I’d read a few things about the notoriously scammy Thai-Cambodia border crossing, and had heard quite a few travel tales, too. Cambodia has quite the reputation for traveler scams and I wanted to avoid as many of them as possible. But as I’m constantly reminded while traveling, things rarely work out how they’re supposed to.

My bad experiences began all the way back in Bangkok. Well, I didn’t think it was bad at the time. For some reason, I trusted the idea that booking a bus from Bangkok to Siam Reap would help me skip all the hassle. For 350 baht I had a pickup at 7am and the travel agency said I’d be in Siam Reap.

First of all, it wasn’t a bus but a minivan. And not exactly a nice one (with some rather unfriendly French tourists). When we reached the “border”at around noon, the driver had us get off the bull to fill out our immigration & visa forms. Of course, it turned out we were at one of those dodgy “travel agencies/consulates.” I asked a simple question and the guy was instantly rude and off-putting. He didn’t like me questioning the visa fee in front of the other tourists. In fact, he had us separated across multiple tables so we couldn’t really exchange information about what we knew about the border.

He was going to charge almost 1400 baht for a Cambodian visa which I knew for a fact was only $20. The form he had me filling out also called for two passport photos. I only had one because that’s what I’d heard I’d needed. Suspicious? I immediately was.

One thing I heard repeatedly before crossing the border was that the Cambodian tourist visa only costs $20 and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, you’re not at the border yet. That’s the best advice I can share.

So, anyways, there was this agency man insisting it’d be easier for me to get my visa through him. He said if I didn’t want to, I could try my luck at the border, but it might take hours. After a bit of a standoff, I insisted I wanted to be taken to the border and I’d do it myself. I reminded him that I’d booked and already paid for a bus all the way to Siam Reap, and he told me that he would be unable to wait for me on the other side of the border more than a half hour. Any longer and I’d have to find my own way. By this point, I pretty much hated the man and just wanted to be done with the whole situation. But, always the optimist, I still believed he’d be on the other side waiting for me.

Thai/Cambodia border crossing

Finally at the border, with the three French tourists from my bus who I convinced to come with me (and who I swear were incapable of smiling), we went through all the border crossing steps. Thai exit stamp? Check! Cambodian infections disease checkpoint? All clear. Now it was time to get my visa-on-arrival—the source of so many scams.

I was waved across the street by a Cambodian immigration official in front of the visa building. I was suspicious at first, but it turned out he was honest and I was in the right place. By this time, I’d met several other travelers who arrived to this point from a variety of modes of transportation. A Kiwi came by train from Bangkok for just 45 baht and a tuk-tuk ride. It was almost embarrassing to think how much I paid, but I still thought there’d be a bus waiting for me on the other side to drive me to Siam Reap. Hah!

Getting my visa was easy. There was a printed sign that said the visa cost $20 + 100 baht, thought it wasn’t clear what or why there was an additional 100 baht added on. The Kiwi refused to pay it and he got out fine; always the sucker, I paid. Put it on the ever-growing list of scams I’ve fallen for.

After getting my visa, there was a 10-minute line to get the Cambodian entry stamp. In a hot and stuffy room, but luckily there were a few fans. The immigration official bent and folded my passport about 20 different ways before he let me through, but eventually, I was finally in Cambodia.

And of course, as I should have expected, there was no sign of my already-paid-for bus, but seeing as how I know had a new group of travel friends from the border crossing, we grabbed the free shuttle to the bus terminal. There were five of us tourists (the only ones on the free shuttle) and it took us to a new building–the Cambodian International Tourist Bus Station.

Considering the building had a grand total of 11 westerners and no locals, we definitely weren’t taking a local bus. The ticket agent convinced us to not wait a half hour for the $9 bus, but to instead just pay $11 each and all 11 of us could take a minivan to Siam Reap. Fine.

The minivan made just one stop, where a very friendly, sweet and well-spoken women told us we were two hours from Siam Reap. Naturally, several of us bought some overpriced snacks & water. And yet, we were only in the bus another half hour before getting to Siam Reap. Thank you, ma’am.

After a motorbike transfer (my first time on a motorbike with my big backpack) to a cheap guesthouse which I opted not to take, I walked around a bit in search of a place to stay. By 4pm I was settled into a spiffy new dorm room (with aircon)! Easy.

I don’t think this was a very difficult border crossing, and actually, from leaving Bangkok to checking into a new place, I was able to do it all in under 9 hours. That’s not bad at all. And luckily I met some good travel folk to chat the day away with which made crossing the border (and all the hassles) that much easier…and even enjoyable when we naturally joked about it later.

Here’s some lessons learned (well, re-learned):

  • Khaosarn Road travel agents are worthless.
  • Just because you’re paying more, doesn’t mean it’ll make things easier or that the service will be better.
  • Always go the local route.

