In an effort to try and shed a bit of light on the truth about this notoriously dodgy border crossing here is an account of our experience of the Aranypathat to Poipet border crossing and tips on how to avoid being scammed.
For those who can’t be bothered to read all of the below here’s the short version:
1. Don’t buy your visa until you are at the official border crossing called “The Office Of The International Border Check Point Of Poipet” to the right of the massive sculpted Cambodian gate. There will be uniformed officials and a big blue sign on the wall that tells you the cost of the visa is $20 – don’t pay more than $20 no matter what anyone tells you!
2. Take food and water on the bus, there’s nothing you can do about that the fact the buses stop at their freinds’ restaurants on the way where you will be charged a lot of money for probably crap food (that’s how they make the ticket proces cheap)
3. Don’t believe anything the bus driver / bus guide says. The sole purpose of the bus guide is to con you into eating and sleeping in specific places that give him a kick-back and get you to exchange your Thai baht/dollars at awful rates
4. Don’t change your money at the bus station. The rate is a joke, the guide will lie and say you have to, you don’t, and yes American dollars are accepted everywher in Cambodia
5. Book your accom in Siam Reap ahead of time (and a pickup) or at least know the name of a place you think you might want to stay at. Otherwise you’ll be whisked away by a tuk tuk driver to a place that gives them commission
The bus from Koh Chang in Thailand all the way to Siem Reap in Campodia was just 550TB, this is around £7 and is a total bargain. Great! But no, it’s a bargain because you pay for your bus ride in other ways, or at least your ‘friendly’ guides along the way will try and make you.There is no way around this if you want to arrive by land rather than air. Buy the cheap bus ticket and just be thankful there is one small benefit to having to do this journey
I forget the name of the tour company we travelled with as the pickup driver took the ticket and wouldn’t give it back but have heard they’re all the same. The journey started at 6:30 am by getting a packed but comfortable mini bus across to the mainland, and then on to the Thai / Cambodian border. The journey there took about 3 hours and was comfortable and uneventful.We were dropped off at what we were told was the official visa office but it looked suspiciously like a restaurant to us. We were expecting this so we walked begrudgingly into the restauant-cum-scam-office where everyone was ushered in like cattle to a back office and given a pink sticker.
This was called “Thap Thong Kam Travel & Tour Co. Ltd” but i’m sure there are dozens of similar places where you might end up. A menu full of over-priced Thai and Western food was put in front of us and we were asked to pay 1200 Baht for a Cambodian visa, this is around $35. We had read up on this thoroughly though and knew for a fact that the price should be only $20. We told the lady that there was no way we would pay that much and that she could have $20 or nothing. She got irate and started shouting that it was 1200TB because it was an express visa and you could only pay $20 if you get your visa 3 days in advance. Don’t beleive this or any variation on this story, the price is $20 (double-check this is still correct at www.fco.gov.uk). We wouldn’t give-in and as soon as we raised our voices and mentioned the word scam we were quickly ushered outside away from the ears of other ‘customers’.
We were then told that we would be taken by a separate mini van to the rest of the group to a border where we would have to queue for “hours” to get a visa. We piled into a van with around 10 other travellers (who had all bought their visas from the scammers). We weren’t sure what would happen to us but kind of suspected we would be left at the border and miss our on-going connection. Don’t worry, this won’t happen.
Arriving at the border those who had bought their visas already were pointed in 1 direction while those who hadn’t (just 3 of us) were lead by a guide to the Cambodian Consulate; “see, it’s the consulate” the guide made sure he pointed the sign out to us before we entered the building. Great, we thought, looks official enough. When we entered the tiny room our hearts sank as we saw other tourists handing over wads of cash.”1400 Thai Baht for visa” we were told. By this time i’d had it so I just raised my voice and said “I know it’s $20”. Doing this saves you a lot of time because they move you on before other people hear you. We were taken outside by our guide and followed by a man from the office who tried to tell us we were at the official consulate and blah blah blah. We didn’t respond and just asked our guide in no uncertain terms to take us to the right place to get a visa.
Without much hesitation at all he ushered us towards the passport control office where he said he’d wait on the other side. After stamping out of Thailand we headed through the back entrance to no-mans-land and supprisingly the same guy was waiting to point us at the next building, he said he’d wait down the road for us. We reached a large stone building called “The Office Of The International Border Check Point Of Poipet”. Stepping inside we saw uniformed officials and a huge blue sign on the wall saying ‘TOURIST VISAS $20. So do not buy your visa until you come to this place, you can’t miss the huge blue sign on the wall.
We paid our $20 and were then pointed in the direction of the office to get our passports stamped into Cambodia (on the same side of the road but through the massive gate). Here we met up with everyone who had been on our minibus from Koh Chang, so paying the extra doesn’t even get you through the process any quicker! In fact we were the only people there getting a visa because everyone else gets theirs from the scammers so it is actually quicker to go to the official place – what a joke.
We got our stamp and all piled onto a free local connection bus to the main bus depot. A young man gets up and feeds you loads of crap about how you have to change your money at the bus station and he tells you the wrong exchange rates. This is scam number 2, do not believe a word he says to you. He even unbelievably asks for a donation for his advice at the end.
We got to the bus station where we would be transfered onto our bus which would take us from the border to Siam Reap. The guide on this bus then told us a lot of rubbish and tried to get us to book guest houses with him. Don’t do it, book before you arrive or sort it yourself once you get there. You will be paying the bus drivers commission and probably staying in a skanky dive if youn listen to him.Thankfully we had already booked a room at the Avista Hotel (strongly recommend, very clean, good facilities and close to Angkor Wat, bit out of centre though).
Then the final and most irritating scam, 2 hours into the journey from the border and only 1 hour from Siam Reap we stopped at yet another restaurant where we were ordered off the bus. It was around 7pm by now and the mozzies were swarming as we sat in the restaurant which also surprisingly sold crap, rip-off food. Again, we knew this would happen so had bought plenty of food and drink with us so we just sat in the restaurant, ate our own food and waited.30 minutes later we were back on the bus and FINALLY heading to Siam Reap. The scamming doesn’t stop there though, once you arrive you are greeted by swarms of tuk tuk drivers who the guide on the bus assures us will take us for ‘free’ to a guest house. The ride might be free but the guesthouse is probably skanky and you’ll be paying for the tuk tuk and the bus guides commission in your room fee.
Final tip, know your destination in Siam Reap and negotiate your own price with a tuk tuk driver, should cost $1 maybe $2.
Posted by Lauren 18/11/2010