From Bangkok to Angkor Wat - scams on the Thailand-Cambodian border
Bangkok - Thailand, Siem Reap - Cambodia
In the following article, I would like to share my experience with the Thailand-Cambodian border crossing on the way from Bangkok to Siem Reap. This land border crossing is notoriously famous for many ongoing tourist scams, which every traveler should know about.
In the text, I describe the purely touristy variant of the trip, booked through one of the many travel agencies on Bangkok's Khao San Road. Several times, the staff of the agency assured us that we would change the bus only once during the entire trip. As they said - the first minibus takes us from Bangkok (Khao San Road) to the border, we cross on foot and then beyond the border crossing we will board a standard size direct line bus to Siem Reap. Simple as. However, the reality is way different ...
I have to mention that taking local transport on this route is not recommended. Ultimately, the journey would be very lengthy, strenuous and, in particular, thanks to the well-known fraud activity going on the Thailand-Cambodian border, you would end up paying much more.
How did it go?
In the morning at 7:30, we arrive at the travel agency a few steps away from the western end of the famous Khao San Road in Bangkok, where we had personally booked a ticket to Siem Reap one day in advance. After half an hour of waiting, a driver picks us up, leads us to one of the neighboring streets where we get in a white van, which was not a minibus as previously stated. The driver drives like insane, so even with a stop to refuel the gas, we get to the Thailand-Cambodian border within 3 hours.
To our surprise, a few kilometers ahead of the crossing - in Aranya Prathet, the driver drives into a narrow courtyard of some dubious village restaurant and stops. We come out of the van, and immediately we get surrounded by a swarm of super outgoing Thais. They are trying to make an amicable conversation, and use on every tourist phrases in his/her native language. Unfortunately for me, they didn't know any Czech. At the same time, they constantly encourage us to have something to eat at their restaurant (since it's lunchtime already, right). We all politely reject, and then the sweet expression of the Thais begins slowly fading away. A few moments later, they start inviting us one by one inside the restaurant, into a temporary office.
We had absolutely no idea why's that stop, why they invite us individually inside the restaurant and why we simply do not continue straight to the border.
It was another scam of course. The whole theater was for the sole purpose of getting the most money from naive tourists.
Those who didn't have a tourist visa to Cambodia in the passport were offered one — in such a compelling and threatening tone that an inexperienced tourist could seriously consider buying it. These thugs are going to try all the tricks on you - either they will state that it is impossible to obtain a visa directly at the border (they will tell you 1000 + 1 reasons) or they will take advantage of stressed out tourists not being able to calculate the right conversion between THB and USD (visa fee).
They will force you to accept the visa at an unreasonable price of 45 USD (instead of 35 USD at the border or embassy).
That's how they tried to get 45 USD out of a young Englishman. He seemed not liking the price, he excused himself and went to the bathroom. Instead, he went out and asked us how much should the visa cost. At this very moment, he had one of those thugs right away on his back. They were not happy with the fact that he was consulting the fee with someone else. From the super cute Thai, he suddenly became an aggressive fellow who began to engage the Englishman with insulting phrases, of course, the Englishman refused to pay.
It's our turn. We enter a dark room located at the back of the restaurant. My first impression was that these thugs try to make all this theater look relatively formal. Two Thais are sitting on sides, and a big guy giving us a stern look, sitting at the massive table in the middle of the room. Probably the boss of this funny gang. Clearly, they already know that we have a tourist visa for Cambodia in our passports. Yet, the serious guy asks for passports. I push back asking what he needs my passport for. At that moment, I did not trust this band of scammers ... The guy says dryly that he's the owner of the bus taking us to the border, so it's his duty to check if we have all the papers in order. I hand him my passport. The guy ironically comments that he does not understand why the hell we have been requesting a visa for Cambodia already in Hanoi .
When he sees that there is no way to rip us off, he has another ace up his sleeve. He pulls out the Arrival / Departure Card of the drawer. Yes, the card, which is free to get at any the border crossing or airport. He talks some BS about the unique code on the card, and my obligations to fill out this card correctly to be able to cross the border. Then he finishes the monolog with words - 100 THB per person (almost 3 USD). I ask him if is he serious and I refuse to pay that. I get even more ironic comments, and then he says that I will see for myself that I'll need the card at the border.
He was right. I had to fill out the Arrival-Departure Card at the border, except for the fact that I received it for free.
Note: There have been several instances where tourists were ruthlessly forced to buy an overcharged tourist visa from the Thai scumbags. In case they refused to purchase such visa, they were excluded from the transport to the border. Another common trick is double-charging for the visa. First, they charge you on the bus (scammers) and then they charge you again at the border (legit officials).
When the Thais see that they can't crack us and get any dollars, they place a colored sticker dot on our T-shirt and send us to the van. We finally head off to the border. We walk seamlessly through the border and immigration control. Behind the border a free shuttle bus is waiting for us, we do not know what's going on, but we get on. The bus drops us at the bus station, 10 km away. It's around 1 PM. At the station, some local thug is trying to sell us lunch at the restaurant in the vestibule. We are told that the earliest bus to Siem Reap departs at 5 PM!
Note: If you do not have a direct ticket from Siem Reap to Bangkok, the van will drop you right here. The only chance to get to the 10 km away border is hopping on a tourist bus. Drivers usually ask for 2 USD, and it's not guaranteed they'll take you at all. While waiting at the bus stand (3h, way there and back), we haven't seen any free shuttle bus.
We're waiting. Shortly before 3 PM, one of the vans heading to Siem Reap is slowly starting to fill up. We definitely don't want to get stuck in here for another 2 hours, so I go a little bit harsh on the local guys and, see, we get the last two spots in the van.
We head off. So halfway we could stop at a driver friend's restaurant. For the third time today, we are forced to buy some refreshments. The driver explains us vehemently that Siem Reap is still far away, over two hours, so we should seriously order something. We resist the coercion, and we do not buy anything. During the entire hour of waiting, none of the tourists eats nor buys anything. Just the driver had a good lunch. We resume our journey, this time we travel through a hefty storm in the car without functional wipers. The driver, a silly youngster, is not concerned at all by diminished visibility and continues driving like crazy. A few minutes after 5 PM, we finally reach Siem Reap. We stop at the front of the pre-arranged guesthouse (driver made arrangements on the phone prior to arriving). The driver and his assistant are trying to convince us to stay at the guesthouse of their friends.
After all the day we are beyond fed up of all the tricks, so despite the starting rain, we say no and we go out to look for accommodation elsewhere.
The original offer of the travel agency stated: one minibus to the border and one standard bus from the border to Siem Reap. In fact, we've had the honor to use services of a total of 3 minibusses, 1 standard bus, and 3 restaurant facilities. Prepare yourself, armor yourself with patience. You will need it!