“Do you have another passport?” are not really the words you want to hear when you’re about to board an international flight. I panicked, flapped around questioning myself and wondering how I had picked up my expired passport instead of my current one. Three hours to go, maybe just maybe there’s time to go back and get my passport. Is this really happening? Then in a very detached, unflappable tone, the women at checkin reassures me that that this is the correct passport, perfectly valid for the next 5 months and 26 days…but my destination country is one of many who’ll only grant a visa with 6 months validity. How could I have been so careless, why didn’t I count the days instead of just the months? While I’m banging myself on the head pleading with the Airline to let me catch my flight I’m thoroughly bewildered at this nonsense rule, if the expiry date on your passport isn’t the actual expiry then, well…
After an equally unhelpful supervisor proceeded to list all the risks of travelling “illegally” and not being granted entry (what, could I possibly be deported? Surely not!), they issued a boarding pass to my transit destination at least. Not my finest hour, I reflected. Not my finest 7 really, seven long drawn out hours spent wondering how I would explain this when I met the other half of two gals in Changi Airport. Fortunately she had arrived a few hours ahead of me and I knew would be welcomed by a deluge of messages apologising in advance for my great sense of travel know-how that might cost us the trip. As I stealthily got off the plane, trying not to make eye contact with the officials for fear they might accost me at the gate and turn me around, I started to think that they’d probably still let us meet up, have a shop around Changi Airport, grab a coffee, maybe even a foot massage and it could still feel like a sort of mini holiday. They let me get wi-fi, I was starting to have hope.
By this time we had just met, exchanged excitable hello’s and sympathies (this part is very important, always travel with someone who is calmer, more resourceful and cheekier than you) and proceeded to the transfer counter where my obvious ditziness was the reason I had no boarding pass to our next flight and “oops” I’d even forgotten to check in my luggage all the way. You see the thing about the other gal in our adventures is that she really makes for the ideal travel buddy and proves to me day after day, just how infectious and wonderful a positive attitude really is and just like that, the entire night of anxiety evaporated. With a current boarding pass and a connecting flight 18 hours away, it was like a ticket to freedom. Not real freedom where you’re actually allowed outside, but the keys to Changi City nevertheless. One night in Changi is still a pretty full night, accommodation is as good as any hotel, endless shopping (not really our thing but makes you feel like it’s Christmas), a multitude of bars and cafe’s and plenty of themed gardens. All the bright lights made us almost forget that I still needed a visa if I was ever going to leave.
The two hour flight to Cambodia was filled with crazy possibilities as to what we might do if I looked too suspect to let in. Being resourceful travellers, we had a list of other destinations ready, open and welcoming places that wouldn’t care about my tardiness or illegal status and so we consoled ourselves with laughter and the prospect of booking flights to Uzbekistan or Malta for the week. When we reached Siem Reap, with it’s elegant Siamese inspired airport, tropical warm air, lush banana groves and welcoming faces, I wondered if a slow walk across the tarmac constituted saying I’d been to Cambodia. The petit security guard smiled her warm generous smile and said, “Welcome’’ surely they couldn’t, wouldn’t turn me back after that show of support.
Inside the airport we were quickly assorted into groups needing visa’s or not and so we joined the throngs of sweaty excited tourists holding our passports open and scrambling for $USD30.00. We certainly looked the part. I remember scanning the line of immigration officers, hoping to read a face that looked kind and benevolent, someone who wouldn’t have the heart to turn away a stray kitten…seriously, had it come to this? How much of a risk was I, with my just-out-of-date-valid-but-not-valid passport? We are here, we are staying. And so with that, to the rhythmic stamping of hundreds of passports, my name was called and my visa to the Kingdom of Cambodia was granted, gateway to a wonderful story book of travels.