Thailand: Border Crossing

The Thailand/Cambodia border crossing at Aranyaprathet/Poipet was a nightmare.  We read horror stories about the torture to prepare (but in retrospect it may have been better to know nothing going in…like complete ignorance=bliss).  Even knowing what to expect, I could not have imagined anything as unfun as we experienced.  First, there were a series of scams to watch out for:

  1. Many of the bus companies and countless tuk-tuk drivers are in on a visa scam where they take you to a fake but official looking office and charge you double or triple the cost of the Visa for Cambodia.  The reason people fall for this even knowing about it in advance is that you never see the real border until it’s too late.  Everyone is herded off the bus, everyone stands in line, everyone pays and then some realize, “I just got ripped off!”
  2. Then some of the buses who tourists have paid to take them across the border say they won’t wait unless you expedite your crossing (codeword for pay the bribe to get done faster).  You can pay a 100baht ($3) bribe at the Cambodian Visa On Arrival office to get your visa faster.  You can pay $4-6 dollars to have an official complete your entry documents for you and cut the line with your passport.  I’ve seen where this money goes…into a drawer in a desk near the stamp into Cambodia line.  So much money in there!
  3. There is a transportation scam where a company that has a monopoly for onward travel from the border ushers tourists into a line for a “free shuttle” to a bus station way out of town that then charges crazy prices for buses, cabs and shared autos to other destinations on their own timetable, but once there you are stuck paying more and eating the expensive food while you wait until every seat is filled only to get dropped off way outside of town.

We read about all these scams and more.  We have traveled across countless borders.  But, we’ll keep learning from our success and mistakes.  We took the 5:55am train from Hualumphong station.  It was brilliant.  Clean-ish, new-ish, on time-ish (compared to India, of course).  I got a little sleep…plus we had food to eat, room to stretch our legs and good travel company in the form of two exchange students from France/Germany on a visa run to extend their stays.

Resting on the Train

We used their impressive Thai to negotiate a 60 baht tuk-tuk 6km to the border for the 4 of us (don’t pay more!).  Even though we told our driver we had already gotten visas in advance for Cambodia, he still took us to a fake visa processing center and not the border.  Luckily, I had looked up a photo of the building to stamp out of Thailand, and we refused to pay unless we were taken there.  Sadly, we saw busloads of people getting dropped at these scam offices and only their lighter wallets know the fate of that mistake.

After we had stamped out of Thailand, we walked the few hundred meters to the Visa on Arrival office IN CAMBODIA (don’t get the visa beforehand at the border).  We joined tons of other travelers in line to hand over our passport and $20 fee, but when we reached the front of the line, the officer asked for $20 AND 100 baht.  I pointed to the official sign that said $20 and asked what the 100 baht was for…he told me “processing” which I knew was a lie.  So I refused to pay it and he quickly removed me from line.  I was told to wait.  After 5 minutes, I asked how long I needed to wait…”10 minutes!”  It was like timeout and it successfully got me away from the rest of the folks who were paying the bribe.  But, Joshua would take no part!  He stayed as far away from me as possible while I made my stand against THE MAN.  A few minutes later, they processed our passports and we were off $6 richer…which is not a lot, but the wait was minimal and that buys 12 beers in Cambodia!!!  After it was all said and done, we found out we could have organized a visa in advance online for $5 which would have saved some headache (and embarrassment for Joshua).

W moved from line to line…the next line was for getting stamped in to Cambodia.  We watched countless groups hand over wads of cash, get walked to the front of the line where the officials filled out their entry documents and enter Cambodia.  We waited a good 45 minutes…staring the whole time at the desk drawer where they kept all that dough…baht…riel…dollars.  There was a “Suggestions” box, and I nearly recommended locking the drawer or keeping their loot somewhere else a little more inconspicuous.

Once they stamped us in, the next challenge was getting somewhere (anywhere) in Cambodia.  We had pre-arranged a cab with our guest house in Siem Reap…even made them include a secret code word on the back of the sign that would be waiting for us (San Francisco 49ers).  We knew we were looking for Mr. Hun, so when another joker approached us with a sign which did say 49ers on the back, we asked who sent him…and he had never heard of Mr. Hun.  We phoned our guest house who said it was the right guy, but by then we had drawn WAY too much attention to ourselves and Cambodians on motos with fake (but real looking) police hats were asking us where we were going and why we weren’t waiting in line for the free shuttle.  Besides for physically touching us, they did everything else in their power to keep us from heading into town.  We walked around their barricades and kept on.  Finally, one moto-cop stopped us wearing a SF Giants hat.  I started cheering and asking him about Cambodia and generally distracting him so Joshua could have a nice talk with our “new Mr. Hun.”  Then I heard Joshua say, “That’s crazy…we aren’t paying anymore than we agreed.  Get lost!”  I found out later that was code for we will try to lose these guys and meet you in an alley near the local bus station a few blocks away.  It worked…for the most part.  We still had to pay off one guy following us, didn’t get a chance to put our bags in the trunk and were thrown into the car that drove like lightening to Siem Reap…so fast that we hit a dog on the way and the driver wouldn’t even stop.  He finally did a few miles later to see if he had damaged his bumper…

Total Time: 4 days

Exchange Rate: 1 dollar=30 Thai Baht

Cost of Fried Rice, Pad Thai or Wonton soup on the street: 3o baht

Price of a Beer: 70 baht for a Chang

Number of Cities Visited: 1, so far

Number of Boats: 1

Number of Trains: 2

Number of Cabs: 4

Number of Scams Witnessed: 4

Favorite Place: I LOVE BANGKOK

Least Favorite Place:  the Thai/Cambodian border

Best Food: Thai lunch with Thara…couldn’t tell you what we ordered, but I ate it all!

Worst Food: Pad Thai near Khao San Road…don’t let that be an example of the possibilities

Place to Visit Next Time: Ayutthaya

Most Popular Saying: Same same, but different.  Thais use this to describe everything!

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