Phnom Penh guide

Phnom Penh is one of the coolest cities in Asia.  There are cheap accommodation, liberal visas, internet everywhere and plenty of intrigue – It is said that after Thailand got difficult with visas, Phnom Penh is where the spies, wannabe science fiction writers and other such people have relocated to.

Airlines and getting there

If you are in South East Asia, the best way to get to Phnom Penh is via the budget airlines. You can get these for around 150to 200 USD. AirAsia (from Malaysia and Thailand), Tiger and JetStar Asia (from Singapore). From Vietnam, busses are cheaper. 

Visas

Visitors from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Lao PDR and Vietnam do not need a visa. Most others can get it from the airport at arrival. You will see the visa counter as you alight from the boarding area. Just pick up the visa form (usually they will hand out the form along with customs declaration form in the plane, if not then the forms are available at the visa counter), fill the form, attach your photo and submit at the counter. The fees is 25 USD. This visa is good for one month. If you do not have a photo, they will scan the photo that is on your passport and use it (for a small fee).

You can also apply for the evisa beforehand (keep a buffer of 4 days). You will have to fill an online form and upload a photograph. Keep your credit card ready for online payment. The visa will be sent to you via email. Remember to take 2 printouts of the evisa. You will show one when you enter and the other one when you exit. The evisa costs USD 25 and it is processed in 4 days or less.  This is the evisa website http://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh/.  Apply only at this site and not at some links you get after Googling. I have used evisa several times over the years and it works well. I will recommend evisa over visa on arrival. as the visa on arrival sticker takes up one whole page. E-visa is recommended for travelers from developing countries crossing into Cambodia from Thailand.

In your plane or bus, the crew will handout the arrival card and the customs form. Fill both there. You need to fill in the address in Cambodia. Just fill in any of the hotels you are planning to stay in.  

After getting your visa (or if you have evisa), just walk to the immigration counter . Here they will stamp the visa, scan your fingerprints and welcome you to Cambodia. After this you head to baggage belts and the customs, pass them the customs declaration form and exit.

Buying a SIM card

As soon as you exit the customs at the airport, you will see the mobile phone counters. You can buy data enabled SIM cards for 5 to 10 USD. Metfone and Cellcard seems to have the best speeds and they sell nano SIM cards too. I would recommend getting the SIM card at the airport as they staff at the counter speak better English compared to smaller shops in the city. They will also scan your passport before selling you the SIM. 

Traveling from the airport to the city or your hotel

Travel to the city centre will cost you around 10USD by taxi.  If you are traveling alone and light, you can take a motor bike taxi (moto) or cyclo (tuktuk) for around 5 to 6 USD. Just walk out of the airport, the moto-taxi people will find you. It is always a good idea to ask your hotel for a nearby landmark as moto or taxi people may not know where the hotel is.  If you have a local SIM card, it may be easier to call the hotel and ask them to explain the directs to your transport guy. 


Accommodation in Phnom Penh

Our favourite source of looking up hotels and guesthouses in Phnom Penh is the online guide published by Canby.  http://www.canbypublications.com/phnompenh/pphotels.htm



You can find good hostels and hotels from 10 USD and upwards depending on the features you want. The three areas marked on the map are good places to check out for stay.

The riverfront area in Phnom Penh has many reasonably priced guesthouses. Go to riverfront if you like partying and staying up late.  If you prefer inexpensive stay, I recommend One Stop Hostel by the riverside.


Boeung Keng Kang (BKK1) neighbourhood has some hotels and trendy cafes and bars. This is a good place to get some work done (at Kiriya or Namu cafe).  Blue Dog Cafe here has dormitory stays if you are looking for a budget place  and still want to be in a posh neighbourhood. See http://www.canbypublications.com/maps/phnompenhbkk1.htm


Ly Yoak Lay (Street 172) has several hotels of all range, some good restaurants and cafe/pubs. It is kind of hidden away so it is less noisy compared to the riverside. I sometimes just walk up this street, ask the guesthouse to see the room and if I like it, I take it. In Cambodia, it is perfectly fine to get them to show the room. Silver River, Angkor Mithona, Laughing Fatman, Hometown Inn, Sundance are all the places I have stayed at and they are good. 


