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Cambodia Overland

Travelers' Reports:
Overland, Thailand/Cambodia - Koh Kong border crossing

Page 2 of 4 (2004-2005)

These are reports detailing experiences traveling independently between Bangkok and Phnom Penh by way of Koh Kong. If you'd like to share your own experiences, please e-mail them to me.

By road Thailand and Ko Mak (December 2005):

Some time early in December, instead of taking the ferry from Sihanoukville to Ko Kong, I opted to take a mini bus, (15 dollars) organised by the guest house owner at Serendipity beach. And now for something different.... after five and a half hours of bumpy, dusty, winding, red road we arrived, on schedule, at the Klong Yai border post at 1pm. sharp. We had to cross four rivers, the mini bus just drives on to a motorised pontoon, and off you go. They are small jobs, only able to hold two or three vehicles. But the scenery was amazing - miles and miles of green jungle, not to be done in the rainy season as the road is still under construction, but they'll get there. From Klong Yai, wich is a very simple foot crossing, I took a mini-bus to Trat.(110 Baht). So, no overnight in Ko Kong, straight through to Trat, and that gives one a bit more time to relax before the next leg of the journey. Be advised that Trat has its fair share of budget accomodation, you shouldnt pay more than 120 Baht or so for a single room. Next morning, I left by local transport to the pier at Laem Ngop and took the express ferry, (400 Baht) to the small island of Ko Mak (population 350) I was most impressed with the Bamboo Hut bungalows, great value for money. If one stays for more than a week the price is reduced. I paid 200 Baht per day, each bungalow has their own shower and loo and they are new and two minutes (really) from the beach. All in all, Ko Mak was a great experience, such friendly, laid back people, I only hope it has not changed when I return next year.

Sihanoukville to Thailand (December 2005):

Boat ride Sihanoukville to Koh Kong. $15 - 4 hours with a stop about half way to load/unload at an island - I'm not sure if it was passport control on the way to the boat or just a check so they knew who was on board it the boat sunk - no charge, though. Take food - stuff is a little pricey (but not by western standards) on the boat.  For some reason, the boat seems to have reduced the number of seats available and there was a large area in the back "open" (with just the threaded bolts coming out of the floor) - essentially calm seas, nice trip. Upon reaching the dock, there was a throng of motodops (again) as well as a couple of pick-up trucks ("song thaew" but the benches were "full" - the roof rack was "full" - the only thing missing was a "person strapped to the hood" - "bonnet" to you Brits out there). The price of transport varied according to how much the traveller knew about what the price should be - 60B is more or less expected but can be as much as 80.  Arriving at Cham Yeam, get stamped out of Cambodia (avoid the panhandlers) and walk across the road to get in the line for Thailand - fill out the paperwork and enter. There was someting about supposedly needing to show 10k Baht, but I guess that might have applied to the backpackers (I didn't get asked). Minibus to Trat - then for the "fun" - there is actually a VIP express bus to Bangkok at 7pm - but - it's NOT where the minibus stops - it's back up the road the way you came in maybe 1.5km or so. Take a taxi for 40 B or so - since if you walked you would get there after the bus leaves (probably). My problem was that I only wanted to go to Chantaburi - so they sold me a ticket and the bus stopped just off the main road and let me out TO WALK (or find a taxi) at about 8pm or so. NOTHING running that time of night - they roll up the sidewalks at dark it seems.

An easy one (December 2005):

I had the most troubleless trip from Phnom Penh to Trat in November 2005. Took the 8 a.m. bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, which drove down to the boats to Koh Kong. Boarded the boat and sat on the roof. Nice trip, although one hour was in heavy rain. Shared taxi with an American from Koh Kong to the border. Pretty quick border passing and then the minibus to Trat. Didn’t bother to take a late evening bus to Bangkok but styed the night in Trat and took a most comfortable doubledecker bus the next morning.

Welcome to Cambodia, bend over (November 2005):

We took the 9.30 bus from Ekkamai station to Trat on 14/11. The trip was uneventful. However it began to rain when we got to Trat at 3pm. As we haven't eaten lunch yet, we retire to a coffee shop for lunch and also to wait out the rain. We toyed with the idea of staying in Trat should the downpour continue much longer. Eventually the skies clear and we got into the van for Hat Lek at 4.15pm. It turn out to be a wrong decision.

The van arrived at Hat Lek as scheduled at about  5.30pm by which time it was starting to get dark. One lonely tout appraoch us and offered to take us by taxi into Koh Kong for 100 Baht per person. We were not in a position to bargain from this point as it was getting dark and my friend had a heavy lugggage.

