The trip to Cambodia started off rather early in the morning with me waking up early and double-checking everything that I suppose bring along for the long work assignment overseas. The kids were deeply asleep but just before I left the house, they were awake to say goodbye.
Read Part 1 here
I planned to be at the airport as early as possible and I also pre-empted the team to be early and this was for a particular reason. As we are going to Cambodia, our client requested for some items to be purchased from Malaysia to be brought along.
Unfortunately over time, the number of items grew and this added weight to our check-in luggage. Of course, we also had planned to pay for the overweight if we were unable to share & average out the total weight among the team members.
We suppose to come early but some of us turned up late and by the time we queued up to drop our luggage, a long line of the passengers have been formed. 60% of the passengers I see are local Cambodians who are going back home after trapped in Malaysia due to the lockdown in place.
And almost everyone is carrying bags or items which is more than their allocated weightage. I could smell trouble from far as I see this and seeing other foreigners queueing with huge bags as well.
My luggage when I checked in was overweight as well by almost 2 kg but since I managed to check in early, the good lady at the check-in counter did not impose any charges (although I was more than willing to pay for the extra weight).
Just when I was getting my boarding pass, there was noise from the next check-in counter.
A foreigner with his family was complaining about the overweight charges that the airline imposed – almost RM1,800 in penalty. He had a couple of huge bags, several boxes and one that looked like a wrapped indoor exercise bike (which I know is very heavy) and they all were flying economy.
He was arguing that it is unfair for the airline to charge such high penalty especially when another seat would have cost much less. He was even made threats by saying that this would be the last time he or his family members or all his contacts would fly with the airline again and will make sure his complaint is heard on his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The best part was the tiny lady behind the counter stood her grounds and remained polite & courteous but never backed down from the so-called threats. The foreigner, in the end, took out his credit card and paid for the overweight luggage.
The rest of the team had overweight luggage as well but after some negotiations, the airline took into consideration the weight of the total group and then average out. However, this took time and we ended up as the last few passengers still at the check-in counter.
The Flight Was Full!
Although we managed to resolve the overweight issue, the team still had to run to the other end of the airport to check-in their luggage as it was too late to check-in at the counter. Those who had already checked-in their luggage now have to run to the gate.
However, we had to go through the immigration first and the auto gates have been closed. It was a manual process at the immigration counter. The good thing was not many Malaysians were flying out and there was a dedicated lane for Malaysians. The kind officer at the counter noticed our apprehension and quickly processed our passports.
The next obstacle was the security check but that too was cleared fast.
I noticed the gate for our flight was almost at the end of the wing and as I was running towards, I saw an airline staff walking, shouting “final call“. That made my heart to skip a beat and made my legs to run even faster. Knowing the whole team behind me, also late to the gate, I was hoping to get the airline staff to delay the departure.
Just as I arrived at the gate, I noticed all the other passengers still at the gate waiting for the announcement to board the plane and there were others still behind me. The flight had been delayed but I was pretty sure it was due to us. The rest of the team managed to reach the gate in time and soon after the announcement to board the plane was done.
The flight to Cambodia was full indeed but everyone behaved and had their facial mask on the whole time until it was time for the inflight meal. One of the options was the above with omelette and the other was a good old nasi lemak with prawn sambal. It was piping hot as well and to end a good meal was a cup of Sprite with ice.
Health Declaration Queue
One of the first things we had to do when we landed in Cambodia was to fill up the Health Declaration form which mostly asks questions related to COVID19. One Cambodian official was busy giving away the declaration form but he is unable to explain anything in English. His replies were all in Khmer which non of the foreigners could understand.
And there was a long line for the passengers without any social distancing whatsoever to pass the said form to some officials at the front. Not knowing what to do next, we just joined the locals to queue up and inch forward to the front. A few officials were at the front and they would then check the form, COVID19 test results & the health insurance before handing over a yellow confirmation slip and asked us to move forward to the next stage.
Problem with COVID19 Deposit
Next was the USD3000 deposit – 3 local banks in Cambodia have set up counters to do the “collection” and hand over a blue declaration form once the payments have been made. Those who paid cash basically breeze through this process. I opt to pay with a credit card as I wanted to avoid carrying a lot of cash. I was thinking that they will not deduct the whole USD3000 upfront and will only charge the actual cost, I know that the credit card charges were manageable.
I confidently handed my credit card to the lady behind the glass window only to have her replying that my card is denied!!
For a moment my mind went blank as I know I did the necessary to get ready for this. Days before I left, I had called up the bank, informed them that I would be using the credit card overseas and in particular that I would be using it to pay for a deposit at arrival. I even got an SMS from the bank confirming that my card was good to be used overseas.
I quickly call up the credit card bank’s customer service (good thing I was on roaming) and explained my situation. They checked on my balances and informed me that the card was declined because there is a lower limit for cash advance instead of credit. Apparently the local banks were not earmarking the card but rather making a full deduction upfront. The interest is going to be huge.
I quickly worked the amount in USD and obviously there were some shortfalls. Thankfully the lady collecting the deposit said that I can pay the difference with another credit card or cash. I had another credit card on standby which successfully went through and I managed to pay off the deposit.
I asked some of the colleagues who have managed to settle their deposits to go through the immigration first and get our luggage before it is sent to the unclaimed section. The rest stayed back until we were sure everyone in the team managed to settle this first pain in the neck obstacle.
Those who planned to use the debit card, on the other hand, were in serious trouble – their debit card despite it being a Visa or Mastercard debit card was not working at all. This is after they had called their banks and informed of the situation and the bank customer service telling them that the card should work and ask them to retry. A colleague of mine had tried three times before giving up.
The situation was getting more critical now because the immigration officers started to notice our situation and informed us that if we cannot pay the deposit, we will not be allowed to enter the country and we had to return in the same flight that we came. They stressed that the plane is waiting for us and we had to go now.
We had to come up with another plan in seconds – we asked the guys with the debit card to try to withdraw money from the ATMs nearby and see how much cash they can withdraw before it is denied for being above the daily limit.
We in the meantime quickly pooled whatever money we had in our wallets and also standby our credit cards in case we were still short. Seeing that we are now pooling the money for the deposits and there is a high chance of us managing to pay the deposit for the 3 guys, the immigration officers stopped harassing us and left us. One of the officers, however, was keeping a close eye on us from far.
ATM withdrawals and using whatever cash in hand somehow was enough for the 3 guys to squeeze enough to pay for the deposit and we were glad that we managed to settle this after almost 1.5 hours struggling with the payments.
We were not alone in this situation – there was another of guys who have also had problems paying in cash and they were waiting for their bank to allow the transaction. Another was an old man from Switzerland who had often travelled to Cambodia – he found his Swiss credit card was blocked in Cambodia. He is unable to call his bank too and now he is stuck in the country and may need to fly back home.
In the end, I understand from him that someone from the Ministry of Health comes over and assisted him to get the cash to pay for the deposit.
To be continued in Part 3
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