See this map https://www.google.com/maps/search/Hotels+at+Ly+Yoak+Lay,+Phnom+Penh/@11.5669866,104.927964,18z/data=!3m1!4b1

Hotels will do your laundry for 2to 3 USD. Cambodia is the most advanced country in the world when it comes to Internet. All guesthouses and restaurants have wifi. However, before accepting a room, make sure that you can get a strong wifi signal in the room that you like.


Money and costs 

You can get by on 15 to 20 USD/day (excluding accommodation). You can use ATMs to withdraw money in USD. So you do not need to carry many moneys on you. US currency is in wide circulation and if you are brining in US$, get small denominations.  When people return you US dollars change, check if a  currency note is torn or if it has cellophane tape running around it – request for another currency note as it is hard to spend this money at another place. 1 USD is approximately 4000 Cambodian Riels. Change below 1 USD will be returned in Riel.  Another thing to note is that if you are not used to US dollars in your daily transaction back home, the currency notes are all the same size so be careful when you pay at night – double check the denominations. 


For local transport, you can use inexpensive motos (motorbike taxis) and tuktuks. From the riverside to the centre of the city should cost you 1 to 1.5 USD on moto. Of course, these folks will ask your for 5 dollars at first. Just smile and politely offer your price. 

If you want to buy an inexpensive and easy to pack souvenir, I will recommend the KRAMA – Cambodian scarf. You can buy at the Central Market.  Cambodian coffee is also good. 

Food

Phnom Penh has a great local and international food at reasonable price. It is also safe to eat on the street as long as you see the shop has good number of patrons. You can get good Chinese and Indian food too. 

It is not uncommon to find famous people from all over Asia in Phnom Penh cafes. 

List of halal restaurants in Phnom Penh: http://www.zabihah.com/sp.php?k=type+%28optional%29&l=Phnom+Penh

List of vegetarian and vegan eating in Phnom Penh: http://www.happycow.net/asia/cambodia/phnom_penh/

24 hours food – All the party neighbourhood –  Street 130 and adjoining streets by the river and the streets near Soriya Mall and Apocalypse now have food and drinks all night long. 


More on food from New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/travel/in-cambodias-capital-an-infusion-of-flavor.html?_r=0


There are several 24 hour convenience stores and many of them accept cards for payment. 


Language

Most shops and younger local people will speak some English.  Menus and general information on signs are in English in addition to Khmer.  The locals are kind, curious and enjoy talking. 


Power plug

This is the type of plug used in Cambodia ( Type C). Usually the power points in Cambodia can accept US (but make sure that your gadget can handle 240 Volts) and Japanese plugs too. Bigger hotels have plugs that support other regions too. You can also borrow Android or iPhone chargers at some cafes (Kiriya Cafe).


Interesting places to visit - SmallWorld – the local co-working space http://smallworldcambodia.com


Social stuff

Facebook and Wechat are popular social networks. And almost everyone and their cat is on Facebook. The technorati are very active on Twitter. All events have an hashtag, if you have a questions, just post it on twitter with your event’s hashtag. Someone will answer soon.  Interesting people to follow on Twitter – @Kounila, @chantra , @john_weeks, @ChrisInCambo, @tharum, @thulrithy,  @ramanasorn,  @Sophary,  @Vantharith,  @jensendarren, @sithen, @melinachan, @meanlux, @viirak (I am missing a lot more, will add them as I remember the handle)

http://www.cambodiadaily.com/ is the local paper of note, 

http://wheninphnompenh.com/ – Food and travel reviews by locals

http://globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/east-asia/cambodia/  –  happenings and news covered by locals

Social, art events – http://www.ladypenh.com/


Weather 

It is going to be hot. It is going to humid near the river.  The city averages 25 C to 33 C. See http://www.bbc.com/weather/1821306  

Cotton linen clothes are the best. 


Safety etc. 

As in a big city, take care of your belongings. I have been to Phnom Penh like 30 odd times and I have never encountered any violent crime. Late in the night, try to take to motorbike back to you hotel. 

If there is some other info you want, email me. Check out this interview with a Phnom Penh local.

