No Man's Land

Trip Start Feb 23, 2006
Trip End Jun 24, 2009

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Tuesday, May 8, 2007

I waited and waited until May 8th when my Thai visa expired to decide where to go on my visa run. This was going to be my first actual visa run that wasn't one of my monthly trips to Laos, Hong Kong or Malaysia in disguise. I wanted to fly to Malaysia and back like I usually do because Malaysia doesn't have a cover charge like Laos ($30), Cambodia ($20), Myanmar ($10)..., but since I waited 'til the last day to decide, the price of the flight jumped to almost 5,000 Baht. I decided that the 400B bus fare + the $20 (700B) cover charge for Cambodia was going to save me a bunch of money. Unfortunately, there are several drawbacks with going to Cambodia vs Malaysia. First, instead of a quick 1+ hour flight to Langkawi it was going to be an all day event traveling by bus to the Cambodian border at Poi Pet and back. Second, a potentially bigger problem is the multitude of casinos in No Man's Land in between Thailand and Cambodia that are designed to part border runners and Thais alike from their money. It's illegal to gamble in Thailand so the nearest casino is in No Man's Land. This trip could turn out to be really expensive if the Odd's Gods didn't smile down upon me. Third, but by no means last, is the gauntlet of thieves that one has to run through to get from Thailand into Cambodia and back. (see traveler's tips at the end for details)

I didn't want to spend 12+ hours getting a new visa. It's a big waste of time and money if you ask me. Immigration knows no more about me today than they did before I went to the border. But in order to live in Thailand, it has become a necessary evil. I left my house at 6.45am to catch a bus that I knew wouldn't leave until 8am. Unfortunately, I didn't know where to catch the bus at 8am so I had to go where the I booked the ticket. So I sat around for an hour at the Greenhouse waiting for someone to pick me up and take me the the 2 blocks to where the bus was. Fortunately, my friend had made me a couple yummy egg sandwiches for the trip. The A/C on the bus wasn't working very well so it got pretty hot in the morning sun. Fortunately, I slept most of the way. The driver was stuck in 3rd gear or so it seemed when everyone else including the old farm trucks passed us. It took us til after 12pm to get to the "rest stop". I didn't want to wait so I took a motorbike to the border. I had heard about all the problems and ripoff artists so I was prepared to do battle with them. Armed with my own umbrella, I quickly walked around all the kids trying to get a tip for shading you with their umbrellas. I didn't have any luggage so I was able to navigate past all the touts from immigration to the visa office. Then I saw all the casinos and knew I was going to have to spend some time there. But I wanted to make sure that there weren't going to be any more problems getting into and out of Cambodia. I wanted to go to an ATM to replenish my cash supply as ATMs in Cambodia spit out US Dollars, but I couldn't see any close to the border and didn't want to venture too far into Poi Pet or ask anybody where I could go to get a load of cash. I didn't think it wise. On my way to the casinos, I saw a couple from the bus just getting there and told them they had missed the visa office and walked them back there. But I could hear the casinos calling out my name.... Ray....Ray....Ray.... come and Play. I couldn't resist the Sirens and entered the Grand Diamond City Casino. I still hadn't committed to playing, but I wanted to at least get a nice lunch before heading back to Bangkok. The buffet looked pretty crappy so I went next door to the Dim Sum restaurant. That was pretty crappy too, but the head waiter was really nice and offered to give me a ride back to Bangkok. Unfortunately, he didn't get off until 7pm. Can you believe that there were no ATMs in the entire casino or anywhere in No Man's Land? I would have had to go back into Thailand and Cambodia to get some cash to play. What the H3LL kind of casino doesn't have ATMs? I saw this as a sign that I probably shouldn't play at all until I found the 1 and only Blackjack table. It was a beauty! It has all the best odds you can possibly find at any casino: split pairs up to 3 times, double on any 2 cards, early surrender, double after splitting, dealer stands on any 17... I had to play! I only had 1500 on me and the minimum bet was 100. 15 hands could go quick! I've had it happen to me in Vegas before. I put aside my bus money and set the rest into play. I was up a bit and down a bit in the beginning. There was this Chinese Thai guy that was pissing me off because he had no clue how to play. He kept hitting 13s and 15s when the dealer had a 5 showing and standing on 16s with a 7 showing. What is it with Asians in Asia that don't know how to gamble? I was down to 500 when he finally gave the house all his money. Thank God! Fortunately, he took all the other crap players with him and I was left there to play on my own. I was down to 200 when a new dealer tagged in and I was ready to make my comeback. I doubled down with my last 100 with a 9 and the dealer had a 5 showing. I pulled a 4 to give me a total of 13 (SWEET!), but it was the dealers turn to bust and she did. Winning with a 13 had to be a sign that my luck was turning around! A Blackjack on the next hand had me back up to 700 and I kept adding an additional unit to my bet until I lost. Before I knew it, I was up to 2700. I planned to double up for 5 hands or until I lost to try and reach 5800 or walk out with 2500 (2600-100 for a tip I think she was happy). I managed to win 3 hands before I lost, oh well. I cashed out and went to the duty free shop to get a nice bottle of 12 year old scotch. Unfortunately, they didn't have a wide selection of Glens so I settled for a bottle of Ballantines Gold Seal Special Reserve. I haven't tasted it yet, but it's gotta be better than the Johnny Walker Red that I've been swilling. All in all the trip was a rousing success and I even turned a profit!

Traveler's Tips: From Bangkok, the cheapest, easiest way to get to Poi Pet and back is buses from Khao San Road that leave at 8am (200B) and return from 2pm-6pm. Unfortunately, they stop about 5Km from the border for "lunch" and a sales pitch to help you with getting a Cambodian visa for a fee of anywhere from $2 to $10 on top of the $20 for the visa. Ignore them and take a taxi or motorcycle taxi the rest of the way or just wait the 40 minutes 'til the bus gets going again. Walk to the Thai exit building and stamp out of Thailand. *** WARNING - Currently (May 2007), the Thai border at Poi Pet is closed for Visa on Arrivals (free 30 days) unless you have proof of onward travel (plane ticket)*** If you do not have proof, you will not be allowed back into Thailand unless you are part of a group that has bribed the officials to let you in without proof.*** And you don't want to be stuck in Poi Pet any longer than you have to be there. Even though I paid the $20 cover charge to get into Cambodia, I spent a total of maybe 5 minutes in Poi Pet. It was just enough time to get a coke and go back into No Man's Land. I managed to not pay any extra fees for the bogus "expedite fee", "health certificate", "assistance fee", or just a plain out right authoritative begging fee from a uniformed official. You can do it too if you stick to your guns and pay $20 instead of 1000B ($29) at the Visa counter. The guy will repeatedly ask you for 1000B instead of $20 and if you only have $20 he'll ask you for at least 100B extra or a minimum of $2 as an expedite fee. I refused at least 6 times to 3 different officials before they finally gave up and gave me my visa. The guy behind me paid $27, but did get his visa 30 seconds before me. After you have your visa, you will again be accosted by umbrella carrying kids and "assistants" to take you to the next point, Entry to Cambodia. Ignore them and just keep walking quickly always minding your stuff. When you get to the Customs building, an official will give you a Arrival/Departure card. After you fill it out, he'll ask you for some money (~200B) for no apparent reason. Just say NO thank you and get in line. Once you get here you'll only have to ignore a few more people that may have tried to "help" you along the way. Just keep walking and go across the street to exit Cambodia and you're home free back into Thailand.
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