I’ve been messing around with how I can transit the Phnom Penh International Airport for two flights that are not really connecting but I will leave it to your wisdom to see. Here’s the facts:
- I fly from Saigon to Phnom Penh International Airport on 19 October after a delightful week seeing L and a few others. I will have my travel backpack checked because I am lazy.
- About 5 hours later the same day I get on an international flight from Phnom Penh to Taiwan. I have to get my ticket, check my bag, and do all the normal stuff.
So the question came up whether this is considered a connecting flight or a layover even for hours. If its a connecting flight I have my tickets and can check my baggage on through. This is not that. So bingo! I need a visa even for hours. I need to basically exit the transit area and then proceed to my next airline to get a ticket, check my bag, etc.
The visa laws are rather grey on this when you read about it online but I think the key difference is the “connecting flight” part. If I was ticketed through to Taipei, I could just board the flight in Saigon, connect through Phnom Penh and then go on. This is not that. So I need to get an e-visa for Cambodia for hours. The e-visa can be done online easily for only $30 and I have no worries that customs will boot me somewhere else. I also could have just renewed my retirement extension of stay but it costs so much and I won’t be here in SE Asia for 7 months so I started questioning why would I do that? Now there is a gap (gasp) of three days from the time my retirement visa expires to when I come back to Cambodia. I could just pay $10 a day to overstay if I were in country but I am not. I will be in beautiful Vietnam entertaining and having fun with Vietnamese friends.
Definitely a grey area sorta kinda but the kind that will cause problems because of how visa laws work or don’t work. International travel here is full of those areas. Some countries have no visas needed like Malaysia. With a US passport you just get 90 days with no questions asked. Singapore is the same. Some places like Thailand have exemptions but the entire visa process is confusing once you get to the airport. The scenario in Bangkok is:
- Stand in wrong line for 30 day tourist visa and then realize as an American I can enter with an exemption. Of course the signs don’t mention who and what.
- They want me to show my airbnb reservation. how to do that with no wifi and cellular? They are confused by Airbnb. Not a hotel but a condo I tell them. You will live here? No. (thankfully. BKK would drive me crazy). They tell me I am in wrong line
- Go to right line. Its short. But sign only says Visa Exemption and nothing else. Leaving it all up to the imagination of travelers.
- Land of smiles? No. Easy to transit? No. Level of Stupidity? High.
I’ve mentioned Bangkok is on my never again visit list but these little things can drive you crazy.
Here is another little thing from years ago going in and out of Chennai India for work dozens of times. Coming in to get flight to Singapore, you need to check in and get a specific baggage tag for your airline. You are told to go back and get correct baggage tag if you just grab one. I complain to Singapore Airlines and they sympathetically nod and let me know its India. I am asked to show my passport at least 10 times from the time I get my ticket to when I get to the gate to board the plane. One time when coming in I am told I do not have a 10 year business visa. It says right on 10 year multiple entry visa. Customs officer calls manager. Manager berates officer and sends me on my way.
So here is my advice for the little things with all this. Don’t try to game the system and make it do a grey thing. Its simply not worth the hassle. If you think you need an e-visa just get one. I don’t know the rules for connecting flights and I bet no one really does but if you do not have a connecting flight ticket in hand I am willing to bet you have been bit by a small thing. Just do the needful as my friends in India would say. You may find little things come up often as you bounce around between countries in SEA. Little grey things like:
- suddenly a debit card cannot be taken for a room. Find an ATM and withdraw cash. Its best to have an account that reimburses the fees!
- the guesthouse asks to keep your passport the length of your stay. Tell them no and that they can have a copy.
- someone tells you to carry your passport all around with you. Don’t do that. I have yet to be asked anywhere except at a bank in Vietnam when I was depositing money into a Vietnamese friend’s account for my passport. The bank teller was satisfied with the PDF of it.
- just carry your wallet around with all the credit and debit cards and a huge wad of cash in your back pocket or backpack. It will be ok. NOT! This is a little thing that can turn into a major thing. Like your passport, leave the wallet at the hotel. Just carry local currency to last you for some days. Forget using the card for purchases at 7/11 or VinMart. Why the heck people do this is beyond me.
- the last little thing involves ride hailing services, SIM cards, and being safe. As my friend L says its important for Mike to be safe at all times. So always use GRAB for ride hailing. its easy to hail a tuk tuk or taxi and you know what it will cost up front and the route. You need the other little thing which is a SIM card. To get the card, you need an unlocked phone. Why people would elect to travel to the frontier places in Southeast Asia and not have an unlocked phone is beyond me. Its a simple thing that can cause major problems in airports with no wifi, on the streets with no working google maps. In other words its a simple thing that can become huge. For heaven’s sake, just get a SIM card and some data on it. You can satisfy all the things about ride hailing and being safe.
I don’t have an exhaustive list of the little things or the grey things. I just know they sometimes frustrate me and I do think of gaming the system. Its not worth it. Telling fabrications to customs officers is a sure way to get yourself in trouble. So the final little thing is tell the truth at all times to customs and immigration officers. If you feel like you want to do some gaming, get the phone out and play some Pokemon Go!