My favorite bag – A simple but sturdy canvas bag from Japan


As someone who practically lives out of the bag, it is important to get a good bag. There is this company in Japan that makes sturdy canvas bags. I like them for their utilitarian feel and classic looks.  They are a bit pricy at about 300 USD but they last a long time and handle all the rough you throw at them. Here is the manufacturer’s web (Japanese only). http://gyuya.co.jp/hinomoto/collection.html

The Matsuri (local festivals) in Japan

One fun adventure in Japan is to visit a Matsuri – local festivals usually around a shrine. Chances are that wherever you are staying, perhaps a couple of stations away, a Matsuri is happening. They usually run for a night to couple of nights. There is lot of local food and some fun games. The best way to find a local Matsuri in Tokyo is to look up the web http://www.gotokyo.org/eventlist/en/list

You can walk past the stalls and just point at the food you want to eat.  Snacks usually cost  100 JPY for a stick of grilled meat to 500 JPY for a pack of Yaki Soba. Drink cost around 100 JPY for soft drink to 200 JPY for beer. 


Shape of things

I met such a beverage holder. Note the depression on the surface. It is there by design to aid the grip. It feels natural and enjoyable to hold it this way. I remembered some words from a book on a well known American technology man. He used to say that implements should be designed in such a way that they invite users to use them.

Thailand visa on arrival for Indians, Chinese and others. The procedure, the documents and frequently asked questions

Last updated on 9 June, 2017

Since 1997, I have used the visa on arrival (VOA) facility at several Thai airports and land border crossings. I am hoping that this guide will help fellow travellers. I made this as there is lot of misinformation on the ad-filled forums and blogs.  Also please read the FAQs below, I have answered the most common questions there. 

Update September 2016- Travelers landing at Suvarnabhoomi Airport can now use the Online Application for VOA. See details at http://www.thaiembassy.org/doha/en/news/3422/61326-Thailand-launched-the-%22Online-Application-for.html

The online VOA system is accessible from the Thai Immigration website at http://www.immigration.go.th  (look for the tab on the left that says "Online Application for Visa on Arrival" 

A. What documents do you need for the Visa

A1. Completed visa form.You can get this form at a desk near the visa on arrival area or you can download it from the Thai immigration website at http://www.immigration.go.th (look for tab on the left that says "Download Now Visa Arrival Application Form", it is the first form on the subsequent download page, look for TM88, there is a Chinese version too)

Fill the part until the signature. Fill in everything that I have marked in the image below.
Make sure that you fill in the section that asks for the address in Thailand. They are very particular about this. Fill in the name of the hotel you are staying at. If I am staying in multiple hotels in multiple cities, I will fill in the hotel where I am staying first (or the hotel where I am staying the longest). If I am staying at a friend or a relative’s place, I will fill in their address. 

A2. Your passport – Your passport needs to be valid for at least six months from the day you enter Thailand. If you have less than six months validity left on your passport, the airline counter at your home airport (and the immigration guys at your home country) may not allow you to board the flight. Thai visa and the immigration stamps take up one full page so you need at least one empty page.

A3. Your boarding pass stub – This is part of the boarding pass that has your seat number and flight details etc. The stub also has your flight number (you need this number to fill in the Arrival/Departure card). The boarding pass is issued to you at your home airport when you check in for you flight. When you leave your home airport, the airline staff at your boarding gate will tear a part of you boarding pass and return the rest to you. 

A4. Arrival-Departure card

The flight attendants will distribute this card before the plane lands in Thailand.  The first page is the Arrival Card. Fill all the areas except the part that asks for the visa number. The visa officer who grants you the VOA will fill in the visa number later. 

The back leaf of the first page has additional questions. The From/Port of embarkation is the city where you started your journey. Next City is the immediate next destination after Bangkok. So if you are going to say Phuket after Bangkok, write Phuket. If you are only staying in Bangkok and going back to your home city (or the city you started your journey from) then put that city.

The second page of this form asks for your departure flight. 

Sometimes, they run out of this card in the plane. You can find this card at the Visa on Arrival counter. At the Thai immigration counter later, the officer will keep the arrival part of this card, and staple the departure part to your passport.

A5. Your return or onward ticket or e-ticket printout.

