Chong Jom / O’Smach visa run…

As you may remember from my last blog, I was quite worried about this visa run. Having an over-active imagination as well as hearing about visa scams etc, it was only natural for the Readders to fret a little. All I could hear in my head was the ‘What if I do get scammed?’ ‘What if I get refused a visa?’ ‘What if they detain me?’ Haha. My busy mind was soon put to rest when I found out my lovely colleague and friend Beau would be accompanying me 😀

I wanted to write about my personal experiences (and include photographs) to help other travellers who may be independently entering (and exiting) via the same border entry point.  I found it quite difficult to find all the information so I really hope fellow border trippers find this of use (of course, feel free to message me and I will happily help if I can).

Today has been a rather eventful day and one which I care to forget! Most people don’t have any problems I’m sure but just mark my words…have your wits about you and never let your guard down, not even for a second! Here’s why…..

Road Trip! 

Ok, a few days earlier than planned…Beau offered me a lift to Cambodia (Thursday 11th July) for my visa run. I snapped the offer up otherwise, I was looking at 2/3 buses plus an overnight stay which I really didn’t fancy much! With my passport packed, a passport photograph, 2,000 Thai Baht currency (overboard incase!) my camera, ipod and mini speakers for the car journey (of course!), we were readdy to rock!

The drive from Nang Rong, (Buriram Province) to the Chong Jom / O’ Smach Cambodian border didn’t take as long as I thought, about 2hrs tops with the traffic. It’s pretty much a straight road from Nang Rong which connects you to Surin, Sisaket, Ubon Ratchathani. It’s a pleasant drive too, lots of beautiful scenery to take in – rice paddies, buffalo oh and there was one field that had lots of suspicious looking plants growing on it haha!

We pulled into a coffee shop for a quick fix. “Oh can we stop by a foreign exchange place en-route so I can make sure I have $20 USD for immigration?” I asked, whilst ordering an iced chocolate over the usual cappuccino. “Sure, we can find a bank on the way”. Fab! At the current exchange rate, I calculated $20 to be around 627 THB so I rounded this up to 650 THB to be sure. Back in the car, it only felt like 10 minutes before we came across a bank! Beau did all the talking for me (useful hey!) and it turned out the bank only had $3 or a $100 dollar bill?! Very strange! Well, I certainly didn’t need $100 and $3…you call yourselves a bank of ‘money’ hah! “Don’t worry, immigration accept Thai Baht” The Cashier convinced me it would be alright but I’d read on other peoples blogs that you should show up with the correct money – well heed this warning fellow border trippers…YOU DO!!

“We’re here!” (best said in the style of the little girl from poltergeist!)

An album or 2 later from the ipod and we finally arrive at the border line. We are soon ushered into a car park so we can walk in to sort the necessary paperwork. There are 2 car parks…the first one is rather expensive so if you can, enter the 2nd one (which is literally straight after the expensive one!).

With all relevant documents, we take a walk over to the first check point which is the ‘Passport Control Departure’. For me, I had to pass through  3 points (the 2nd was where I had to obtain my Cambodian visa so for those of you who already have the visa, you won’t need to worry about this bit).

1st point: 

Nice and easy. Here you will complete your Thai departure card and be given new ones to complete and keep for if and when you return to Thailand. These are normally stapled into your passport but here they are not so put them in your pocket or bag!

Once you’ve filled in your departure card, you will then hand this to the Thai Immigration Officer through the small window at the border pass office so they have a record of you ‘leaving’. I got a telling off here because you’re not allowed to take photos! So I snapped what I could and am happy to share them at the end hehe!

Once the easy bit is over with, you then walk through to what I call ‘no man’s land’ You are greeted by all sorts of people here…listen to no one and just keep walking! Tuk Tuk drivers, people promising you ‘help’ with your visa oh and then there are the beggers.

As cute as these kids may be and as harsh as this may seem, I would encourage you NOT to give them any money. Thai people have always told me to give them things like empty plastic bottles which may seem odd but they can use these bottles to earn a living from (recycling or something). But anyway, these kids are professional pick-pocketers! Fagin would certainly be a very proud old git!

With small, nimble and very fast fingers, even the most savvy person needs to be weary! To give you an example of how good they are; say you’re watching a magician and you’re watching good and hard and even with your sharpest pair of eyes on, you still can’t figure out how he did it…well yup, that is how good these lil kids are!

As soon as Beau and I entered ‘no mans land’…we were swarmed by small begging children. In fact, I think this is how they are so good because it confuses you, you don’t know where to look first! Well, it certainly made me feel bewildered. My eyes were busy darting all over the place when suddenly, the swarms seemed to disappeared as quick as they had arrived! Finally having the space to breathe, Beau and I had a walk around. Most people were going into the nearby Casino – apparently this crossing point is known for visa running athletes  or casino spenders!

After a bit of fun of taking each others photos with one foot in Thailand and one foot in Cambodia I realise my arrivals / departure card is missing! “Oh my god, where is it?” Panicking, I turned all my pockets out and practically tipped the contents of my bag on the floor. I routed through everything…nothing! We even retraced our steps and did a huge sweep of the area and still nothing. I then gasped… “Those kids….those lil beggers!” Beau agreed, “Oh no, they must have taken it” Beau came with me to report it to the Thai Immigration Officer who assured me it will be Ok. “Don’t worry about the card, you receive a new one when you leave Cambodia and re-enter Thailand. And no one can do anything with your passport number unless they have the actual passport” Ah well that’s ok then isn’t it, I’m sooo relieved, not!

