All the warnings, all the scams, all the touts, surely I couldn’t possible rack up them all in one mere border crossing?
Well it seems the scammers were out in full force and some of them you just can’t do anything about, I shall explain…
I got the bus from Mochit station (the northern Bangkok bus station) for 207tbh which took 5 hours to get to Aranyapraphet, all the buses stop and they all take 5 hours despite whatever the sales person will tell you. My bus was at 14:30 so a bit late, it is highly advisable to get an early bus (09:30) if possible. There is an option to buy a ticket direct from an agent in Khao San Road, but it will be a tight fit, awful ride and the same price as a more comfortable spacious bus and probably take longer.
On arrival at the bus station you’ll find yourself with a few Tuk Tuk options, you can ask to go to the border, but you’ll still be taken to a travel agent that will sell you a visa and travel package to Siem Reap. Agree a price (I had 60tbh) with the driver so you don’t get charged a higher amount afterwards (A scam but I won’t count that this time as it’s common knowledge in Thailand).
At the border
The Border crossing looks like a border crossing with big barriers, buildings and a fair amount of people around. A travel agent will be one building and fairly empty and probably have adverts for other tours (This is scam #1).
I got a story from the travel agent about drivers who leave people out in the middle of nowhere so go with a police sponsored taxi driver, I don’t think such a thing actually exists but that’s what I was getting apparently. Toyota Camrys are the weapon of choice for the taxi drivers here, same as what you will find in Thailand but older models. I paid 1200tbh and that included the visa which normal cost should be US$20-25 (~850tbh)
The border crossing involves checking out of Thailand, then being greeted by a friendly Cambodian man who’ll make some joke about where you are from, with me being from England I got a repetitive ‘Lovely Jubbly’ and asked about football.
Walking past a pair of big casinos (these cater for the Thais who love to gamble but can not in Thailand as it’s illegal there), one being called Poipet Casino; I got rushed to the Cambodia immigration where I got my arrival card and visa given to me by the travel agent checked. Then it was onto a Tuk Tuk. These arn’t proper Tuk Tuks like you would be used to in Thailand but a motorbike with a side cage to sit in escorting me about 100M up the road where I had to wait for the taxi. I was the only westerner about so had to do this solo (another reason to go during the day – more people to team up with) and was surrounded by 4 cambodian men as well as the motorbike rider.
Scam #2 was to change some money into the Cambodian currency of Riel. Riel is not even used much in Cambodia, they much prefer US dollars, and even the ATM machines in town give you US $ not Riel. The scam here is the exchange rate is very poor, and the idea is for you to get rid of all your Thai Baht before continuing the journey. They will tell you there is no ATMs in Siem Reap (scam #3) and the exchange rate gets progressively worst the closer you get to the city (scam #4). ATM machines are plentiful, and the exchange rate is the normal rate in the city, rather then a rip off rate that the taxi drivers get commission for. I exchanged 1000tbh and got 50,000CMR, which I was later told is a bad rate. At time of writing 4000CMR got you 1 US$ so I should have got around 140,000 CMR.
I then had to wait 10 minutes for the taxi to arrive, which was someones cousin who didn’t speak English. They took my luggage and placed it on the floor, but I suspect this is also scam #5 as a potential to pick pocket or take something from your bag if you don’t keep a close eye on it.
With the taxi driver arriving, it was time to get in. My bag stayed with me on the middle back seat rather then the boot/trunk. As I always want a option to escape, being in the darkness surrounded by locals on your own in a new country can be intimidating and I suspect it would be even more so if you was female.
In the car…
Another man who spoke good English sat in the back with me, only the driver up front, it later occured to me the guy sat to me was simply a translator, that is his job as well being a scammer, so expect some suave language. But in hindsight as long as the driver knows where to go there is no need for a translator wherever you are in the world.
We drove for about 1 and a half hours, the low fuel warning light was constantly on through this period too… We stopped in a small town where about 10 people surrounded the car and kept looking in at me, it was intimidating and I had no idea what was going on. I heard ‘150 baht’ but apart from that my lack of knowledge on the Cambodian language (Khmer) prevented me from understanding what was going on.
I was then told by the translator we had to wait for more people to pay for the trip (scam #6) basically I had paid for a shared taxi not one on my own apparently, so they wanted to get 4 on the back and 2 in the front. I assume the price for them was 150tbh from this village to Siem Reap. Additionally at the same time they asked me for petrol/gas money of 1000tbh (about US$35) (scam #7).
They also said as I was not sharing the taxi I’d have to pay full taxi price of 2400tbh (US$ 100). I refused to this one and stood my ground, no taxi should stop of to pick up more people, that’s not a taxi, that’s a bus, and buses are cheaper and bigger. (scam #8)
He then said as I was not paying the full taxi fee and not wanted to share I had to have a guesthouse in this town for the night (scam #9). I didn’t even know the name of the place and already booked accomodation in Siem Reap, I suspect if I did stay overnight the taxi driver wouldn’t be waiting anyway and there wasn’t exactly a taxi rank or bus stop around to get me there in the morning. It wouldn’t exactly be 5 star accommodation either!
Eventually we ended up going on, my excuse to get out was I already booked accommodation in Siem Reap and paid for it (I had paid a deposit) and if I didn’t turn up by midnight they would call police and send out search party for me.
The translator got in the front seat this time and another random man from the town joined me on the back bench. We continued on so I managed to get out of those scams except taking on one more person.
