Phnom Penh – Visa bureaucracy

Posted on March 3, 2020


I was only meant to be in Phnom Penh a week. But I ended up staying in the city almost a month.

I learnt the neighbourhoods very quickly by walking everywhere. I had a local breakfast joint where the staff knew my name. I practise Ashtanga six mornings a week, with a group of amazing ex pats from all over the globe who’ve since become good friends. We had lunch dates and coffee mornings and I sorely miss them. They’re more my age bracket, have interesting life stories and love yoga!

My visa issue was an ongoing joke. My friends told me, “just stay!”. The food scene in Phnom Penh is like Bangkok, diverse and of a high standard. There is culture everywhere from arts and music to a community cinema that I became a regular at. But PP is damn expensive. Something I had not anticipated.

I picked Cambodia foolishly thinking it would be the same standard of living as Thailand but actually everything is astronomical. And more so in the capital. The prices in the supermarket had me muttering out loud and replacing items back onto their shelves. An average meal was around $7 and with my appetite the plates were not substantial. So I would leave hungry. When you’re unemployed every penny counts!

Phnom Penh is not somewhere I could live mainly because it’s not pedestrian friendly. I love walking. That’s the Londoner in me. All the pavements have parked bikes and cars on them. And the ones that are clear, have bikes riding on them to queue jump traffic jams. I’ve narrowly missed being flattened several times. Oh and regardless of the lanes on the road, bikes will go up and down any road in any direction , so you constantly have to watch 360°. It’s absolutely nuts and you risk life and limb going out on foot.

The plastic and piles of rubbish every day are a huge eyesore. Plus in the 30° heat, the stench is unbearable. The mountains of rotting rubbish in some areas are covered in swarms of flies and families of rats. It reminded me of Jakarta. If you ride around in an air conditioned car and stick to the tourist routes you’d be none the wiser. But on foot, you see it all.

I will say that the Cambodia people are lovely. They are sweet natured and hospitable. The Tuk Tuk touts try their luck but in the end are good humoured. They have large families and big hearts. Their bloody civil war and scars from the genocide are still apparent. This deserves a blog post of its own….

I picked Cambodia because I assumed the embassy would be less busy and easier to deal with. At the start of January I was told by Chiang Mai university to wire half my tuition fees to the language school in Thailand. They would not send the necessary paperwork I needed to submit to the embassy until they got their cash.

In the past, some foreigners have used the e-visa as a means to prolong their stay in Thailand with zero class attendance. The visa allows a foreigner a full year in the country without having to do mandatory monthly visa runs. And it can be extended up to two more years if you continue your education.

So I got what I thought was the school’s details, confirmed these details and saw hundreds of pounds come out of my account. But a week after waiting for the paperwork an email appeared saying the fees had not been received.

Turns out the sort code was wrong. So £500 was stuck somewhere in the Bank of Bangkok just not at the right branch. After a lot of phone calls I was told I should have made a branch transfer not an online one. That would have been useful information at the start.

In order to avoid a similar screw up, I emailed one of my Thai yoga teachers. Begged her to help me and transferred another batch of money to her account. She sorted it out immediately without question or waiting for my money to hit her account. Trust!!!!! I was incredibly grateful. Thai bank to bank online was a doddle. But where the hell my first 500 quid has gone is another thing for me to sort out in Thailand.

In two days I had the paperwork and another two days later my visa. It was almost four weeks by the time I waved goodbye to my PP community. I couldn’t have survived without them. Their friendship and support were amazing and we’re hoping for a reunion in Thailand in May.

I’ve now become hooked on another form of yoga – Ashtanga. The discipline and the strength required for this series is military like. It’s improving my Vinyasa practise and that can only be a benefit.

I stayed a week in a Bangkok catching up with friends and trying to lay the ground work for apartment hunting ahead of my arrival in Chiang Mai. I managed to book a first class ticket on the sleeper train and a guest house close to the university for a couple of days. My plan is to recce the neighbourhood and ease into a new chapter for the next year.