Before I left Jamaica, I had to buy a ticket to and from Indonesia. The Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in New York wouldn’t grant me the visa I needed without an actual purchased ticket. Since I could legally be in the country for 6 months on the visa I was getting, I bought the ticket to leave the country near the end of July, a few days shy of 6 months after my planned arrival date. This was also the time at which I would take my 2-week vacation.
Back in March when I went to Penang to get a new visa because of the Aceh situation, 2 months were added to the time I had in Indonesia before I absolutely needed to leave the country again. That meant that I could legally stay in the country until almost the end of September. But I kept my plans to go at the end of July unchanged for 2 reasons. First of all, it was too expensive to change the ticket – I checked and there was no way I was paying the equivalent of the price of another ticket when I didn’t have to. Second and more importantly, after 6 months of working 6 days a week, living in less than favourable conditions, and dealing with disrespect, I knew that I needed the break and I wasn’t interested in delaying it. I was entitled to it and I was taking it.
So while I was dog-sitting during Idul Fitri, I started planning my vacation. I had 2 weeks to fill and I wanted to see and do as much as possible. But first, I had to decide where to go.
My first stop was already decided by my unchangeable ticket – I would be heading to Singapore. However, I didn’t want to stay there long. Singapore is nothing but city and since I’m a semi-nature girl at heart, especially when it comes to my vacations, I didn’t expect to find much of real interest there for me. Sure, there’s a zoo and botanical gardens but I prefer the real deal. I decided to spend just enough time there to get my new Indonesian visa before jetting off to my next destination. Using a visa agent, that meant spending no more than 2 nights in Singapore.
My main consideration for which other countries to visit was which ones I could travel to visa-free or where I could get an e-visa or a visa on arrival (VOA).
Travelling as a Jamaican is made difficult by visa restrictions. Most countries on earth allow Americans, Canadians, Australians and the British to visit their territories without a visa or with a VOA. Not so Jamaicans. Of the 193 UN-recognised countries in this world, we can go to 50 visa-free (and several of those are CARICOM countries), we can go to 23 with a VOA, and we can go to 11 with an e-visa. For the remaining 109 countries, we need a visa. As you probably know, the visa acquisition process is not always easy and I didn’t want to go to a country where I needed to go through an involved visa process. This was mainly because I needed to take my passport to Kantor Imigrasi Jakarta Timur every 3 and a half weeks or so to get my Indonesian visa extended. That didn’t allow time for me to mess around with letting an embassy have my passport for an unspecified number of days or weeks in order to issue me a visa. Visa-free, e-visa or VOA were my options for my holiday.
I also wanted to keep my travel within Southeast Asia so that I could maximise my limited time (the further away I went, the more time would be eaten up by the getting-there-and-back process), and because I wanted to take the opportunity to see as much of the region as possible while I’m actually living in it. Also, the farther away I went, the more airline tickets back to Jakarta would cost.
After checking my few visa-friendly options in Southeast Asia, I finally settled on Cambodia and Laos.
At that point, I knew next to nothing about those countries, not really. I was vaguely familiar with the term ‘Khmer Rouge’ but I couldn’t have told you exactly what it meant for Cambodia. To be perfectly honest, the country was really only in my consciousness because of Angelina Jolie’s adoption of Maddox (I used to be a rag-mag addict; sue me) and the first Tomb Raider movie. So by no stretch of the imagination can the little that I knew even be called “knowing”. I did a little research on things to do in Cambodia and settled on spending 2 days in the capital city of Phnom Penh, before moving on to Siem Reap, the site of Angkor Wat and Tomb Raider, for 3 days. Singapore and Cambodia would take care of 1 week of my vacation.
Then it would be time to leave for Laos, where I would spend my other week. I knew absolutely zero about this country. I knew the name, of course, but had no idea about its history or anything else. Again, I did some “things to do” research and settled on visiting the capital, Vientiane, for 2 days then spending the remaining 5 days of my vacation relaxing in Luang Prabang in the north of the country.
I booked my flights, hotels and tours. My flights needed to be cheap and direct; my hotels needed to be affordable, clean, have great bedding and a breakfast plan (who wants to get up and have to go searching for breakfast?), and be well-rated on TripAdvisor; and my tours needed to hit all the major historical and cultural sites, with tour operators that are highly rated on TripAdvisor. It took me about a week to pin everything down then I was set. Now, all I had to do was wait another 2 weeks and I’d be on my way.
In the meantime, the Big Boss made herself known and I was even happier that I was getting a break from my surroundings. All I could think was that for 2 solid weeks, my feet would be clean, I would sleep in lovely beds with lots of lovely pillows, I would use a proper western toilet, I would sit on comfortable chairs, and I wouldn’t be bothered by critters and creatures.
Paradise was calling my name. I was so ready to answer.