Two Illegal Border Crossings:
At some point, I get near the Cambodian Border. If you look at a map, you will see that the border fronts the road. Now, in my mind, that means that one side of the road is Vietnam and the other Cambodia- much like any river that also acts as a border. It’s ok to travel, just to not set foot on one side or the other without the appropriate permissions (visas).
And then I am stopped. Two men in ratty, seim-official-looking uniforms confront me on the road. The only thing I understand is that I am trying to enter Cambodia. I also understand the universal hand signal for u-turn.
I stand there in the middle of the road and draw a line down the center with a stick. I point to one side and say “Cambodge”. I point to the other side, the one I am standing on and where my bike is parked and say, “Vietnam.”
He grabs the stick from me and draws a line that transects mine, perpendicular with the road and between he and I. He points to my side and says, “Vietnam”. His side is indicated as Cambodia.
We argue. He calls someone higher up. I consult the map. I ask The Google. There is no definitive answer, except that I see lots of trucks passing me. They are all hauling various farmed goods down this road and across this ‘border’ without stopping for any paperwork.
This road ‘crosses’ into Cambodia for less than 10kms. Apparently there is an understanding between Cambodia and Vietnam. Since the road starts and ends in Vietnam with no junctions in the middle, the Vietnamese farmers and truckers can use it with no questions asked.
But for me, turning around is an unattractive option. I’ve already spent three hours more than I had anticipated to get this far. I was hoping to make it to Pleiku today, but turning around would add at least six more hours to the trip. It would take me back to the AH17….the road I was trying to avoid in the first place.
I show the border guy my last Cambodian visa (less than 30 days old) and point to it repeatedly and point onwards. He doesn’t care.
More arguing. He speaks fast Vietnamese and makes hand gestures that don’t resemble anything I’ve seen. He’s clearly playing with me, but at the sme time, is not going to let me pass. In response, I speak English as fast as I can. And make crazy hand gestures. I make like a bird flying, I pinch my nose and with one hand up, pretend like I’m diving into a pool. I spin around and point at the drawing on the ground at our feet. He is not amused.
Finally I leave. I am not going to win this battle.
About a kilometer up the road, I am passed by a truck hauling some agriculture product or another. The vast amounts of dust nearly choke me. And then I get an idea. A perfectly brilliant idea!
I turn around and get on the left side of the truck, hugging his side about two-thirds back. I ride as close as I can to the truck. (If I fall, I’m going under the rear wheels….not good.) The trucks, as I observed previously, do not stop at this so-called checkpoint. And I wasn’t going to either. So, on we rode.
What was the worst that could happen….? They’d throw me in Vietnamese Prison…..I was in one a couple weeks ago….it didn’t look too bad. Or I can’t re-enter Vietnam….at least this time I have all my stuff and my bike with me, unlike when I had to leave Saigon for Phnom Penh to hopefully renew a visa. Or, worst case, I get deported from Cambodia….that’s ok too.
I have to believe the driver knew I was there although no acknowledgement was made. But he did seem to take on potholes he could have otherwise avoided so that I would get flatter ground. And he seemed to speed up a bit, which I interpreted as a measure to raise more dust.
And just like that, with the biggest pulling guard in history, I ran through the border. I was in Cambodia. I was pretty proud of my plan and laughing out loud. I kept wishing my friend Chance had been with me; he would have appreciated the whole thing.
I stuck on the truckers hip for the next 10kms as I didn’t know what the other border crossing would involve. I did, after all, have to re-enter Vietnam.
But there was nothing. I don’t know if the line in the sand I’d been stopped at was the one and only checkpoint. I don’t know if there was another one that I simply didn’t observe because I was in a cloud of dust that would have made Pig Pen proud. Either way, I was (according to The Google) back in Vietnam. And not in jail.
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