Posts for Tag: travel

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, a cross border bus is 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. Uber is also available in Phnom Penh. As of November 2017, Uber drivers are not allowed to come inside the airport, The Uber driver may send you an message to come outside the airport. 


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 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. You can also use Uber or a local ride hailing app called Pass App. 

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).


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 or Uber or a Pass App ride back to you hotel. 


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. 


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 a lot of misinformation on the ad-filled forums and blogs.  Also please read the FAQs below, I have answered the most common questions there. 

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 https://www.immigration.go.th/download/ - The page is in Thai, but it is the first download link on the page. 

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. Write In the name of the hotel you are staying at. If I am staying in multiple hotels in various cities, I will write 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 in 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 your 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 write 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 write in that town.

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 is 4 x 6 cm.  I have used a photo that is similar in size to the photo in Indian passports; they are fine with it. There is a photo booth nearby that will take your photo for a small fee. Make sure that the picture 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 traveller) or 20,000 THB per family (people travelling 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. 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 print out -  They do not list this in the official requirement, but I got some emails from travellers 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 Suvarnabhumi Airport, the process is similar or simpler (fewer 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 desk 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. The officer at (B) will check your documents, collect the fee, and issue you a token with a number on it.
  2. Sit down at the waiting area (C) until an officer calls your number. 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 for 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 the visa on arrival stamp. 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 on 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 Suvarnabhumi  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 Suvarnabhumi 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. 

if you already have the boarding pass for your domestic flight.

if you do not have the boarding pass 
 
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 excellent. 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 would need a residency or work visa card issued by Japan. 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 a resident of select cities. See http://www.vfs-thailand.co.in/
 
Q6. Is it fine if I show my bank statements, instead 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 to 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 the documents that I listed in the 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 immediately 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 for your bags. 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. 

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 visas? Can I leave Thailand and enter again in a day or two with a new VOA? How easy is it to get the visas for neighbouring countries?

A.  Thailand no longer issues a double/multiple entry tourist visas. 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 a 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 and airports. 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 a yet unused visa) from the US, Japan, EU and a couple of other rich countries. 

I have had Indian travellers 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 demonstrate that you are a family. Thailand is not that fussy. 

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 particular 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 certifying that you are not importing the car in Thailand.

Q 14. Do I 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 are planning to stay with friends or relatives, ask them to email you 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 location and exit at some other location?
Yes. You can enter from any VOA post. You can exit from any border crossing point, 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 the age, needs a VOA.  Each traveller, 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 safe trip.

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






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.

Crossing into Cambodia via land borders

Cambodia is another fun destination in South East Asia. The best part is that most people can get a Cambodia visa at the border posts.  All you need to do is to fill a visa form and pay a fee of 20 USD.  You need to fill in an address in Cambodia . Fill in the hotel you plan to stay at.  You will need a photo too.

One of the bus plying Cambodia -Vietnam route

This is the process at Bavet (Cambodia) MocBai (Vietnam) border (this is the usual bus route from Saigon to Phnom Penh) but the process is similar at Thailand-Cambodia border too. Once you have finished Vietnamese exit process the bus will take you a little distance away to the Cambodian immigration. There is a visa on arrival counter where you can fill the form and pay the fees. The officer will paste the visa. After this you can join the immigration queue.

Cambodia Arrival Form

This is how the arrival card looks like. You will have to fill in the address in Cambodia even if you are not sure what hotel you are staying at. Just fill in the name the hotel you intend to stay at.

You can also apply for Cambodian e-visa, this is by far the most convenient method though you need a lead time of 2-3 days ( I have gotten the e-visa in 24 hours most of the time).  I have often heard of travelers being hassled for more money at Cambodian Thailand border. If you have the e-visa, you just walk through and you don't have to pay anything extra. You apply via the e-visa website here. http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/ and these are land borders where you can use e-visa http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/Map.aspx