Sunday, August 26, 2012

Man without a country (for 30 minutes)

The process of leaving Vientiane was a little strange. When I walked through immigration and passport control at the Vientiane airport, the officer who looked at my passport laughed with his colleague in another booth then looked at me. I wasn't laughing, but I could tell that their laugh might have been at my expense. The officer gave me my passport and I was on my way. We headed to the lounge and waited for the flight. At the seat in the lounge I saw a little gecko on a little ledge that was so cute. Geckos are all over the place in this part of the world especially at night time when they eat all the bugs.

The flight from Vientiane to Bangkok was on a Thai Airways 737-400 and it was packed. Since it was a Saturday I was expecting the flight to be empty. Another odd thing was that our flight boarded really early and we left the gate about 20 minutes early. I don't think I have ever been on a flight that did that. 
The flight was just under 1 hour long and they served a full meal in a box. When we arrived in Bangkok our plane parked at a domestic gate even though we were an international flight. This occurs a lot in Bangkok when the plane you were just on is about to do a domestic flight next; and when it happens they bus you from that gate to an international arrivals area. Even if you are connecting to another international destination and do not need to enter Thailand officially you have to do this. Then you go down a different walkway to international connections. It's kind of a weird process, but it sort of makes sense. It just involves a lot of walking. The nice thing is that they have little carts that are free that you can use in the terminal. Many hub airports in Asia have this.

After spending well over an hour in the Thai Airways Royal Silk Lounge, we headed to our gate. We were flying Thai Smile to Macau. Thai Smile is a faction within Thai Airways that is geared towards budget travelers but they stil serve food and drinks. They also sell other meals, candy, and drinks too. Our plane was a brand new A320 and this flight was packed too. The flight was about 2.5 hours long and we arrived in Macau around 7:30pm. We did not arrive at a gate and they made us take a bus to the terminal that was all of 100 meters away. It was ridiculous. We could have just walked to the terminal if they would have put out cones or something. 

So here's where the story turns. As we were in line for the China/Macau immigration, I was expecting the process to go very quickly, but when it was my turn in the line there was a problem. It was taking a really long time and the officer was not stamping my passport and moving me along. I was getting concerned and after a few minutes he pointed to my Cambodian visa. I was trying to get across to him that I came from Vientiane and pointed out my Lao visa. He asked for boarding passes and that did not help. I even showed him the one from a few days earlier from my flight from Phnom Penh to Vientiane. I was thinking that they he didn't understand how I got to Vientiane. So they ended up pulling me out of the line, which is never a good thing. Another officer came up to me and took my passport and started going through it. I still wasn't understanding what the problem was and I showed him all of my boarding passes. He finally points to the entrance and exit stamps from Cambodia that are on the opposite page from the Cambodian visa. Then he points to the Lao visa and then points to a blank page with no stamps. Ah, I finally get it. For them, it looked like I didn't officially enter or exit Lao PDR once I officially left Cambodia. I had no idea that those stamps actually mattered. So now the problem is that I have no idea why the Lao officers didn't stamp my passport. I admit that it looks very shady from their perspective, but I have no control over whether or not immigration officials do their job correctly when entering and leaving a country. I began to worry because I didn't know what was going to happen. They could easily not let me in the country and send me back to Laos or Cambodia or back home. Who knows? This had never happened to me. So after another long while without my passport and in limboland, the officer comes back with my passport and shows me that the stamps are indeed there, but are on a page much earlier than the visa. They are on a page full of other stamps. They send me back in the line and finally get me on my way. By this time there is no one left in the immigration hall and I finally feel legit once again. The problem actually was with the officer who stamped my passport when I entered Lao PDR. So those guys that were laughing were actually laughing at me and probably knew that I was going to have an issue with my next destination.

No comments:

Post a Comment