We already had our Cambodian visa from their embassy in Singapore so we didn't have to buy one at Cham Yeam, nonetheless the immigration officers examined our passports for a full five minutes before they proceeded to stamp them. Maybe they thought our passports were fakes? All this time, there were Khmers coming to the same counter to get their border passes stamped out and I saw each of them paying 30 Baht for the privilege. I did glance around the checkpoint but did not see any other moto drivers around.

In the meantime, the tout was joined by two other persons, one of which would be our driver. After the officers finally stamped our passport we were ushed into a Camry. Soon after, we arrived at the bridge where the driver informed us that we would have to foot the toll which would come up to 4800 Riel. I didn't believe him but he did have the receipt to show for it. It turn out that the toll is 1200 Riel per person. (Mistake number 2: not chasing out the driver's accomplice).

After a short while, we arrived at Koh Kong and were taken to Koh Kong Riverside Guesthouse or something to that effect. I asked the driver to take me to Otto's but he claimed to have just arrived from Phnom Penh two days ago and did not know where the other guest house were. I reminded him that he told us the town was only 1 1/2 km wide and he had offered to take us to brothels. Our argument degenerated into a heated quarrel. I finally decided that I had enough for the day and paid him 200 Baht plus another 50 for the toll. He then have the audacity to demand 480 Baht for the toll as he claims the exhange rate was 1 Riel to 10 Baht. I then reminded him that he had conveniently ommitted one zero. We looked set to continue the argument further but his friend stepped in and sided me.

It turned out that his friend worked for the guesthouse. The double room will cost 300 Baht for the evening and the bus ticket to Phnom Penh if we want one will be 800 Baht. Of course we could stay elsewhere, but the streets of this town is unlit at night and we don't have the guts to venture about a lawless town in darkness, so that's where we stayed even though the room is clearly overpriced. We knew that the Mealy Chenda bus should be 600 Baht but again we feel that we did not have a choice as we have arrived at such a bad timing. So, we were scammed at least 400 Baht more. When we received the tickets, we saw that they had altered the '6' in 600 to become an '8'. They also claimed that Local Adventures no longer run services between Koh Kong and Phnom Penh.

We almost got scammed after dinner when the cashier gave me back change in Riel after I paid with a 500 Baht note. The change was 50 Baht short. I then asked her to return the 500 to me and I paid her the exact amount in Baht.

Next morning we piled into a van (they had promised a bus and that it would take us to the Central market). The road was lousy all the way to Sre Ambel. We then transferred to another bus in Sre Ambel where we join another group of more than 10 squeezed into a van! We reached Phnom Penh early evening. We saw it passed Central Market and after some time we were deposited on a street where many motos and tuk tuk drivers were already waiting for us. This was apparently not where they had promised to take us. The driver spoke no English but there was an Italian among us who spoke Khmer! He removed the keys from the van and tried to 'persuade' the driver to take us to Central Market. The driver drove for a short while and the motos followed. The driver eventually drove back to the same place where the moto drivers offered to take us to our destinations for the outrageous price of US$3 each. We eventually got a moto to take us for R3000 each. We were so fed up when the moto drivers claimed later that they could not break change for US$1 that we went to the guest house to change two dollars into riel so that we can pay them exact.

My friend was very pissed off after the whole episode and said that he would never visit Cambodia again. I simply hope that the bastards will get their comeuppance.

I hope that other travellers take notice of our experience and not fall into the same mistakes again.

Quick crossing, quick report (November 2005):

Everything as the last update posted. Had my Cambodian visa already, so very quick. No scams except the health form on the Cambodian side where the moto-dops want to bring you, but I just went straight to the immigration officer, got my stamp, he took my photo by webcam, then on a motorbike and off to Koh Kong for 50 Baht. Met two Swiss girls at Otto's that had just come for their Thai visa extension. They were completely clueless about broder crossings and of course they made them pay a private taxi + the bridge fee + told them that they have to change money and they got only 60000 riels for 20 dollars! A lesson I guess.

Bangkok to Snookyville (November 2005):

I recently made the trip from Bangkok to Snookyville. The trip is quite easy although hassles at the border are practically a given. Try not to let the crossing color your view of Cambodia, a fabulous travel destination.