Read the comments below for some other travellers’ stories about the Poipet border scam…

I’d read a few things about the notoriously scammy Thai-Cambodia border crossing, and had heard quite a few travel tales, too. Cambodia has quite the reputation for traveler scams and I wanted to avoid as many of them as possible. But as I’m constantly reminded while traveling, things rarely work out how they’re supposed to.

My bad experiences began all the way back in Bangkok. Well, I didn’t think it was bad at the time. For some reason, I trusted the idea that booking a bus from Bangkok to Siam Reap would help me skip all the hassle. For 350 baht I had a pickup at 7am and the travel agency said I’d be in Siam Reap.

First of all, it wasn’t a bus but a minivan. And not exactly a nice one (with some rather unfriendly French tourists). When we reached the “border”at around noon, the driver had us get off the bull to fill out our immigration & visa forms. Of course, it turned out we were at one of those dodgy “travel agencies/consulates.” I asked a simple question and the guy was instantly rude and off-putting. He didn’t like me questioning the visa fee in front of the other tourists. In fact, he had us separated across multiple tables so we couldn’t really exchange information about what we knew about the border.

He was going to charge almost 1400 baht for a Cambodian visa which I knew for a fact was only $20. The form he had me filling out also called for two passport photos. I only had one because that’s what I’d heard I’d needed. Suspicious? I immediately was.

One thing I heard repeatedly before crossing the border was that the Cambodian tourist visa only costs $20 and if anyone tries to tell you otherwise, you’re not at the border yet. That’s the best advice I can share.

So, anyways, there was this agency man insisting it’d be easier for me to get my visa through him. He said if I didn’t want to, I could try my luck at the border, but it might take hours. After a bit of a standoff, I insisted I wanted to be taken to the border and I’d do it myself. I reminded him that I’d booked and already paid for a bus all the way to Siam Reap, and he told me that he would be unable to wait for me on the other side of the border more than a half hour. Any longer and I’d have to find my own way. By this point, I pretty much hated the man and just wanted to be done with the whole situation. But, always the optimist, I still believed he’d be on the other side waiting for me.

Finally at the border, with the three French tourists from my bus who I convinced to come with me (and who I swear were incapable of smiling), we went through all the border crossing steps. Thai exit stamp? Check! Cambodian infections disease checkpoint? All clear. Now it was time to get my visa-on-arrival—the source of so many scams.

Travels of Adam - It's a blogLooking for a place to stay? I use Agoda.com which has some of the best hotel deals in Europe and Asia. Please note some posts do make me some money but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

 

31 comments

Add a comment
  1. L.J.

    I am planning a short trip to Cambotia now for a few days . I want to take my bike from Thailand but still not sure how much problem it is going to be. I might just ride the bus but I do hate dealing with the scams…still trying to decide….

    • Adam

      Yeah that’s a tough one – not sure how they would deal with a bike at the border, but if you just know the rules and the typical scams beforehand, I think you’ll be fine.

  2. Great blog! We came across the border yesterday and had a very similar experience. Check at our blog about that and all our other travel experiences.
    Jon and Jenny

  3. Good thing you had a positive attitude and found some friendly tourist. Me thinks if you were with the French/Anti-Smile tourist it would of eventually started to play on your mood as well.

  4. Daniel

    Great post — “always got the local route” are words to live by when backpacking through South East Asia.

    • Adam

      Daniel,
      Thanks for the tip!

  5. Sucks to hear this. Hopefully thanks to you we won’t suffer the same fate when we made this crossing in a few months. thanks for the advice.

    • Adam

      Good luck with the border crossing! Even though I fell for so many parts of the scam, it actually wasn’t that bad and was even fun at times.

    • Adam

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Glad you made it through fine and avoided most of the scams!

  6. Sorry, mate. I’d read about all this when I did it also, and just took a local bus to the border, told them off to f’off at the fake places, did the crossing like you and to the free bus to the bus station and then Siem Reap. Was kinda fun with all the stuff going on, but more fun not getting ripped off. Hey, how about that HUGE casino just on the Cambodian side of the border. Odd, heh?

    • Adam

      I completely missed seeing the casino! I feel so cheated!!!

  7. This story make me so happy I ended up flying from Laos to Cambodia (and then from Cambodia to China). Immigration at the airport is always so much easier and less scammy than land crossings, and I’ve also heard poipet is way sketchy. Oh well, at least it’s a story!

    • Adam

      Yep, definitely a story! I just hate getting ripped off as soon as you get to a new place, though, but in end, I’m really enjoying Cambodia and the Cambodians.

  8. This story make me so happy I ended up flying from Laos to Cambodia (and then from Cambodia to China). Immigration at the airport is always so much easier and less scammy than land crossings, and I’ve also heard poipet is way sketchy. Oh well, at least it’s a story!