Your return date must be within 15 days from the date of entry (visa on arrival allows 15 days, including the date of entry and the date of exit). So say if you enter Thailand on 1 June, you must return no later than 15 June.

A6. One recent photograph

Thai immigration website recommends  that the photo be 4 x 6 cm.  I have used a photo that is similar in size to the photo in Indian passports, they were fine with it. There is a photo booth nearby that will take your photo for small fee. Make sure that the photo that you use resembles how you look now (don't use photos from some years back).

A7.  The visa on arrival fee

Visa fee is 1000 THB ( see http://www.consular.go.th/main/th/news/1341/73242-A-temporary-tourist-visa-fee-exemption-scheme-and.html). If you do not have Thai currency, you can get it at the 24 hour money changers near the visa on arrival counter at most Thai international airports. If you are crossing into Thailand by land, better get the money exchanges at the shops in the border towns of the neighbouring country.  

A8. Proof of ability to stay in Thailand

You will have to show money equivalent to 10,000 THB (about 340 USD) per person (if you are a solo traveler) or 20,000 THB per family (people traveling together in one party) . They will not take this money. They just want to make sure you have enough money. This can be in any currency as long as it is equivalent to the Thai currency above. I have shown them Singapore Dollars and Chinese RMB in the past and they were fine with it. They do not acknowledge credit or debit cards. In Bangkok (Suvarnabhumi) airport there are ATMs before the immigration where you can withdraw cash, if you have to. 

A9. Hotel reservations printout -  They do not list this in the official requirement, but I got some emails from travelers who said they were asked to show hotel reservations. I have never encountered this request, so I think they are inconsistent about this. If you have already booked your hotels, just take a print out and keep it with you, just in case they ask to see it. If you are planning to stay with your relatives or friends etc, keep their phone numbers and business cards ready.

B. The procedure 

Look for the Visa on Arrival signs, they will lead you to the Visa on Arrival area.

If you arrive on a plane from China or India, most people will be going to this area. Note the money-changers just before the Visa on Arrival Counter.

Visa on Arrival process. Shown below is the process at Suvarnabhoomi Airport, the process is similar or simpler (less steps) at other airports or land borders.

Walk to the visa on arrival desk. (point A in the figure). Collect and fill the Visa On Arrival form. This counter is open 24 hours. The official at this counter can usually speak some English and Chinese. Give your photo to this official, and she will staple it to your form.

Next, proceed to the queue (B) 

While you are waiting in the queue, make sure you have the following documents 

  1. Boarding pass stub
  2. Passport
  3. Completed visa form (with photo attached)
  4. Return ticket printout
  5. Completed Arrival/Departure form

Procedure 

  1. Your documents will be checked at (B).  The officer here  will collect the fee and forward your passport for processing. She will issue you a token with a number on it.
  2. Sit down at the waiting area (C) until your number is called by an officer. The office will come to the waiting area and return your passport with the visa stamped on it. Collect your passport, and proceed to (D)
  3. At (D), the officer will stamp the entry date on the page that has the visa, staple the departure card to your passport, and return your passport. They will also ask you to stare at a small camera, this takes a photo for their immigration records.
  4. Once done, you will find the baggage area just behind the immigration counter. (E)
The procedure at Don Mueang airport 

As a precaution, I always take a picture of the Thai visa and the stapled departure card as soon as I get them back. It helps to have this information if you lose the stapled departure card or passport etc.

The above photo shows how the visa on arrival stamp looks like. Note that it takes up one whole page on your passport.

Frequently Asked Questions
 
Q1. How long does the visa on arrival take?
A. My wait times have ranged from 10 minutes to 2 hours. (Though in recent times – in 2017- they have become faster at this). It all depends how many flights from India and China arrive at the same time as yours. Check web services such as Flightaware for arrivals at the airport you are landing at (example: here are flights arriving at Suvarnabhoomi  https://flightaware.com/live/airport/VTBS), If you find flights from China/India/parts of Africa and Central Asia landing just before your flight then be ready to wait longer.  

Q2. How long is the Visa on Arrival queue in Don Muang (Bangkok) , Phuket, Chiang Mai and other international airports?
A. Faster compared to Suvarnabhoomi and Don Muang unless you arrive around peak seasons (long holidays in China). The process is also much simpler. There is often just one or two counter(s) that handles all the process.

