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.
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…