Thursday, 14 October 2010

Trip from Saigon to Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap

It is never boring to travel in Asia ;) Also this time the red stamps were following me even when I was going on vacation! The story continuous....

I met Annette in Saigon and we explored the city a little bit including the War Museum, Notre Dame, Opera House etc. I was finally able to go into some bookshops where English books were available and bought a few.

We left Saigon on a bus to Cambodia and the first stop was at the boarder. All our passports were collected, checked for the Vietnamese Visa and we also got a Visa for Cambodia at the same time. After I got my passport back I saw that I got a red stamp on my Vietnamese Visa Extension, which said “used”. I got shocked as I requested a Multi-Entry Visa in Vietnam at the Immigration office in Danang. But at the boarder nobody was able to help me.

So we travelled in Cambodia and our first stop was Phnom Penh, which is the capital. It was not as hectic as Saigon or Hanoi, so I felt very relaxed with the traffic there ;) We also had a brilliant hotel booked in advance with a pool in a lovely side street, which was very quiet.

We visited the National Museum, the Royal Place, Silver Pagoda and the Tuol Sleng Museum.

In 1975 the Tuol Svay High School was taken over from the Pol Pot (Kymer Rouge) and turned into a prison known as S-21. It was very shocking, sad and horrifying to look at all the pictures from the prisoners who all got photographed with a personal number around their neck. There were over 2000 prisoners killed and only 7 people survived after the Vietnamese troops came in 1979 to free them. After seeing all these tortures it was hard to switch your mind back again into real life. We decided to have a rest and go for a coffee to let the impression settle a little bit. These pictures reminded me about the 2nd World War and the Hitler Regime and for a German person this is not so easy to take in.

We finished the day with a stroll through the market, swimming in the pool and a nice dinner in Phnom Penh before leaving with another bus to Battambang.

It was lashing down when we actually waited for the bus to Battambang and we were happy to have our raincoats with us. The bus trip took over 6 hours and it was a bumpy ride!!!!

We were glad to be finally in Battambang at around 2pm. Then we went straight on a Tuck-Tuck and drove to the famous Bamboo-Train J This was one of our highlights – the train runs for 7.5km and it is so much fun – it is built out of Bamboo and you can take it off the tracks if another Bamboo Train is coming as there is only one track to drive on. Have a look at the pictures ;)

After this fun ride we went back on our Tuck-Tucks and drove 20km outside to the famous Killing Caves where the Khmer Rouge brought a lot of men, women and children and killed them by throwing them in 3 different caves. A lot to take in once again through this sad history of Cambodia. But on our way back on the Tuck-Tuck we stopped at a very small little “school” where a monk was teaching English. I asked him if I can take a photo and we got talking. After I told him that I am teaching English in Danang, he asked me and Annette to teach for a few minutes. The kids had fun and we as well. The kids cannot afford any English Language School so they come to the monks and they have to pay 5US$ per month for their English lessons.

The next day we got up early again and went on a small boat to go to Siem Reap. This was the highlight of our trip. The boat journey was so relaxing and we saw so much country life from Cambodia.

We had to close the left and right side of the wooden boat with a cover from time to time to protect us from all the branches from the trees when we drove through really narrow waterways. During this time we climbed on the roof of the boat where we had a stunning view!

We even so a monkey and we crossed the famous Tonle Sap Lake. The boat trip took 7 hours but it was worthwhile. We met another traveller from Brussels who was on a business trip and took some time out for travelling in Cambodia.

The highlight in Siem Reap was Angkor Wat. We decided to get up at 4.30am to watch the sunrise! It was worthwhile and the pictures are beautiful J But all these Japanese tourist which were all trying to get the best spot to take pictures; I thought I am in Japan ;)

We visited Angkor Wat, Bayon and the Ta Prohm temples and it was very impressive.

After a short lunch break we decided to go back and visit the sunset from the top of another temple. The most amazing thing for me was that you were on the top of a hill but you could not see any other temples at all as there is a huge jungle where all the temples are hidden – awesome!

In general I prefer Vietnam compared to Cambodia as the people in Vietnam are more open, happy and the Vietnamese believe in their countries success in the future. Unfortunately you cannot get this feeling at all in Cambodia. It seems to me that the people in Cambodia are still living beneath the shadow of their history of the Khmer Rouge :(

Now the story of the red stamps is continuing – we arrived at the airport in Siem Reap at the Vietnam Airlines desk and the woman told me that my visa for Vietnam is not valid. I did explain the full story to her and she called her supervisor. The supervisor was a very nice man, who told me, that he has never seen that stamp before. He said he would allow me to get on the plane, but he is not sure what is going to happen when I arrive in Hanoi.

So I boarded the flight with a very strange gut feeling. Arriving in Hanoi and going through customers the officer said the same: “Our visa is not valid”. So I was escorted to another area where after a few minutes’ seven different officers were looking at my passport and discussing in Vietnamese what to do.

I explained the whole situation a few times and then I had to give them a lot of information about where I am living in Vietnam, where I am employed, and different phone no. etc.

After a while they got on the phone and the senior officer

waved at me I should come in their office and handed me the phone. I heard a familiar voice: Trang, she is our Operations Manager in ELI in Danang. She told me that she discussed the situation with the senior officer and I have two options:

1) 1) I can sleep at the airport overlooked by the officers and then Trang would try to arrange a Visa the next day

2) 2) I have to pay a high fee and an agency would come to the airport to produce the paper so the officers at the airport are authorised to issue a Visa for me for one month

Well, as Jan & John and the translators from our CSC program from last year were waiting for me in a Karaoke place the decision was quickly made. I paid the fee (don’t ask how much) and it took 30 minutes and I was allowed to enter Vietnam :)

What a story!!!! Never again I can tell you.

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