The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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Everything up to this point had gone too smoothly! I felt it wise to arrive at the airport well before departure time. Just after lunchtime, I rode to Tan Son Nhut and stopped outside the compound. There, I drained what little fuel remained in the tank, then walked the bike into the passenger terminal. I was able to take one picture as the Air VN chaps assisted me:

 Tan Son Nhut Compound

Tan Son Nhut Compound

beyond this point all photos were forbidden.

Getting out of Vietnam in those days was complicated by the currency restrictions. After relinquishing the bike, and presenting my ticket

Air Vietnam Ticket

Air Vietnam Ticket

everything was in order. The bike disappeared, my luggage as well. The next step was to convert money. Whatever MPCs and Dongs I had I turned in for US Green: not a lot, less than a hundred dollars as I recall. Henceforth I expected to rely on travelers checks.

The last step was emigration, where I presented my passport and ticket, which the Officer examined closely. He then said, “You can’t go.”

“Why not?”

“Your ticket is to Phnom Penh, but the Exit Visa reads to USA.”

I knew there was no arguing, so simply retrieved my documents, stepped back, and joined the throng in the waiting room. When I got near the main entrance, I stepped out and hailed a taxi. I waved a $20 US under the driver’s nose and said, “get me to Immigration!”

Mind you, had I been stopped for any reason, having a wad of Green on me would have been difficult to explain and would likely have landed me in jail!

There followed a wild ride across Saigon: the taxi driver wanted that 20 bucks, but when we got to Immigration I held the money and told him to wait. I knew he would!

Inside, I found a fellow at a long counter who asked what assistance I needed. Fortunately, he spoke english, so I was able to show the documents and explain the problem. He rummaged around under the counter, pulled up a carton full of papers, and pawed through them: before long, he came up with the form I had prepared long-hand for PA&E; attached to it was the typed form some harried secretary at PA&E had copied. My long-hand version showed Cambodia, but the typed version showed USA. Since I was probably the only american who had ever left VN to go to Cambodia (virtually all US employees went back to the US) it was an easy mistake for her to make.

Examining the papers, the fellow said, “I can see how that happened, and I can fix it.” He picked up a pen, annotated the passport with a “(1)” next to USA, and wrote above “(1) via Cambodge”. With a chop, the deed was done. I thanked him profusely. He did not ask for payment, and he got only my everlasting gratitude!

Exit Visa Saigon
Exit Visa Saigon

(Arrows point to the critical additions.)

Needless to say, the taxi was waiting, and I got a second wild ride across Saigon, where I was able to “infiltrate” the crowd and eventually present my documents once again to the Officer. He studied them intently, but finally said, “I’ll never know how you did that, but I cannot stop you now.” He added the exit chop and waved me through into the waiting area. I had at least an hour to kill before the plane was to leave!

The bike was loaded after I got on the plane, so I did not know with certainty that it was with me until I saw it off-loaded at Pochentong. I snapped one photo from the plane, which I did not expect to come out at all. Oddly enough after all these years, I can scan that photo and just use an enhancement in the scanner to bring it out better than it actually is!

Vietnam from the Air

Vietnam from the Air

The white spots are clouds, but the strips in the center near the bottom are recent strafing-runs.

It isn’t far from Saigon to Phnom Penh—about 180 miles—so the flight was short. There were very few passengers aboard. I snapped a photo of the tower at Pochentong as we taxied in,

Tower at Pochentong

Tower at Pochentong

then dashed off the plane in time to get a shot of the guys unloading the motorcycle.

Unloading the Motorcycle

Unloading the Motorcycle

I was finally out of Vietnam! Let the adventures begin!

But first, I had to get the cycle out of Customs. I left it behind and took a bus into town: it was growing late, I was tired, and I figured I could go back the next day and retrieve the machine.

Yeah, right!

Stay tuned!



Written by Bruce

December 13th, 2009 at 10:59 am

Posted in Phnom Penh,VietNam