  9. Anonymous

    We had actually heard all about the Khao San scam, but went ahead and booked there anyway. We made sure to ask for a “big bus” – which the first few travel agents tried to tell me no longer made the trip. Just minibuses. Bullshit. Finally found a guy who assured us that he was selling us a big bus ticket, with a big bus waiting on the other side, for 350. We ended up with an almost empty bus, which was really comfortable.

    We arrived at the restaurant where the visa scam on the Thai side started, but we refused to play along. There were already loads of folks waiting there, they had ridden in on mini-buses. I didn’t think about the multiple tables trick – clever. We did notice that everyone else was eagerly forking over the 1400 baht, and filling out the xeroxed, shady forms. So it took some guts for us to tell Mr. You-Will-Be-Waiting-For-Four-Hours at the border that we would take our chances. In the end, though, he gave up on us. The border was so fast and easy, that we caught up with the rest of the folks from the restaurant in the line to cross (after the visa purchase). Then we were quickly off to the government bus station, trying not to show how smug we felt. The others were clearly pissed that they’d been duped, and they took it out on the Cambodian guys at the bus station. I guess we were lucky there, because we had another big bus waiting, and it took us straight to Siem Reap. Two extremely apologetic Cambodians on the bus tried to convince everyone, repeatedly, that the scam was all Thai. I was weary, but they never did end up trying to scam us in any other way – they just mentioned that they also drive tuk tuks, if anyone was interested. Don’t think anyone was, and they didn’t push. So it actually ended up being a good, cheap way to get across. I’ll be doing it again in a couple weeks, so here’s to hoping all goes well again. (Though I think I’ll be giving the casino bus that leaves from Lumpini park a try. I think I can negotiate my way to the bus station on the other side now …)

  10. Anonymous

    We had actually heard all about the Khao San scam, but went ahead and booked there anyway. We made sure to ask for a “big bus” – which the first few travel agents tried to tell me no longer made the trip. Just minibuses. Bullshit. Finally found a guy who assured us that he was selling us a big bus ticket, with a big bus waiting on the other side, for 350. We ended up with an almost empty bus, which was really comfortable.

    We arrived at the restaurant where the visa scam on the Thai side started, but we refused to play along. There were already loads of folks waiting there, they had ridden in on mini-buses. I didn’t think about the multiple tables trick – clever. We did notice that everyone else was eagerly forking over the 1400 baht, and filling out the xeroxed, shady forms. So it took some guts for us to tell Mr. You-Will-Be-Waiting-For-Four-Hours at the border that we would take our chances. In the end, though, he gave up on us. The border was so fast and easy, that we caught up with the rest of the folks from the restaurant in the line to cross (after the visa purchase). Then we were quickly off to the government bus station, trying not to show how smug we felt. The others were clearly pissed that they’d been duped, and they took it out on the Cambodian guys at the bus station. I guess we were lucky there, because we had another big bus waiting, and it took us straight to Siem Reap. Two extremely apologetic Cambodians on the bus tried to convince everyone, repeatedly, that the scam was all Thai. I was weary, but they never did end up trying to scam us in any other way – they just mentioned that they also drive tuk tuks, if anyone was interested. Don’t think anyone was, and they didn’t push. So it actually ended up being a good, cheap way to get across. I’ll be doing it again in a couple weeks, so here’s to hoping all goes well again. (Though I think I’ll be giving the casino bus that leaves from Lumpini park a try. I think I can negotiate my way to the bus station on the other side now …)

    • Adam

      Dude!

      What an awesome story. I like the bit about the apologetic Cambodians. Haven’t heard that the scam was all Thai, but suppose it’s possible since it begins all the way in Bangkok.

      Thanks for sharing!

  11. Anonymous

    We had actually heard all about the Khao San scam, but went ahead and booked there anyway. We made sure to ask for a “big bus” – which the first few travel agents tried to tell me no longer made the trip. Just minibuses. Bullshit. Finally found a guy who assured us that he was selling us a big bus ticket, with a big bus waiting on the other side, for 350. We ended up with an almost empty bus, which was really comfortable.

    We arrived at the restaurant where the visa scam on the Thai side started, but we refused to play along. There were already loads of folks waiting there, they had ridden in on mini-buses. I didn’t think about the multiple tables trick – clever. We did notice that everyone else was eagerly forking over the 1400 baht, and filling out the xeroxed, shady forms. So it took some guts for us to tell Mr. You-Will-Be-Waiting-For-Four-Hours at the border that we would take our chances. In the end, though, he gave up on us. The border was so fast and easy, that we caught up with the rest of the folks from the restaurant in the line to cross (after the visa purchase). Then we were quickly off to the government bus station, trying not to show how smug we felt. The others were clearly pissed that they’d been duped, and they took it out on the Cambodian guys at the bus station. I guess we were lucky there, because we had another big bus waiting, and it took us straight to Siem Reap. Two extremely apologetic Cambodians on the bus tried to convince everyone, repeatedly, that the scam was all Thai. I was weary, but they never did end up trying to scam us in any other way – they just mentioned that they also drive tuk tuks, if anyone was interested. Don’t think anyone was, and they didn’t push. So it actually ended up being a good, cheap way to get across. I’ll be doing it again in a couple weeks, so here’s to hoping all goes well again. (Though I think I’ll be giving the casino bus that leaves from Lumpini park a try. I think I can negotiate my way to the bus station on the other side now …)

