Cambodia said no

That’s it. Back to square one. Cambodia said no.

We went to Cambodia a few days ago but D was refused entry. The immigration officers were actually saying that he had to go back to Laos while they had already given me my visa for Cambodia. Don’t worry, it all ends well.

D has been travelling on the same passport for almost 8 years (unlike Canadian ones, American passports are valid for 10 years). He used it so much, he even sent it back in 2007 so that he could get pages added to it and fit his UK work visa in it. In preparation for this trip, he sent his passport to the Chinese and Vietnamese embassies in London.He never had any problem. That is, at least, until Cambodia came along.

A few days ago, we packed our bags and decided to leave the village of Don Det where, to be honest, we had failed to find the peaceful and cheap lifestyle we were looking for*. After almost 3 weeks in Laos, it was time to move on to Cambodia, which border is only 18 kilometers from the 4000 islands area. We booked a pricy $18 boat + minivan + bus ticket to Kratie, in Cambodia.

As planned, we showed up for the boat at 7:30. From the long boat we got on a minivan; which took us to the Laos exit point. We paid the $2 fee to get our visas stamped as used (we had single entry visas), walked 5 minutes on a paved road under the midday sun and got to the Cambodian border. Once there, we filled in the forms, bought our visas – single entry – had them pasted into our passport and then proceeded to the checkpoint.

I think the first thing that made the guards suspicious was the fact that D does not look anything like his passport picture. He changed a lot since his senior year of college. Going through his passport, they realized that he had extra pages added to it. They did not like the look of the stiched pages at all and kept on passing the passport to each other, trying to decide whether it was a real one or not. After 10 minutes, one of them noticed what would be our coup de grâce: there is a page missing in D’s passport.

It seems that when he got the pages added, the Department of Homeland Security forgot to insert one set of pages. This means that from page 4, it goes to 7 and the same thing with the corresponding pages in the back. No one ever, ever said anything. But these guys, although they were nice, were not joking. D was taken into an interrogation room and I waited outside, on the road, as everyone else got through and the bus driver to Kratie was getting impatient. They left the door to the interrogation room open, which is the only thing that kept me from (over)panicking.

Eventually, the officer looked at D and said: “I am sorry but I cannot let you in my country.” Now you need to remember that this is taking place in the middle of nowhere, 18km from the closest village and 150km from any modern infrastructure. D called the US embassy. They tried to convince the chief of the national police that we would go straight through to Phnom Pehn, to get a new passport at the embassy but after many phone calls, the chief said no.

So there we were. Standing at the border between Laos and Cambodia, in the middle of the jungle, D with refused access into Cambodia, me with no more empty page in my passport to get a new Laos visa. And no more money to pay for a visa either.

They offered to refund all of D’s visa fees but would not refund mine. Their view was that I could go to Cambodia if I wanted, my case was not their responsibility. But after a manly heart to heart, D and the immigration officer agreed that no husband should leave his wife enter a foreign country alone.

Not only did Cambodia refund all of our visa and stamps fees but the officer went over to the Lao border, spoke to the Lao officers and we were able to walk through, get our “used” stamps crossed out from our Lao visas and they even refunded our $2 stamp fees.

So we went back to the part of the road that belongs to Lao, haggled with the same guy whom we had paid $18 each to take us to Kratie, 5 hours further down the road, and ended up back in Ban Nakasang, a tiny village along the Mekong where the long boats to the 4000 islands leave from. We did that on the back of a motorcycle, with our backpacks, for the relatively huge sum of $5 each.

I Ban Nakasang, there were no more buses to Pakse, the main town up north. Our only option was to pay $50 each (probably negotiable) for a private car to take us up there.

We decided against it and thought we sould wait one day, spend the night on the island and start fresh. We paid for our boat and a local boatmen was about to take us over when we met Mike. And that is where it all changed for the best.

Mike is a German who has been living on Don Det for a little over 5 years with his wife, a local. Together, they run a great, great set of bungalows on the South end of Don Det, outside of the village. Unlike at the village, prices are low and bugalows are separate, with 2 hammocks, Mekong view, with windows and made out of straw and bamboo. This was exactly what we were looking for when we first came to Don Det but we could not find it.

We opted for a nightbus (18hrs) to Vientiane on the next day, where we’ll be able to sort out our passport issues. However, we are now thinking that we may be able to cross the Mekong and make it into Thailand wthout anyone noticing that my passport’s full and that D’s is shady…

To read more about Don Det and Mike’S bungalows, see Epemerratic blog.

*We found it later  on the southern part of Don Det, much cheaper, peaceful and friendlier than Don Det or Don Khon villages. It was wonderful.

Power cut in Luang Prabang

We woke up a little bit before 6 this morning. Well we did wake up once before that when the pregnant cat came over to Dennis, meowing and seeming like she wanted to give birth on his chest but once that was sorted – we are still considering adopting a Lao kitten for the rest of the trip – we woke up again when the fan in our 6 beds dorm stopped working. It was hot. And sticky.

Fan off and a constant, slow paced beeping. And a snoring Canadian roommate. One of our other Canadian roomates got up and confirmed that there was no power anywhere in the building. Getting out of bed, we found out that there was no electricity anywhere in the city.

It’s been more than two hours now and locals are just lounging around, there does not seem to be any stress linked to the fact that this town of 26,000 inhabitants is completely out of power. I guess that it’s not that big of a deal when you live on grilled fresh fish (we had some last night at the hostel: beautiful).

More worrying than power per se is the fact that all ATMs in the city have stopped functioning 24 hours ago. In a town that limits the amount of cash you can take out to about US$70 and where most excursions will costs $30 per person, the ATM issue meant that many people completely ran out of cash. For hostels, it also meant that many travelers who were supposed to check out this morning were unable to get the money to pay for their rooms.

We had a cooking class planned for today… not sure if it is going to happen.

And yet, no one is running, no one seems to be really bothered, everyone is smiling and hanging out, as usual.

Laos is great.

Laos, jour 1

Après une journée au Laos, nous voilà complètement sous le charme de Luang Prabang. petite ville, routes pas tout à fait asphaltées, moines novices qui se baladent partout, une auberge de jeunesse accueillante qui est plus comme une immense maison qu’une auberge…

Aujourd’hui, nous avons:

– Pris une bière au bord du Mékong en regardant les bateaux naviguer les courant (il est fort!)

– Fait une sieste sur une véranda pendant une averse

– Surpris des moines en pleins chants méditatifs dans un temple tout droit sorti de nos rêves: intérieur doré rempli d’une bonne demi-douzaine de Bouddhas en or. Les chants étaient de toute beauté.

– Pris une photo d’une grosses araignées beige poilue juste pour Marie-Christine (à venir)

Et demain?

– lever à 4h45 pour aller voir les gens faire l’aumône aux moines sur la rue principale avant le lever du jour

– Essayer de réserver ces fameux cours de cuisine

– Relaxer