Posts tagged ‘visa’


I’m going to Burma tomorrow. Our flight is at 8 o’clock in the morning. We’re flying there because it is close to impossible to enter the country by land. There are two possibilities (from Thailand): Ranong and Mae Sai, but the areas after these cities are closed off to foreigners therefore we’d have to fly to see the rest of Burma anyway.

I decided I’m going to call the country Burma in my writing as a way of expressing my disapproval of the government of the country. Burma was renamed Myanmar in 1989 as a way to distance the country from its colonial past. The British conquered Burma in 1885 and ruled it as an adjacent empire until 1947. Since independence Burma has been ruled by an army, which began as a force against the English and was at first welcomed by the people. When dissatisfaction became more prevalent the army’s rule became harsher and tactics to control opposition (via imprisonment and murder) became more prevalent. When Burma gained its independence its economy was one of the strongest in Southeastern Asia; currently it has the 60th lowest GDP in the world.

I read an interesting book, “Finding George Orwell in Burma.” Orwell was a civil servant in Burma in his early 20s and although both Animal Farm and 1984 were written before Burma’s current government came to power, the totalitarianism depicted in both books is considered by many Burmese to be analogous to their current state. In this book the young author travels through Burma visiting places Orwell lived in or visited during his years there and describes what she sees now (in contrast to Orwell’s descriptions and those of his contemporaries) and meets various people – from boys who wait tables in tea shops and strangers who follow her to friends of friends who she must visit clandestinely in order to avoid endangering them. With these friends she discusses Orwell and his novels and Burma’s political situation.

According to my lonely planet on Burma there is some contrast of opinions about whether or not it is “ethical” to visit Burma. The argument against traveling to Burma is based on the fact that the army government benefits by profits and impression of legitimacy tourists bring. The argument for it is that tourists give people an opportunity to see something beyond tightness of their lives.

Burma does not grant visas to journalists and writers. When I applied for the visa I was worried that I’d be denied because if they googled my name they’d see a horde of articles written, not by me but by my sister – also a Jew from Ukraine. She’s 2 years younger, a brunette like me, attending Columbia university and studying comparative lit. After a very hot half hour of waiting our passports were finally returned to us with the Burmese visa inside.

Me and Dmitry are going to be joined by another couple from Latvia. We met two weeks ago when we applied for the visas and met again in Ton Sai.


April 7, 2009 at 7:33 pm 1 comment

going to Myanmar

My new travel companion Dmitry and I are planning on going to Myanmar together! However there are so many uncertainties about how we are going to get there and out, how easy it will be to travel within the country and what else awaits us in a totalitarian country governed by an army.

Different sites say different things about the border crossing. Some claim that over-land crossing to Myanmar from Thailand is not possible (except for 1 day passes for Thai visa runs). However, when i was in Mae Sai 6 months ago i recall being told by foreignersthat going to Myanmar was possible from this border so long as one had acquired the visa in advance. A site i found confirms this but says that necessary permits are required to travel by road from this border town into the rest of Myanmar and that numerous check points line the highway.

After Myanmar we’d like to go to China. A funny thing is that China is one of my least desired countriesto visit. But Dmitry speaks some Chinese and has lived there before so i think it would be very fun to go with him!

Today is possibly my last day in Phnom Penh. I love this city despite all its shortcomings. For those of you visiting PP, check out these places…

Nature & Sea for the best passionfruit shakes.

The Shop for the best pastries and bread.

Nordic for the best carrot juice and free wifi.

Pontoon on Fridays for good dancing.

Bohr’s Books for the best selection of literature in English (all fake copies though)

Monument Books (on Norodom) for a Barnes & Noble experience. Real copies, good selection, comfortable couches, wifi available, cafe, ac, weekly lectures, toy store…

Raffles hotel if you can afford 5 star luxury and Royal guesthouse if you can’t.


View of Boueng Kak lake on lakeside. This lake is currently being filled in and will be gone by next year. Those of you who love shopping may be delighted to know that a shopping mall is going to be built in its place!

В холода, в холода,
От насиженных мест
Нас другие зовут города, –
Будь то Минск, будь то Брест.
В холода, в холода…

Неспроста, неспроста,
От родных тополей
Нас далекие манят места,-
Будто там веселей.
Неспроста, неспроста…

Как нас дома ни грей,
Не хватает всегда
Новых встреч нам и новых друзей, –
Будто с нами беда.
Будто с ними – теплей…

Как бы ни было нам
Хорошо иногда,
Возвращаемся мы по домам.
Где же наша звезда?
Может – здесь, может – там…

– Владимир Высоцкий, 1965

March 23, 2009 at 1:41 pm 4 comments

a sunday visit to the garbage dump and some criticism

I just learned that Thailand changed their visa rules for border crossings. It used to be that if you are a citizen of a certain country you were automatically granted a 30 day visa upon entering Thailand from any border or airport. You were (officially) allowed to extend this visa 3 times within a 6 month period by leaving the country and re-entering it, but i know several people who stayed in Thailand for years using this leave and re-enter system. So Thailand has now changed it rules to grant only a 15 day visa for travelers entering through the land borders and has become much stricter about extending visas for travelers who have overstayed their 90 day allotment. This means that before i return to Thailand in March i have to apply and pay for a visa in Phnom Penh. One of the perks of coming to Thailand was the fact that it was so easy and free. I don’t think tourists undermine the Thai economy so why are they taking these measures to keep us out of the country?