Stopping for fuel
We drove another 20 minutes (still on low fuel warning light, I noticed fuel guage was just below full so I assume this fuel light is just rigged to permenantly be on or on a switch which they did not use (scam #10) and we stopped by a road side stall which sold fuel in old coca cola bottles (this is common in Cambodia, large fuel stations are only in bigger cities). The translator asked me again for 1000tbh and I told him I exchanged it all before at the border so had none (I hadn’t – I had more but wasn’t prepared to give it up).
I got out and went to the toilet (they had one a minute or so walk away) taking my bags with me. I got back to find the engine off, but relieved the car was still there. I sat back in the car and saw no fuel go in the car, but somehow they still insisted on me paying the 1000tbh fuel bill, eventually I gave them the US$ equivalent of $35 just to get a move on (scam #11). Reason being is this I think is the area where people really get hit hard, if you don’t have the money, they just leave you here exactly half way between the Poipet Border and Siem Reap and drive back to the border themselves. They said they had no money for the fuel (scam #12) but I saw the driver had plenty in his shirt pocket in many currencies.
He also said that it is 4 hours to Siem Reap (scam #13) and we was only half way as we had taken 2 hours so far (this includes the big delay with them trying to get more people in the taxi). It used to take 4 hours when the road was bad a few years ago, but it’s good now and only takes 2.5hrs if going direct by a modern car like the Camry taxi, a bit longer if by bus.
This is where I did something clever which these scam artists have not seen a tourist do before. I got my mobile phone out and took a picture of the licence plate, the photo is below for the world to see now! I highly encourage anyone who gets in this sort of situation to do this, also try to take pictures of the scam artists faces, but I doubt you’d get away with that one…
This had a reaction that wasn’t immediate, but before setting off the the translator said the driver would take me to Siem Reap alone now and he was going back to the border. The driver started bitching and then the translator told me the driver was scared and so he had to come with us. At first I thought he meant scared of me robbing him or something, but as it turned out 5 minutes down the road he revealed he was scared of the photo I took and what I’d do with it.
I had my laptop out at this point as it had the address and phone number of where I was staying on it and I was writing it down on my phone. The translator became very warey himself and asked what I was doing, thinking I was sending an email (which is impossible unless you have a 3G style sim card and can access internet anywhere via satellite). He then insisted on me giving my phone to him to see the picture I took. I was writing down the address and told him he couldn’t have it, but he made a grab for the phone.
The driver was waving the US$35 around, and the translator said he was very concerned and said I could have the money back as it didn’t matter as much as me having that photo. Probably the first time in a poor country I’ve heard someone rate something above money in terms of importance, so clearly I’d do something right/wrong here (delete from what side of the story you want to look at it from).
I finished writing the address down and quickly copied the photo to another part of my phone (the memory stick rather then the phones own memory) and said I’d show him the photo being deleted so he knew it wasn’t there. He just kept saying no, and insisting I give him the phone, I was worried he’d chuck it out the window, but that wasn’t on his mind fortunately. I showed him the photo and he deleted it taking my phone off me now, he then started looking through my other photos saying I had taken 2, which I felt he was now violating my privacy by going through my phone, he almost deleted another random personal photo which got me a bit aggressive and I got the phone back. I told him it was gone now and he was not to touch my phone again.
Onwards to Siem Reap
We then drove to Siem Reap in virtual silence. The translator tried to give me a few random tips for surviving in Cambodia and not to get ripped off which I thought was ironic. He also told me about Cambodians not liking Thai people and the Thai baht (although he was still happy to take my Thai currency).
He then asked why us western men were so big even though we don’t eat as much rice as Cambodian men, which shows how little intellect this man actually had. I told him I was big because I was a British boxer (I’m not, I’m average sized at 5′ 10″ by UK standards and never done boxing in my life). He asked if I came here to beat up Cambodian men to win money and I said yes which made him panic a bit too (revenge is sweet), but it certainly gave them a warning that one day these guys are going to pick on the wrong person, they were certainly challenged with me anyhow.
Finally we got into Siem Reap, they said for the hassle they’d get a Tuk Tuk driver to take me to my guesthouse for free (scam #14) and I said for the hassle they can take me right to my guesthouse. My guesthouse (and most of them in Siem Reap) said they’d pick me up when I arrive in Siem Reap, but my Thai sim card did not work, and I couldn’t see any pay phones about so the offer was a bit useless. The drivers asked a few tuk tuk drivers who didn’t know exactly where it was, but eventually we came across it as all the guesthouses are close together.
It was at this point the translator asked me for the slip that said I’d paid $45 (of which they get $15 apparently) hence why I had to pay for fuel (scam #15) as he got money for returning the slip, I can’t see how, but I gave the slip back anyway (they never checked it and should have before immediately to prove I was the right person for this taxi journey. Stupidly I realised the Thai tour company I booked with had their name on that slip so I can’t name and shame that company now, maybe this is the real reason why they took the slip (scam #16 ?) as I told them when I had my laptop out that I had a website and could tell thousands of people about their scams which he said I shouldn’t as he wanted people to come to Cambodia.
Scam #17 Is arriving late in Siem Reap the tuk tuk drivers know you are tired and don’t want to walk around a new city all alone so take you to different guesthouses where they get commission and tell you the one you booked is far away or bad, as I avoided the tuk tuk drivers I avoided this well known scam too.
There is more scams that I didn’t come across too (police demanding money on route to cross) that you have to watch out for too.
So that was my welcome to Cambodia. At least I never got shot like they used to do to tourists a few years back. Next time I’ll just fly and get a cheap ticket I think.