We spent our last week in Thailand at Koh Chang, which is located fairly close to the Cambodian border. It therefore only made sense we would travel overland to our next destination, Siem Reap. We read in the lonely planet about the many scams on this route, and also heard rumors in the backpack community about this notorious overland border track. Time to undergo this typical southeast Asian scam ourselves!
We went to a little travel agency inside a fancy hotel just around the corner from our hostel. We figured since the travel agency is somehow connected to the hotel and the hotel has a high status to maintain, we were less likely to be ripped of and scammed during the commute. There were various options we could choose from, starting from 600 baht and going up to 1100 baht (15 Euro/16 USD up to 28 Euro/29 USD). We chose the one in between: 900 baht for a trip with a minivan towards the bording crossing, getting off the van to actually cross the border, and then another trip with a minivan from the border to Siem Reap.
So far so good
We were picked up from our hostel in Koh Chang at 07:15am, where we handed over our ticket and received a sticker like farmers brand their cattle. The minivan drove us straight to the ferry which left at 08:30am. In about 30 minutes we reached the mainland of Thailand and started our commute to the Cambodian border. Halfway we had a little wee- and gas stop and around 1pm we arrived at a little restaurant where an extremely friendly guy entered our minivan and politely asked us to all get off and take our belongings with us.
And so the scamming began…
We were divided into little groups of tourists and all had our own ‘guy’ taking care of us. They are friendly, they smile, they joke around and they try to make you feel right at home – all carefully thought through so you won’t even consider it being a scam. Think again: it is. We were charged 1500 baht (around 38 Euro/40 USD) which is 300 baht more than I was charged when I flew to Phnom Penh last year. When I pointed this out to ‘our guy’ he smiled and said ‘yeeees, is because you fly! Is cheaper!’ This is obviously a lot of bullshit but since the ‘restaurant’ they drop you at is about 5km from the border and walking in the heat with 15kg on your back is not very tempting, you have no choice but to obey.
After handing over the money, passport and filling out the immigration forms we received a special pass which was our post-border-pass to Siem Reap and got our passports back with the visa already in it. We had to wait for about 30 minutes until we left for the short drive to the border. Once at the border we were divided into groups of about 15 people and got a little speech about Cambodia from ‘our guy’. He told us that Cambodia is very poor and that you can pay with USD everywhere but that it costs 14 USD to take money out of an ATM. He suggested everyone took as much Thai Baht as possible out of the ATMs that we were conveniently standing next to so that they could change it to Cambodian Riel for free once they passed the border. Later on it would become clear why we were given this ‘friendly advice’…
Bye Thailand, hello Cambodia!
We then walked to the Thai border crossing to hand in our departure card and to get ‘stamped out’ of the country. After that we walked about 300 meters to the Cambodian Immigration to get ‘stamped into’ the country. Once that’s done you’re allowed to stay in the country for 30 days (even though my visa mysteriously says 3 months….)
Despite having paid 300 Baht extra for having a minivan drive us from the Cambodian border to Siem Reap we were put on a big bus. After nagging ‘our guy’ about this a couple of times (it was just about the principle) and threatening to call the travel agency he finally gave in and said we would go on the minivan soon. Suddenly the big bus stopped and the guys shouted ‘IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE BAHT TO RIEL YOU CAN DO IT NOW BUT HURRY HURRY ONLY FIVE MINUTE HURRY!!!” It then became clear to us that they had an agreement with that particular currency exchange office where tourists get rushed to change their Bahts for Riel while they’re probably being ripped off without even noticing it because of the time pressure. We then got on the minivan with a truly friendly driver who even agreed to drop of us off straight at our guesthouse instead of at the bus station, where we arrived around 6pm.
I must say that this whole scam-thing wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Yes, we were overcharged but I really don’t know how we could’ve avoided this. Eventually we arrived in Siem Reap safely where we just enjoyed our first Angkor beers and are very excited for our one-month Cambodia experience!