carried on and sat down to have an overpriced breakfast because I was a foreigner. I say overpriced but $2 isn't bad...Its more the blatant discrimination against white face and Khmer what they need to survive...

I finally gave in to a moto man and let him drive me to his bus station (where he gets money for taking me there). Its the same one I came to Poipet on. That's fine by me I know what to expect so i'm not bothered anymore. Ten dollars and sit and wait. Go barefoot to the dirtiest inhouse toilet ever. Luckily I have no cuts on my feet...I think.

The bus arrives, oh it's not the same? Never mind I can deal with this. I'm sure I can hook up with some foreigners to make the journey far more pleasurable. Air-con bust..sat on top of a wheel arch...sun in my eyes...filled with Khmer. Look on the bright side it will leave soon and you will be back with familiar faces in Phnom Penh 'catch up on some sleep' I think to myself. Two hours later I awaken to find that we haven't moved. They were waiting until more people bought tickets as the four of us on a big bus for the 7:30 departure wasn't enough (understandably) so they waited until they collected enough people from the 8:30 and 9:30 to fill it up and then we went. Great. Sweating like a pig now. Cramped in because a lady who was slightly above weight had squeezed herself in next to me. Journey starts finally.

First quick fag stop for the driver i'm busting for the toilet. The majority of people have only been on the bus for an hour or so, me? three hours!! So I quickly nipped off making sure I had my stuff with me. Toilet? is the question I ask. Out the back is the curt reply. I make my way down passing the two kids who are sat near me on the bus as they go back, then I quickly pop to the toilet. Come out and see a bus pass the front door and I think to myself a question I often ask my sister 'what would you do if that was your actual bus leaving without you?' I chuckle to myself, what an absurd thought. I haul myself out of the house and to the secretary's shock and horror he forgot I was on the bus. Hang on a minute that was my bus!! Luckily the secretary kept a cool head, picked his jaw off the floor and then rang the driver and told him to stop so we could catch up on moto and I could get on. Thank god the secretary hadn't gone otherwise that would have been it. No more internet, no more electricity that's how tiny this place was, I would have been lost to the mine-infested wilderness of Cambodia.

So we continue on in the newly christened sweat bus. We get to Battamabang after what feels like at least 5 hours. In retrospect it probably was for me. Pick some people up who are in the good political party who are coming to Phnom Penh to be apart of a big meeting for the party and an eventual demonstration. We chat a bit as one can speak English. We stop for lunch and they fix the air-con on the bus. In the meanwhile my new friend told me his friends story of what happened after they were liberated from the Pol Pot regime.

He had to walk from Battambang to the Thai border. It took him three months. Can you imagine that? The elation that this pure evil that has stolen everything you ever had, your innocence, your possessions, your family has been gotton rid of. The one that has had you working to a bone in the rice fields everyday but then to find out true salvation from it you needed to walk to the refugee camp many long miles away. Walking your way to your salvation with just the eerie silence as your companion; the soft patter of your tired barefeet trudging along knowing that every step takes you further away from the evil that was and closer into the unknown of the future.

He said he was a little bit hot on the bus but didn't mind as he wasn't repeating this feat. After this was mentioned to me , I said nothing more of complaints and annoyance as everything just seemed easy compared to that. I am now back in Phnom Penh safe and sound after a couple more rest stops. I'm now typing this tucked up in bed, all tuckered out from my mild exhaustion and sleep depravation but not any way near as much as that poor child who had to do what he did.

They do what they do to survive.

Link today: Walk-Foo Fighters because I'm so glad I didn't have to.