Vietnam Visa: Getting a New Vietnam Visa from Cambodia – Part 1
Ignominious Retreat; Rethink & Renegotiation
We retreat out of the border zone and back into Vietnam to hook up again with my minder. It turns out there IS NO “Plan B”! I have been known to explode in anger when confronted by incompetence, especially if I’m paying for it. This time, the rational, practical and analytical thinking learned in the military came to the fore. Assessing the situation, it quickly became clear the Vietnamese ‘Fixers’ had no answers.
Only now does one of the “other guys” pipe up and tell us if I can get into Cambodia, he can get me the Vietnam Visa from Phnom Penh. He explains he’s Khmer (Cambodian) and has “connections” on the Cambodian side. He lays out his suggestions for the plan ahead. His English is surprisingly good, so my minder & I give him the third degree in English. This pisses off the Vietnamese “Fixer” as he has now lost our custom … although on my count he’s still in front by US$150 for doing somewhat less than zilcho. Prick! With some re-adjustments and confirmations, we go with the Khmer guy’s plan.
Back into Cambodia we go!
Having done some “what if” planning before even leaving Saigon, I had packed a change of clothes, basic toiletries, etc. into a small backpack. I changed clothes and shaved in a restaurant toilet, bought a new hat & sunglasses at a roadside stall and ex-filtrated Vietnam, back into the border zone. Seeking even the most minute pyrrhic victory, instead of using the already completed exit form, I make “baggage boy” fill out a new one … every time he writes something not to my satisfaction! After the fourth new form, I finally sign it, go to the head of the queue, get everything stamped and pass through into the inter-zone on the other side.
The Cambodian “Fixers” meet me at the exit door from the Vietnamese exit hall. Now the “rip-off” radar is picking up contacts. Everybody else is pushing their motorcycles or bicycles across the inter-zone and up to the Cambodia entry hall, but we ride the 100m or so. NOW I know these guys are connected … at least with the border police from both sides!
Getting the Cambodian visa is a doddle, the cashier guy even asks if I want to pay in USD, VND or Cambodian Riel. He suggests VND is cheaper but he can’t give me any change because it isn’t convertible. I think he must be moonlighting on the “funny money market” so I pay exact change in USD, get the visa, clear the bird-flu temperature radar gun, get my “healthy stamp” and walk out of the border zone on the Cambodian side. Goals 1 & 2 complete!
Waiting, waiting, waiting, …
Just inside Bavet, the town that hugs the border on the Cambodian side, is a border-post transfer point/bus station and an eatery like an open-sided shed. I accompany my Cambodian “Fixer” here so he can give me more details of the plan which he didn’t want to discuss in front of the Vietnamese “Fixer”. We order Angkor beers, ice cold, and he tells me I don’t have to travel to Phnom Penh myself, in fact, he’d prefer it if I didn’t. He says he has transport and his “connection” is in a “sensitive” situation and my presence might compromise this “connection”. I immediately understand what he means, so agree to stay in Bavet. He says it will take him anywhere from six to eight hours to get to and from Phnom Penh and secure the Vietnam visa. He suggests I spend the day in one of the casinos. Never much of a gambler, I decide to stay at the eatery & wait for him.
Bavet is a drab, dusty and listless Cambodian border town with very little reason to exist other than the border-post and the dozen or so casinos it is home to. All gambling is illegal for Vietnamese citizens, other than the State-run lotteries that nobody ever seems to win. However, the southern Vietnamese literally flock into Bavet in their thousands every day. Every casino runs shuttle-buses to the border. Double-deck behemoths brimming with Vietnamese nationals eager to punt their livelihoods on games of little chance.
Having left my laptop in Saigon, thinking I wouldn’t have any time for work, and inadvertently forgotten my camera, I look forward to spending the day at the eatery at the Bavet border-post transfer point/bus station and just observing.
As the day wears on, my phone reverts to emergency service only, never a good sign. I watch the construction crews building a monstrosity of a new hotel across the dusty open space. Buses come and go full of Vietnamese day-trippers all intoxicated with the cheer of having actually traveled “overseas” – a foreign country visa or immigration stamp carries some “bragging rights” in many circles. Several broken-down mini-trucks well past their use-by date load themselves to the gunwales and choke belchingly off into the rural Cambodian panhandle. I sit & wait.
Anxiety creeps in
By 5:00pm, I’m feeling bored. Nothing much of interest is happening now. The construction crews have just gone home & the night security watch is established at the hotel building site. The day-trippers have all giggled their way back into Vietnam. There’s nothing much left to observe and an idle mind turns to mischief.
Despite my best efforts, my thoughts begin to turn to “what ifs”! What if neither of the Cambodian “Fixers” ever come back? Hey, we’ve handed over the cash already. They’re in the ascendancy in their own country! Although the time-frame they gave me hadn’t yet run out, I assess my situation: clothes for 2-3 days; cash for at least a week; a couple Khmer Cambodian friends in the Cambodian Public Service in Phnom Penh; BUT NO PASSPORT/VISA and no way to ‘bluff’ even a blind mute into thinking I’m Khmer. With the passing minutes, I mentally enter the realms of mind-speed approaching the dangerous red-zone of warp speed overdrive and the uncontrolled thinking which can lead to hysteria!
Military training can be described as many things – both good and bad. However, one thing it does do, on the whole, is allow one to regain some form of rational thinking in times of extreme adversity, no matter how excited the brain or coursing with adrenaline the body in any situation. Thankfully, that training also told me my thoughts were veering dangerously towards the abyss of absurdity if left unbridled. Dialing back on that, I start writing down the different scenarios as they occur to me. Not because they were ever likely to happen, but I know if my mind continued down that uncontrolled thought path, it wouldn’t be good.
With all the scenarios there on paper to look at, it didn’t look good. I start the process of contingency planning for each possible eventuality. No matter how I try to look at it, I have a creeping suspicion I’ve tried to go a bridge too far. I’m getting glimpses of that crushing, sinking feeling you get in the gut when you know the game is up, and now you’re in serious trouble.
Vietnam Visa: Getting a New Vietnam Visa from Cambodia – Part 3