Q3. My ticket is from Dubai (or some other city) to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi and then to Phuket (or some other Thai city) from the same airport. Should I take the visa on arrival at Bangkok or my destination airport?

As a rule, now you have to get the Thai visa at the first Thai airport you alight at. 

See these two links.  


 
Some domestic flights such as Thai Air Asia leave from Don Muang airport. If your next flight is from Don Muang, then you will have to get a visa on arrival before you exit the Suvarnabhumi airport. Getting to Don Muang airport from Suvarnabhumi via shuttle bus or taxi will take you 2 to 3 hours, so keep that in mind when you book your domestic flights.
 
Q4. Is it better to take a visa on arrival or should I apply for a visa at a nearby Thai embassy. 
A. If you have smaller children or senior folks in your party, I would recommend getting the visa in advance. Otherwise visa on arrival is fine. You can only apply for a Thai visa at the embassy if you have a residency permit in that country. For example if as an Indian citizen, if I want to apply for a Thai visa from their embassy in Tokyo, I should have some sort of residency or work visa card in Japan. Very rarely do embassies entertain the request of visas, if you do not have some sort of domicile in the country where the embassy is located. The exceptions are neighbouring countries - you may be able to get a Thai visa in Cambodia. 
 
Q5. Are there other options for getting the Thai Visa in India?
A. You can contact the Thai embassy or consulates in India. VFS Global is also able to assist for resident of select cities. See http://www.vfs-thailand.co.in/
 
Q6. Is it fine if I show my bank statements, in lieu of the spending money?
A. It purely depends on how strict the visa officer that is handling you is. Often, they do not even ask you to show this money, but don't take chances. My adage is always do exactly what they say on their official visa on arrival rules mentioned at their Visa on Arrival page https://extranet.immigration.go.th/voaonline/voaonline/VoaonlineAction.do. If you check that page, you will notice that they do not mention bank statements. If the visa officer ignores your bank statements and insists on seeing the spending money, you will spend time arguing with her, and the people in the queue behind you will get angry. I am sure you are planning to take some USD (or INR etc.) to spend in Thailand, just show this money. Having said that, I guess there is no harm in carrying a bank statement printout. 

Q7. My travel agent or someone told me that you have to show 1000USD (or some other amount) Is it true?
A. You only need what is mentioned in section A5 on top. If your travel agent does too much drama, show them the official Thai ministry of  Foreign Affairs Website page on Visa on Arrival (link at the bottom). 

Q8. Where do I pick up my bags? before visa on arrival or after?
A. After. The baggage area is immidiately after the immigration counter where you get your visa stamped. If you find that your baggage belt is already assigned to a more recent flight, check the floor near the belt. Usually, the airport crew will unload the unclaimed bags and place it next to the belt. Thailand is warm and it is much cheaper to buy clothes locally and there are laundromats a plenty everywhere. Avoid bringing a big bag, it will slow you down. (I often carry two changes of clothes and carry them as hand luggage).

Q9. I am going to Cambodia/Lao/Malaysia or other neighbouring countries from Thailand, and returning to Thailand for my return flight back home. Can I get a multiple or double entry visa? Can I leave Thailand and enter again in a day or two with a fresh VOA? How easy is it to get the visas for neighbouring countries?

A.  Thailand no longer issues a double/multiple entry tourist visa. You will only get a single entry visa, valid for 15 days. You need to get a visa on arrival on every entry to Thailand. Get your first visa on arrival at the Thai airport where you enter the country. Exit Thailand to visit the neighbouring country . Then get your next Thai visa on arrival when you re-enter Thailand. I have applied for visa on arrival at several border posts and airports (often within one or two days of my last exit from Thailand), and it is not a problem as long as you can show a  flight ticket out of Thailand to another country (and pay the visa fees etc.). A list of border posts where you can get the visa on arrival is at Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Website page on Visa on Arrival.

For Lao, Cambodia and Indonesia, you can get the visa on arrival at most international borders or at the airport. For the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia, it is better to get the visa in advance. Malaysia offers visa on arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The Philippines offer visa free entry to Indians and Chinese citizens who have long term visas (or an yet unused visa) for the US, Japan, EU and a couple other rich countries . 