Finally giving up the hunt and accepting that someone somewhere now had my ‘details’, we moved onto stage 2.

2nd point: One Visa please…?! 

Ok, so this part only concerned me as Beau is a Thai national so she didn’t need a visa to enter Cambodia.

Walking over to ‘part 2’ I had to fill out the required documents for my Cambodian tourist visa.

Immediately, the Officers had a different ‘air’ about them…I certainly didn’t get a good feeling from them and Beau (having chatted with the officials) told me she found them to be very rude.

Filling out the paperwork with my right hand, my left hand was tightly clutching my 600 THB and I made sure they could see my wad as I wanted them to know that I ‘knew’ the procedure and also that I had figured how much was needed! Handing it all over a new ‘Officer’ appeared. He spat the words “1,100 THB” and looked down his nose at me. “No it isn’t. A visa is $20, the conversion is just over 600 THB!!” Even in my most assertive voice he simply shook his head and said “1,100 THB or no stamp” Trying my best not to get annoyed (as this is called losing face remember) again I ‘politely’ disagreed with him. At deadlock point and neither party budging, Beau asked what the problem was. The ‘Officer’ said he’d only accept the right currency but he wanted $25 and if not, then it had to be 1,100 THB! We put our foot down and said no way, the visa is $20 and that’s all they’d get. Finally, agreeing at $20 the Officer told us to change the money in the building just across from us (which was the final check in point).

So, off we trot to the ‘sign in’ point to get the Thai Baht changed into Dollars. “No, you can’t change the money here, you must go into Cambodia to change the money!” WHAT!! Ok, I was really starting to get annoyed now for there was no way I was overpaying for a visa that is officially $20. How dare they try this on. Were both check points syndicate to some kind of scam here? Both say no so you end up having to cough up the money to get your stamp?! Poor Beau agreed to run into Cambodia for me to change my money as she was pretty much good to go…all Beau needed was a quick stamp in. Handing Beau 700 THB, I stood in wait and watched her hop on a motorbike taxi and disappear into Cambodia! Luckily, Beau was only about 10 mins. Handing me a $20 bill, I then marched on over to check point 2.

“20 dollars” I barked! Wow, I never thought I could do the ‘mean face’ but I definitely found it that day! Well, after having my arrivals card stolen from right under my nose and then all of this visa pa-larva, strewth, it’s enough to give anyone a bad case of the grumps right?

The ‘Officer’ snatched the money and issued me with my Cambodian visa. We later found out that this ‘Officer’ was indeed not an official officer! What the! It just gets worse. What a strange set up…the officers at the check point were real of course but looking back, they seemed like ‘silent sitting puppets’…they issued the visa (don’t worry, that was real too) and did the paperwork for me but the guy demanding the money said to Beau afterwards that he ‘knew’ the officers and would give them the money?! Huh. In other words, he would have pocketed the extra if I had paid in Baht! What surprises me is that this actually happens in front of the official officers? It all seems very corrupt to me. And I would suggest you DO NOT give in and just ‘pay up’ as it will only encourage this kind of behaviour further.

Beau and I did report it when we finally left Cambodia but the Thai Immigration Officer didn’t even seem surprised by it..clearly a regular occurrence. He said we did the right thing though. It doesn’t even bear thinking about what the hell I’d have done if Beau wasn’t there! She was my angel that day and I’m so very grateful.

Final check point

Phew! With all the ‘dramas’ over with, I walked over to the final check point and filled another form out. Here you have to state where you are going so it’s fine to just pop down ‘Siem Reap’ – in fact, the Officers pretty much told me to state that!

Both possessing ‘legal’ entry into Cambodia, Beau and I decided to each hop on a motorbike taxi and visit the local market to find something to eat. That was our original plan to go into Cambodia for lunch and then straight back out again haha! Beau had already been to the market as this was where she exchanged my money earlier.

The market felt so dodgy and again, I’m really glad Beau was with me! For it felt as though people were ‘watching our every move’ – The market has eyes haha! ‘The square shaped market felt more like a second hand jumble sale. Similar to ordinary markets, we could see an array of clothing stalls, fake handbags and fragrance brands, displays of  jewellery and various food stalls trying to entice us but to be honest, neither of us really fancied eating there.

Locals were either sitting by the roadside on dirty old knackered plastic chairs (or actually on the curb’s edge) or they were chatting to each other in their groups whilst sitting on the backs of motorbikes as if waiting for business. Wide, dirty and dusty roads guided us round to more stalls and new aromas (most of which were all bad). Well, we’d seen enough so after a quick walk round, we hopped back on a motorbike and went to the border once more.

The Exit

Easy peasey of course! You simply get stamped ‘out’ at the point you were stamped ‘in’ ! The Officers didn’t look too happy though for whatever reason. I’d heard of people being asked for money to exit but I wasn’t asked for a dime, dollar, pound, nothing! You are NOT required to pay anything so do not let yourself be fooled by them if you are indeed asked!

The Officer just looked at me , raised an eyebrow and questionably said “So you are not going to Siem Reap?” I cheekily replied with “Nope!” With that, I was officially stamped out.

You simply then walk back over to the Thai Immigration point, fill in your Thailand arrival card and come on back in! Woo hoo! 🙂

“Right Beau….let’s go find something nice to eat!” And with that, we practically wheel spinned outta there!

Summary

– Go in with the right money IN the right currency

– Stand your ground

– Be vigilant

– Trust no one!!

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