Adventures in Cambodia: Surviving an Embassy Excursion
A little over a year ago my family had a stopover in Cambodia on our way to visit relatives in Australia.
We had some interesting experiences in what is a very colourful country. This was one of them.
My son needed a new passport.
He also needed one fast. We were planning to enter Australia within a week.
This was a major problem in itself but was eventually solved. It required a reasonable amount of paperwork and more importantly the right signatures, stamps and official procedural rigmarole.
The whole process had begun in the Netherlands and progressed further in Cambodia.
It was quite an adventure in itself.
Obtaining access to the consulate in Holland was fairly straightforward.
Getting into the embassy in Phnom Penh was a different matter altogether.
Firstly there was not one Australian to be seen in the place. I’m serious. It was odd, there were only Cambodians. I thought this strange. It was after all Australian ground, sort of, but being policed by people from another country.
The embassy in The Hague was actually the same as I recall. I had communication there with an Englishman and a Dutchman of Indonesian descent.
I suppose embassies and consulates are the no man’s lands between countries, and thus, are populated by free floating nationals of no particular origin.
On the morning we went to pick up the passport the Cambodian government had passed new law passed.
It was to the detriment of NGOs doing business in the country. There was international condemnation of the new law and the manner in which it had been passed.
One political party has held office in Cambodia for close to half a century and their reign of power appears to be quite similar to a dictatorship.
There seems to be freedom of speech but there are questions about how honest the elections have been.
The law was passed solely by the government without considering opposing arguments. It appeared that the opposition weren’t even allowed to have their say and had even walked out on discussions.
Perhaps the opposition were also partly to blame.
If you want to object to something you should at least go on record as doing it.
That morning there were protests and security had been put on high alert. There was a rumour that an attack of some description had taken place.
It was, after a bit of investigation, just a rumour.
Everything seemed fairly peaceful aside from the tension hanging heavily in the air.
We had already been to the embassy once, the week before, and the whole block had been cordoned off.
I’m not sure if this is a standard thing but it appeared to be.
The embassy is next door to the Cambodian Ministry of Who Knows What. They have a lot of Ministry buildings in Phnom Penh, even a Ministry of Corruption. I wonder what goes on in there. Corruption I suppose.
I also noticed that every town we drove through in the countryside had a party headquarters from the government. They clearly have no problem investing in themselves.
There is also a very expensive looking Pagoda in Phnom Penh, which is also something worth considering.
There is money in the country but it is not going into the right hands.
As we neared the embassy there was a certain amount of confusion.
The tuktuk driver had tried to get us as close as possible, but if we hadn’t been there before we would have had no idea where we were.
The street leading to the embasssy was blocked with barriers and manned by riot police. Well, when I say riot police, I am unsure about how well trained they were.
There were three rows of batons, shields and helmets laid out on the ground behind the barriers.
There were a variety of helmets and not every baton and shield was accompanied by one. Most of them appeared to be motorbike helmets.
It didn’t look like there was any professional equipment involved at all.
Even the batons were dubious.
We were instructed to go through a gate to our left.
This meant we entered a multi-storied office tower under construction. This probably wasn’t such a wise decision considering we were dragging along two small children. Shorts and flip-flops are not considered suitable builders labourers attire where I come from.
There were none of the usual safety standards.
Nobody offered us a hard-hat, none of the workers were wearing them anyway.
Perhaps whatever protective headwear there was in the area had already been confiscated by the riot police.
We made our way through the half-constructed ground floor of the building.
I took one look above before entering the building and saw netting jutting out about ten storeys up. It was filled with bricks and other rubble.
I decided not to look up again for fear of what else I would see.
I wasn’t the only one. The workmen were as surprised as we were.
There seemed to be a total lack of communication. Other people were even trying to drive their scooters through the rubble.
After dodging workers and scooters we found another gate leading back onto the street. Then we stood alone on the otherside of the riot barriers.
We eventually found the embassy after getting our bearings.
Our return journey was even more precarious.
At least we now knew the way, but that was the only advantage we had.
Our previous pathway had been blocked by a shipment of bricks. It was being offloaded and was stacked in our path. We were forced to walk around an enormous chute which ran up the side of the building and carried a continuous flow of rubbish down from the upper floors.
The sound was tremendous and probably made louder by the plastic tube.
I grabbed my son and ran around it and back out onto the street. We survived unscathed.
All for a passport.
Next time I think we will try to plan things more in advance.
Have you had an interesting travelling experience?
Leave a comment below or join the mailing list and let me know.