I have had Indian travelers tell me that they have had trouble getting the Cambodian Visa on Arrival while crossing into Cambodia via land border at Poipet (if you are taking the bus from Bangkok).  To avoid the hassle, get the Cambodian e-visa in advance from https://www.evisa.gov.kh


Q10. Do we need to show a marriage certificate to prove that we are a family
A. You do not need any documentation to prove that you are a family. Thailand is not that fussy. Having said that, it is a good idea to carry a photocopy or a digital copy of your passport and other travel documents just in case. I keep a scanned copy on on Dropbox. This way, even if you misplace your passport etc, you will have some backup to show your embassy and get an emergency passport.

Q11. Are the counters open 24 hours?
The counters are open as long as they have international flights at that particular airport (or as long as the land border is open).

Q12. Is there any special procedure or forms to fill while flying out of Thailand?
Nothing, just get your boarding pass from the airline counter, and head to the immigration. The officer here will detach the stapled departure card, stamp the exit date on your passport and return you the passport. You don't need to fill any forms etc. on the way back. 

Q13. What happens if I live and work in Malaysia, Singapore or Cambodia and plan to travel to Thailand via land?
The process is similar. Show your work or resident visa issued by the neighbouring country in addition to rest of documents. You have to fill in the bus number or your car number on the arrival-departure card. It is also advisable to carry a photocopy of the first page of your passport and the work/resident visa of the neighbouring country. If you are driving from Malaysia into Thailand, there are some other documents that you need to fill in - related to car insurance, and to certify that you are not importing the car in Thailand.

Q 14. Do I really need to book hotels? What if I am staying with relatives or friends?
As I mentioned before, I have never been asked to show the hotel reservations in my 19 years of travels to Thailand. But once in a while, I get an email from some tourists stating that they were asked to show the hotel reservations.
These are my suggestions
1. If you have already planned your trip in detail, just book the hotels and print out the confirmation and keep them with you.
2. If you want to be super flexible backpacker who wants to travel without a plan, better get the visa in advance from the Thai Embassy in your home country (If you still want to use the VOA, better book the first one or two hostels and print out the booking confirmation)
3. If you plan to say with friends or relatives, ask them to send a scan of their Thai ID cards and business cards. Print these and carry them with you. Have their local phone numbers ready. 

Q15. Can I enter Thailand via one VOA point and exit via some other point?
Yes. You can enter from any VOA post. You can exit from any border post, same as your point of entry or different, even if the exit port does not have VOA. 

Q.16 Do I need to take VOA for kids below a particular age?
Yes, every member of your party, irrespective of their age, needs a VOA. You'll have to pay the full VOA fee even if the applicant is a cute little baby. Each traveler, even minors need to have the VOA form filled. You can sign on behalf of younger children. 

Any other question? email me at smarterbysharing@gmail.com. I will try to reply within a day or two. Have a good trip.

Links: 
Thailand's Embassy in Singapore, page that shows Visa on Arrival requirements  http://www.thaiembassy.sg/visa-matters-/-consular/visa-on-arrival






Eating in Thailand

Like most of South East Asia, Its pretty inexpensive eating in Thailand. You can eat at the street-side eateries for 1 to 2 USD. The food is good and safe (just make sure that you find a place where the locals are buying food too). 

There are many such places with a spread of local vegetables and meat dishes. Just point and choose the dish that you want. This is my regular eating place just next to Phrom Pong station in Bangkok - I pay about 60 THB for a portion of rice and 3 other side dishes.

This plate of Phad Thai (stir fried flat noodles) costs around 40 THB. 
If it rains or you want a more comfortable setting, head to the food courts at shopping malls. You will spend a bit more here.Restaurants are more expensive, depending on the venue and service - prepare to spend about 150 THB and more. Bangkok is a good place to try cuisines from all over the world as there are people from all over the world living here.  