  12. Mrsbrownstone

    I experienced this scam, but when we arrived across the border we were told (by our paid for minivan driver from khao san road) the new bus station hadn’t been built and our only way of getting to Siem Reap was to pay for a taxi or wait four hours for a bus, the taxi of course not included in our 350B bus fare we had already paid.

    We stood our ground and after an hour they reducedthe taxi fare they were trying to get us to pay to a quarter of the original price. On the way into siem reap though our taxi stopped and we were transferred into a tuk tuk which, after asking what guest house we wanted to go to, proceeded to take us to the wrong one trying to make us sign up for a Angkor trip with them before he would take us to the right guest house!

    Luckily I’d been following a map as we drove through the town so I knew vaguely where we were so we just got out and walked off to find our guest house ourselves. It was a totally off putting expeierence, and next time I went to Cambodia a few months later I flew into Phnom Penh.

    • Adam

      Thanks for sharing your story & experience! As much as everyone’s heard of it, it’s impressive so many of us still have to deal with it.

      And I had the same deal with the tuk-tuks/motorbikes in Siam Reap. When we arrived, we were all split up to respective drivers (for free) to take us to our guest houses. There were 4 of us traveling independently and we were all just planning to look for a place when we got downtown. He split us all up onto different vehicles and then we were all dropped off at the same place!

      I did the same as you – pulled out my map and walked to where I wanted to go.

  13. I’ve heard lots of dodgy things about the border crossing – glad you did end up making it through!

    • Adam

      Yup, got through just fine in the end, and with a story to tell I s’pose. (and warning heed to others!)

  14. G G

    Wow! Thanks for the story, Adam. Will definitely keep that in mind for our crossing in the fall if we go by land.

    We did actually have a positive package experience to get from Khao San to Ko Tao this past summer…I researched the crap out of it on the internet first to see what company previous travelers recommended (if any) that wouldn’t steal from your bags or drug you and all the other classics and Lomprayah was recommended, which I second. It was pretty seamless, a bus from Khao San to the pier and their own boat waiting for you when you get there. Reasonably priced too if I recall. We did a similar thing to get to Ko Lipe from Khao San a few weeks ago and booked through the agent adjacent to @home hotel (where we always, always stay), behind Burger King. That one was pretty smooth too. They even included free dinner at the rest stop (same one they used for the route to Ko Tao too) which we were wary of and didn’t eat, but our two friends did and they had no problems. But yeah like I said did a lot of research on the first, and first asked our hotel staff (whom we trust because we’ve been there so many times and they’re great) if the adjacent agency was legit and not going to screw us over.

    Sorry you had a rough time but glad you met more friendly people than the ones who didn’t smile and that in the end it wasn’t too bad! Good on you for not paying the 1400 Baht visa at least!!

    • Adam

      G!

      I’ve now booked three different buses from Khao San. The first one (to Chiang Mai) went so well and I got such a good deal compared to my bus buddies, that I was sure I wouldn’t have the problem again! Alas, the last two (to Phuket and to Siam Reap) went much worse. And one of those was even from the same company as the CM one!

      Funny how everyone has their own guest house on/near Khao San that they like to go to each time! I’ve got one, too.

  15. Yuck :( I’ve heard a lot about this scam and was thankful to have sidestepped it when I went through this border a couple of years ago.

    It’s definitely usually better (and less scam-y!) to organise stuff yourself – I learned that in Turkey when rather than booking direct with the bus company, like I’d done several times before without incident, I booked through a hostel in Istanbul.

    Big mistake! The minivan was full of backpackers, unlike the coaches I’d taken which were full of locals. We then drove around Istanbul for an hour, ended up where we started and then the driver stopped in a car park for four hours insisting there was traffic. It was completely bizarre, and made our 12 hour bus ride even longer.

    • Adam

      Yeah, I definitely feel like should’ve known better. I booked a train through a hostel once in India and it was one of my worst booking experiences in the country.

  16. Sounds like a long day, but I suppose it could always be worse. Thanks for the information. I’ll have to keep it in mind if I ever do the Thailand/Cambodia border crossing.

    • Adam

      Yep. Apparently if I’d opened up my guidebook, I would’ve know about all of this, but, uh, I didn’t. (I’m lazy)

    • Adam

      local is almost always better!

Comments are closed.