It’s taken me some time before I was able to write about my experiences in Cambodia, predominantly to allow time for my rage to subside. During three weeks in Cambodia I experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. The good included the magnificent temples of Ankor, the beautiful islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem and the chilled out riverside town of Kampot.
The bad revolved around one fateful morning in Siem Reap where I had my bag stolen while making my way to the temples of Angkor for sunrise. While angry at having my camera and ipad taken the real trouble was to unfold when I realised that my passport was also in the bag. This leads me onto the ugly.
The ignorance, bureaucracy and corruption that I encountered while going through the process of replacing my stolen passport is something I won’t forget for a long time. Looking back on it now it’s a little bit amusing but it sure wasn’t at the time. So here’s my step by step account of how to replace a stolen passport in Cambodia.
The first hurdle was obtaining a police report outlining the details of the theft, which sounds straightforward in principle but proved anything but. The process began with a visit to the tourist police station and upon arrival there I quickly realised the many obsticles that lay ahead.
The police station in Siem Reap consisted of a number of large rooms loosely filled with tables and chairs. There were no computers, no printers, no telephones, in fact no electronic equipment whatsoever apart from the top of the range smart phones that the dozen or so plain clothes police officers were busy playing on. One of the officers eventually managed to drag himself away from his phone to ask me what had happened.
After hearing my story I was required to write down a detailed account of what had happened. Things turned sour when he asked me to point out on the map exactly where my bag had been stolen. I pointed out the rough location but told him I couldn’t be sure without seeing it again in person. This sparked accusations of false claims and I was threatened with being thrown in prison for lying to a police officer! I tried to remain calm, reassuring him that I was telling the truth and the officer eventually changed his tune.
When I finished writing my statement, six officers (yes six) accompanied my rickshaw driver and I, on motorcycles to identify the exact location. Once happy that I had identified the location the officers told me to go back to my hostel and come back the following day for the police report. They also told me that there was absolutely no chance of them finding any of my stuff. Reassuring to hear!
The following morning I returned to the station to collect the report. Before handing it over I was made to sign a log book where I wrote my name, age, nationality and then signed a statement thanking the tourist police for all their hard work. Finally I had to pay a “donation” before they agreed to hand over the required document. Thankfully I had anticipated this move so left my wallet at home and had just a small amount of money in my pocket. They looked unimpressed but handed over the statement regardless.
Next step was to bring the police report to my embassy where I could fill in the required paperwork and pay the necessary fee to obtain a replacement passport. You can imagine my delight when I discover that there is no Irish embassy in Cambodia. Instead I was pointed in the direction of British embassy in Phnom Penh as the best point of contact.
The British embassy was quite helpful, they gave me the forms for a replacement passport and told me to contact the Irish embassy in Vietnam. They were less than helpful and told me it would take about two weeks to obtain an emergency passport or two months to obtain a ten year passport. Aghast at the prospect of spending two more months in Cambodia I was left with little option but to apply for an emergency passport and fly home to Ireland to apply for a new ten year passport.
I got the form filled out with little difficulty, obtained new passport photos with some difficulty but ran into serious difficulty with the final stage of the process.The final section of the application form had to be signed by a witness, not just any witness but an upstanding member of society such as a doctor, priest, lawyer or bank manager.
As a solo traveller with no contacts in Cambodia this was quite a challenge. The British embassy gave me the phone number of an Irish priest, living in Phnom Penh, who could stand as my witness. I called the number but before I could even explain myself he told me he was heading to the airport and promptly hung up!
As I had no other contacts, I spent the day walking around Phnom Penh, an immensely overcrowded, polluted and generally unpleasant city, calling into doctor surgeries, banks and lawyers to see if anyone would witness my application. Unsurprisingly the answer was usually “no” as to be honest it did look a bit shady. Thankfully I eventually found a very kind and generous doctor who agreed to act as witness and only for him I’d probably still be in Cambodia!
With my form completed, signed by a witness and new passport photos sorted the next step was to make a bank transfer to the Irish embassy in Vietnam to pay for my emergency passport. Yet again this proved extremely problematic as the bank refused to make the transfer without showing my passport as proof of identity. I explained my situation pointing out that if I had my passport then I wouldn’t need to be making this payment! The irony seemed lost on them but my request was escalated up the chain of command to the bank manager who finally accepted a photocopy of my passport as proof of identity.
As so that was it, almost. I sent my application by DHL to the embassy in Hanoi and then waited two weeks for my emergency passport to arrive at the British embassy. The final sting in the tail was obtaining a new visa to exit the country. Despite paying $30 for a visa on arrival I was forced to pay a further $60 to get a new exit visa. $40 for the official fee and $20 to speed up the 2-3 day process of putting a sticker in my passport.
There were a few further twists and turns as I made my way home, via Kuala Lumpur, Sri Lanka, Dubai, Bucharest and finally to Dublin. In Kuala Lumpur, Sri Lankan Airlines initially refused to check me in for my flight as they were unsure if my emergency passport was actually a passport at all. Customs officers in the UAE brought into an interrogation room to explain why my passport looked like something I’d printed at home. When I reached Romanian immigration (the cheapest route home from Dubai) I was asked where my real passport was before they let me through.
Finally I arrived at Dublin airport. I walked up to the immigration desk and the officer took my passport, had a quick look at it and asked:”What happened?”
“I had my passport stolen in Cambodia” I replied.
At this the officer burst out laughing and replied “I bet that was a lot of fun.”
It was good to be home!