There are frequent bus connections from the Eckamai station on Bangkok's east side to Trat. The cost is 227 baht and the trip takes about five hours. It follows a dull industrial corridor which makes napping a good use of the time. On the bus they give you Oreo type cookies, coffee, coke and little packs of ice cold handi wipes, but they seem to have a propensity for seating Farangs in the back close to the toilet. Try to get a seat up front.

From Trat to Hat Lek costs 110 baht and mini buses leave when they are full for the 70 km trip. I was wedged in with a dozen Thais and gulped like a fish at the broken vent above me which leaked a meager supply of cool air. Immediately on opening the door at Hat Lek, touts made their attack and followed me through the entire border crossing. I was easily stamped out of Thailand and walked toward the Cambodia border, dragging along a band of smarmy characters all offering to make visa and travel arrangements for me. My first stop was at Cambodian immigration. In a sweltering little office, five well-fed officials dressed in white t-shirts and dripping sweat, refused to accept the $20 I gave them for my visa.
"1000 baht," they said.
"No,  the cost for a visa is $20 and that's all I'll pay," I told them.
We argued back and forth neither side willing to budge.
"If you not pay 1000 baht then leave. Goodbye."
"OK, I'm leaving," I said, getting more angry than I should have. "I'll write your boss in Phnom Penh and tell him your cheating tourists and giving your country a bad name." They didn't even blink.
"Goodbye," t hey sneered. I thought of tearing up my visa form but fortunately restrained myself and walked out.

Back I went to Thai immigration, my little band of touts following along having a fine time enjoying the show. I filled out my entry forms and presented them to the officer who was trussed up in a uniform that made him look like a five star general.  A scowl darkened his face. "Where is exit visa from Cambodia?" he demanded.
I was a little taken aback. "I never went to Cambodia,"  I said.
"You must have exit visa or no entry."
"But I didn't go to Cambodia!" I might as well have been talking to a wall. His face went icy hard and he pointed back toward the border.  Trapped in a no man's land I was screwed.  They had me by the proverbial cajones.

The touts were having a delightful day and practically skipped along guiding me back to Cambodian immigration. I paused before the door readying myself for some serious groveling and boot licking.  I figured now they'd probably charge me 5000 baht and make me wait the night for arguing with them. I was ready to wash their feet if they asked me to--I needed that visa. I went back into the office in the "hat in hand" mode, and meekly proffered the required 1000 baht. There was nothing else I could do. All they wanted was their extra cut and since they had me by the throat they didn't squeeze too hard. I stood nervously shifting from foot to foot, sweating and pleading to myself  "please, please please give me my visa." Suddenly with a flourish,  bang!  bang! down came the coveted stamp on my passport.

But I wasn't home free. Now one of them gave me the lecture: "We are poor and underpaid. We try to help our families. Here we make no money but in Phnom Penh they make very much.  We only ask for tourist to pay a little extra.  Do you understand?"
"Yes I understand completely,"  I said, head bowed and thinking to myself,  "I understand completely you are ripping off and scamming tourists because you are a corrupt little s---."
"Do you understand!?"
" I understand."
I think he wanted me to indicate that I agreed with him, but since he had my money and that was all that mattered, he gave up and handed me my passport.

They might have helped the ragged little kids begging outside the door with thin faces and pipe cleaner arms with some of their take, but I doubt that ever occurred to them.

With visa in hand, and despite being skinned, I decided I'd better go see a bit of Cambodia. I bargained with the mob of motorcycle drivers who'd descended on me like a flock of screaming gulls and got a ride down to Koh Kong for 50 baht. I stayed at Otto's which has good food and nice people, but is frankly a bit of a dump. The door to the room was the thickness of cardboard and I could have stuck my finger through the walls if I'd tried. Bring mosquito repellant.

Next day I continued on to Sihanoukville by the high speed ferry which is fine if the weather is calm. These boats were designed for river travel and in rough weather the ride can range from merely terrifying to downright dangerous. Bring earplugs because down below the noise between the big engines and the over amplified Kung Fu movie soundtrack is ear splitting. The run to Snookyville takes about four hours and is a fine way to go.

All in all Cambodia and its people are great--it's just getting across the border that can be a hassle. Might as well save the trouble and cough up the 1000 baht before they even ask.

Travel Update (August 2005):

My friend and I left Ekkamai Station Saturday morning, taking the 0830 first class bus for 223 Baht. Smooth riding, couple stops on the way at some bus stations as well as a 30 minute break at a gas station for lunch. Arrived in Trat 1430-ish. From there, we crossed the main road and made our way over to the minibus stand for the trip to the Hat Lek border crossing. 100 baht a head, off we went.