Huddlespace – the oasis of modern age

Many years back one morning, in the far north of China, I hitchhiked from Yinchuan, in Ningxia province to the border of Inner Mongolia. Nothing but wilderness and crumbling ruins of a wall (part of the series of walls that make the great wall). There were no tourists here, hardly any traffic, and the landscape was all mine to wander about.  I thought about all the people who had traveled though here to the west along the silk route. Places like these where the travelers may have camped – someone makes a fire and that becomes the resting places of several caravan headed in different directions  – Persian, Koreans, Chinese and a dozen other nationalities that no longer exist.

Wish I could go back in time to find out what stories they exchanged. These days the nearest I can get to the silk route camp experience is the huddlespaces I find in airports – around power plugs and wi-fi points.This is one place, strangers become friends, share chargers, only momentarily, but still friends. 

Should everyone learn to code?

I watch with amusement many hopping on board the “learn to code early” bandwagon. Nothing against coding, I myself spent hours writing code on a Commodore 64 and a Sinclair Spectrum. I still miss the exhilaration of overnight coding sessions where we pushed the 8-bit machine to its limits in late 1980s Bombay.

Then why am I against making coding workshops compulsory in schools?

I feel that once you mandate something, the joy of discovering something is gone. What is going to happen is that a large number of teachers (who may not be enthusiastic about programming) will be trained in a hurry and unleashed on kids. It will be just like any other school subject where a set syllabus will be developed and kids will go through it half -heartedly.

Many of the enthusiastic programmers I have met have come to computing, trying to solve some other problem. They see programming as a tool and are not dogmatic when it comes to programming language or tools.

So what is my solution?

We should encourage spaces where local tech folks, artists, writers and musicians donate some of their time. If a dedicated building is not possible then perhaps a local school can donate some rooms on the weekends. Kids and everyone else in the community who is keen on these things can drop in and learn and teach whatever they are interested in — writing, coding or hardware. Kids must first wander, get curious about the world and when they develop interest in something, they should be able to have access to a space and mentors. In many places in this world, the answers to some of the local problems is not just in code but also in things like designing a better dustbin or how to create a community cleanup group. Code is just a glue. When someone gets fired up to make something better, we should make sure that we have people they can turn to for guidance and suggestions.

A Family Mart in Vietnam and a Korean movie

There is a 2009 Korean movie called Bandhobi. It is the story of an unlikely friendship between a Korean teenager and a Bangladeshi immigrant worker. The reason I like this movie is that I can identify with the characters. The girl, when she misses her Bangladeshi friend, goes by herself to a South Asian restaurant, and to the surprise of the staff, orders many native food and proceeds to eat it like a native. 

Today,  when I spotted a Family Mart in Saigon, I walked into it. I bought  Oden - a Japanese winter dish containing radish, fish cakes, boiled eggs.  These are usually skewered on a stick and dipped in a spicy soy based broth. Eating Oden takes me back to those freezing  days in Japan. On our way walking from the train station to some place, we would always stop by a Family Mart. The hot oden is always a welcome respite. Often in random cities, you will find me at a random ethnic food place - a Korean place in Phnom Penh, a Vietnamese place in Taichung, a Russian place in Bangkok or a Sichuan place in Manila. You know that I am just missing all my friends and conversations from these places.

Visiting Philippines on an Indian Passport with currently valid Australia, Japan, Canada, Singapore, Schengen, US or UK visa

Ordinarily, Indian citizens requires a visa in advance for the Philippines but if she has a valid Australian, Canadian, Japanese, Singapore, Schengen, UK, U.S. visa or permanent residence permit then they can visit for a duration of 14 days.  

I recently tried this by stopping over in Manila for some meetings (yes, you can get both tourism as well as business entry) on my Taiwan to Singapore trip. The process was fast – I joined the regular immigration queue. The officer made sure that I have a valid visa issued by one of the above countries and proceeded to stamp my passport.

Below are the two forms you will have to fill. The Disembarkation Card and the Customs Declaration Form.

Links

See the last paragraph on this page http://newdelhipe.dfa.gov.ph/index.php/announcements/105-omnibus-announcements

and this announcement that open entry via all international entry points http://www.financialexpress.com/article/travel/latest-updates-travel/now-indians-can-travel-visa-free-to-the-philippines-2/71723/


If you have questions email me at smarterbysharing@gmail.com.