Stuck in Poipet
It's raining. Not just spitting, but pouring! The rivers are flooding, covering fields and small motorcycle lanes under water. Mud puddles are everywhere and their stagnant, sloppy water smells musty. It's coming up to the end of monsoon season in Cambodia.
We arrive at the border town of Poipet on Thursday evening, ready to cross over into Thailand in the morning, as soon as the border control opens for business. We're already dreaming of our beach holiday in Hua Hin. We're quite looking forward to spending some time in a more developed country, getting some rest and just chilling out after a pretty intense travel schedule.
On Friday morning we wake up to Cambodia’s national anthem being blared out of the speakers at border control. With our hopes high, we grab a quick breakfast and drive to the border crossing. An officer called Mr. “Beep” from tourism administration is there to greet us and helps us with the paperwork as previously agreed. The process is quick, thanks to Beeps presence we presume, and we can proceed without any hassle, no one even sets foot inside the vehicle. We give Mr. Beep a small tip and happily drive to the Thai side of the border zone. That's where we run into trouble; the Thai legislation has changed a few months back and now we don't have the up to date documentation required for our vehicle.
We aren't allowed entry into Thailand, but we can't return to Cambodia either, because our visa and driving permit have just expired. We can't stay at customs and since we can't just disappear to thin air, we get directed back to Cambodia after some negotiation and a few phone calls. I give Mr. Beep a call, but I get cut off strangely enough, and after that we can't reach him again. All we hear is a message in Khmer, telling us that the number we have dialled can not be reached.
At the Cambodian customs we get told that we can re-enter ,only if we have Thai stamps on our passports. The Thai border control officers inform us, that our passports can only be stamped once we have visas. It appears that we will need a visa for Thailand, even though we're trying to get back into Cambodia! We join the queue of backpackers and other travellers and wait for our turn for a couple of hours. Many are here just to extend their stay in Thailand. Thankfully the fifteen day visa is free. Next, we go and get both the arrival and departure stamps for our passports. Once we arrive back on the Cambodian side of the border we must also apply for another visa to enter into Cambodia. A months visa costs $33 per person. We're now officially back in Poipet!
A border control officer points us to a parking lot closest to the border control area and instructs us to park Epeli there, until our paperwork is all in order an we can try crossing over again. Our driving permit in Cambodia has expired, so we're not allowed to move the vehicle outside of the border zone. I make multiple phone calls to our travel agent in Germany and they begin to make arrangements for a new permit. I manage to make contact with our contact person in Thailand, because they will need to deliver the new document to us once it’s all sorted. We also request assistance from the Finnish embassy in Bangkok, in the hopes that they might be able to speed up the process. All that's left to do now is wait, and be patient.
We're a bit surprised at the hustle and bustle at the parking lot. We notice that there are lots of casinos around here and a multitude of tuc-tucs, transporting the guests to and fro. We find out that Poipet is a real gamblers Mecca. All gambling is illegal in Thailand, so people come here to the border zone, to “no mans land “, to play. The casinos are owned by Cambodians, but the currency used to play in them is Thai Baht.
We make ourselves at home on a muddy field amongst all the busyness. Due to a thick cloud coverage our solar panels won't charge adequately enough. There's hardly enough electricity for the essentials, like powering the fridge and the water pump. For us, this means that we can't charge our mobile devices, use fans or even have the lights on. It's incredibly humid and the sun sets at 6pm. In the evenings we simply sit in the dark car, drenched in sweat. Candlelight isn't bright enough for us to read or write in our journals, so there’s plenty of time to chat! After five, long days of waiting, we're still none of the wiser as to when we’ll be able to carry on our journey, but our relationship is doing better than ever and we're enjoying the caravan lifestyle!