I am sitting in an internet cafe trying to upload pictures, use facebook, reply to emails and sort out finances on a computer that refuses to open all the windows at once and is about to freeze and shut down all my programs.

Yesterday morning i went to the garbage dump several kilometers outside Phnom Penh with a group of men and a doctor who have made a routine of going out there to feed the children and women who live on and off this dump. They go there 3 times a week and encourage tourists to come along (and contribute $ to buy the food). The lot of us contributed $10 each and this bought 400 bougettes, 400 eggs, x number of kilos of apples, oranges, and bananas. Each individual was to get a bougette, a hard boiled egg, an apple, an orange, and a banana. 

We arrived on a truck. It was hot and foul smelling and the lines of people waiting showed that they were expecting us. As our truck moved in the lines disappeared and a chaotic sprawl produced a mob. Four girls (me included) stayed on the truck organizing the food while the others tried to control the lines.


The people smiled as they recieved their portion. There were almost no men in the crowd. Some of the women were pregnant despite the toddler already sitting on their hip.

Before we arrived we were told by the organizers that despite doing this for 2 years they had not witnessed any improvement in the circumstances of the people. Despite their inocuous outlook on their work, I was critical of their approach. Just feeding people cannot be good for them if it doesn’t go along with other ways of helping them. Instead of investing themselves and their resources in hiring Khmer staff to lead workshops and assist the dump dwellers in filing for government allotments of land where they might have more opportunity to be self-sufficient, they discourage the development of initiative among them and reduce them to beggars. One of the Cambodians who’d come along was also un-impressed with the effort. Overall it was a numbing experience.

More photos

December 22, 2008 at 3:10 pm 1 comment

Visa run

Woke up at 6am without an alarm clock, arrived at the bus station at 7, found some grub to eat (rice with vegetable garnish) for 25 cents. Reached Ko Kong at 1:30pm, hired a moto-taxi to take me to the border 11km away, walked into Thailand at 2pm. The Thai border town resembles an outpost, with only a small market along the main road selling household supplies, some clothes, a lot of toiletries, and packaged snacks. There is a fruit stall, half a dozen fruit vendors, a hole in the wall smoothie shop that blends sugar and concentrated flavours with ice, and one restaurant. There are two atm’s but there is no 711.
As i entered Thailand the friendly immigration official was re-teaching me the few Thai words i had known and forgotten. I told him i was returning to Cambodia in an hour and he smiled and commented on the expensive visa fee. So it’s not a secret – this corruption? Everyone knows about it.
I had lunch in the restaurant. Thai food is my favorite of all the Asian cuisines i have tried. The simple meal that was prepared for me – papaya salad and vegetable fried rice – eaten in the very basic cafeteria with the spectacular view of the Mekong was delicious. You would think, how difficult are these dishes that Lao, Vietnamese, and Khmer cooks cannot make them? You’d be surprised how easily one can render vegetables unetible by using the wrong seasoning or worse, using margarine!
After lunch, i walked through some of the shops and bought a hat with a pink flower design and a large brim. I’ve seen many Cambodian women wear hats like this one.
Before re-entering Cambodia i hid most of my money inside my sweater, leaving only Khmer riel and $30 in my wallet, just in case i found it necessary to show my inability to pay the high fee the immigration official might want. 
The official fate had chosen for me said (as if choosing a number at random) that the fee was 1500 baht. I told her i didn’t have any baht and was about to offer her a "tip" of $5 when she decided $30 would suffice. And so it was settled and i walked away with a business visa for $25 + $5, much better than some of my friends in Phnom Penh, who complain of overpaying by $15-20.
My moto driver waited for me in the hot sun. After finding a guest house to spend the night and buying my ticket to Phnom Penh for tomorrow, we drove through what was once jungle to a small waterfall. My driver, Sokaa, was only 22 and told me about himself. He’s the 4th of 8 children, gives his elderly parents half of his monthly $80 paycheck, wants to buy a faster motorbike, used to gamble, works for an NGO and drives the bike on his days off, likes being alone, likes smooth skin, feels that Cambodian girls are too interested in money and thinks that weddings are too expensive (the fee a groom has to pay the bride’s parents is about $1000 for a village girl & $3000 for a city girl). He spends about 100 baht a day (approx. $3), has no passport and therefore cannot go to Thailand without his sister who has a passport, wears white girls’ shoes from Thailand, and wants to meet me again if  he comes to Phnom Penh in the future.
I saw a sunset while we drove, mountains, and lots and lots of landscape……. It was a good day.

December 6, 2008 at 7:03 pm 2 comments

Hello Phnom Penh

Ah finally Combodia!
I arrived in Phnom Phen a few hours ago.
I decided to go on a tour of the Mekong Delta before heading to Phnom Pehn, and so i bought a 2 day/1night option from an agency. I thought maybe i can meet another lonely wonderer but no, there were only couples and a group of 13 spanish-speaking Chileans. There was another solo traveler – an Italian – and as part of the tour we were assigned double rooms to share. Since we were the only solo ones, i assumed we would share. The way in which keys were distributed was chaotic and we were last to get ours. In the middle of the night, as i sat reading on my bed he comes into the room smiling. I knew of course why the butthead was smiling and it annoyed me. I didn’t realize however that he’d misunderstood the arrangement. After several attempts at conversation and even one attempt to get into my personal space, he finally asked in a resigned confused manner “but can you tell me, but why did you want to share a room?”

I aloofly explained what double room meant in the context of the tour and that single rooms were something you paid extra for and that since neither of us paid extra this was our arrangement for the night. He protested as if it was i who had misunderstood and led the poor chap on… I wasn’t as sensitive as i could have been and i think it’s because his vanity offended my delicate sensibilities – Did you really think that i liked you?

There were two options for getting to Phnom Penh. Slow boat and speed boat. Regretfully, I chose slow. As soon as i got on a man demanded my passport. I wanted to know why but he got angry. I ended up giving it to him. An hour later he returned and demaded money. For visa? Yes for visa. Why $22, visa only costs $20?

I didn’t feel like paying a service charge. Visa formalities are not complicated, why should i pay you so that i can sit in the boat while you do the visas in 10 minutes. It’s not like i have anything better to do. I want to do the visa myself! I did it myself when i came to Lao, Vietnam…

But all i really wanted to know was why he was chargeing the fee. I wanted an explanation. But he just barked at me. As the boat turned towards the coast, i thought we were coming to a full stop. Bag, documents, courage and all, I followed the man to the top of the boat. With each step i was loosing confidence and coming closer to just handing him my passsport and fee, i had even taken out the $22 and placed them into my passport becuse i couldn’t make up my mind (I am tired of Vietnamese scams). As he jumped to shore i got ready to follow, but just at that moment the boat pulled back and i couldn’t jump. “My passport, my visa” i cried out, but the boat man just smiled and waved his hand as if to say “later later.” (What does he know, i thought, he probably can’t tell a passport from any other document since he’s probably never travelled…) For two hours henceforce, i worried not knowing if i’d make it into Combodia.

What i didn’t realize – what he didn’t explain to me – was that he was taking the passports to the border by motorbike, that way they would be ready by the time we arrived there by boat. When we arrived everyone went tot the restaurant to relax, while i stood anxiously waiting for him to help me. He took me to an office where i checked out of Vietnam. Then he returned my passport to me and off i went to border (a kilometer or two away), by motorbike, by heavy backpack tugging at my shoulders, harly holding on, over bumpy unpaved muddy roads. First to one station, then another. One did the visa, 300 meters away another did the stamps. When i handed over the money i gave the $22 automatically. Perhaps i’d assessed the sitatuation subconstiously, having heard so many ambiguous stories about scams and trouble at these visa points, i didn’t want to risk being hassled for more than necessary. So i ended up the same $22, plus stress. Did i learn anything? No.

They didn’t even check the visas anyway. So had i stayed in the boat (if no one said anything) i could have come to Cambodia without a visa). We switched to a bus somewhere along the route and on the way into Phnom Penh encountered the festival. Thousands of Cambodians from all over the country celebrating independence day with music, carvinval and fireworks. It’s also the start of the water festival. So it’s going to be crowded and loud!

I am staying in a really busy guesthouse right near the lake, but i think it’s too busy for me. Too many travelers, too much tv, and too much cigeratte smoke. I want something more laid back and peaceful. Plus, they were out of rooms when i arrived so i took a dorm room since it was already dark. But i don’t want to stay in a dorm room and the bathroom in the place has no sink or hot water. So tomorrow, i’m going to wake up early and find a nice single room with hot shower and window. I’m also going to go to the doctor for my eye/skin allergy thing despite my contradictory feelings on it. I’ve been putting fresh aloe vera on it and it’s looking better so maybe if i leave it alone it will get better on its own? But what if it doesn’t? What if it cdoes but comes back next month like it did this time around? And yet, if i go to a doctor, i’m almost certain all he”ll do is nod, smile, and tell me to keep applying aloe vera on it and hope for the best because he wont have a clue to what it is.

November 11, 2008 at 10:05 pm 1 comment

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