Arrived at Hat Lek before 1600. Very sleepy border post; we were the only people making the border crossing at the time. Checking out of Thailand was easy enough; as soon as we crossed into Cambodia a group of 5-8 touts immediately swarmed upon, speaking very good English, asking where we were from and directing us to the immigration post. Walked into the office where visas are issued, the door to the back was open and we could see the immigration officers huddled around a table gambling with cards. Three came out to attend to us; we filled out the visa forms and handed them back along with our passports (one Thai, one American) and a $20 for each of us. The head officer looked a little befuddled and said in halting English, "You pay Thai Baht." Politely we smiled and said we would prefer to pay in dollars. He glanced over the forms a bit and asked the same question again, receiving the same answer from us. The other two officers assisting grumbled a bit, but finally began filling out forms and stamping stamps.

Got our visas from this office and moved to the "Entry Clearance" booth and got officially stamped into Cambodia. One of the guards asked me (the Thai passport holder) for a 100 Baht fee, saying that Cambodians entering Thailand were subject to such a fee. Smiling, I replied I would gladly pay, if only I could obtain a receipt. The guard eventually let up and we were free to go on our way.

The touts were continually cloistered around us as we walked down the road looking for a moto-dop or tuk-tuk, asking us our destination and quoting fares. After about 5 minutes of slow walking and looking around, we couldn't find any moto-dops, so we resigned ourselves to dealing with one of the touts who drove a taxi. He told us he would take us to Koh Kong for 300 baht total (Complete Rip-off!). We tried bargaining down, but in the end finally agreed to such a price. He brought round his Camry and as we got in there was some dodgy-looking dude sitting in the front seat. I asked who he was, the driver said he was his father or something, I said at the rate we are paying we should have the whole taxi. The driver grumbled but relented. Got to Otto's guesthouse about 12 minutes later. Checked into a room for a 100 Baht for the night.

Sunday morning - the young woman in charge of Otto's got a taxi from the central market for us, we hired the entire back seat (4 seats Khmer-style) to Phnom Penh for $45. Left around 0900, sharing with a local businessman. Taxi broke down 10 minutes outside town, the driver phoned into town and another taxi driver came to pick us up. The first 5 hours are dirt road plus 4 ferry crossings; luckily it had not rained torrentially in the previous 48hrs, so it was relatively smooth going, considering the horror stories we had heard. At Sre Ambel, we joined the paved road between Phnom Penh and Sihanookville. Easy-going from here; one stop outside Phnom Penh the wash the car (the driver told us that the city police would stop his car if it were covered in mud, perhaps to extort some money?). Arrived in Phnom Penh after 1800, where the driver brought us right to our hotel.

Fun in the mud (July 2005):

My friend and I left Sisowath Quay at 9am, moto taxi to Central Market where, after changing taxis, I eventually got the front seat for $25 and a space in the back for my friend, $12. I can speak a bit of Khmer so no major problems with the bargaining. We left at 9.30am. 4 people in the back, me, the driver and a little Khmer girl rammed in beside him in the front.

Anyway, biiig problems next. We stopped for food about 90 minutes in and then continued on for about 15 minutes when my friend suddenly starts crying "I've left my passport in Phnom Penh!!" So to cut a long story short I told him to get a taxi back, get his passport and fly out in the morning. When he had left I tried to negotiate a new price of $30 but to no avail. I had to pay the full whack, $37.

The road south is in good condition and we got to the turn off for Koh Kong in about 2.5 hours. I had made this trip 6 months previously and remembered the road to be red gravel with lots and lots of potholes. It was raining and had been raining for the past three days so I expected the worst from this point on and was not to be disappointed. The first and second sections were not too bad, just slow and bumpy. The rivers crossings took a lot longer however as the rivers were in flood. There was some nice scenery along the way with Khmers planting rice and buffaloes walking along the road.

The third section was absolutely terrible!! Lots of mud baths, taxis stuck, vans stuck, Khmer guys falling around in the mud. The Khmers seem to trying to upgrade the road with bulldozers but are making a real mess. Many sections of the road have been cut away leaving only one half passable. I have to commend my driver who, amazingly, never got stuck in the mud.

The fourth section is the shortest and takes joint honours as the worst. It is unbelievably bad, again the Khmers seem to be trying to upgrade the road but it is far far worse than before. Many sections seem to have been literally dynamited and the taxis have to crawl up through thick mud and over loose rock. Eventually we got to Koh Kong, The time was 6pm. Considering the condition of the road and the constant rain I was happy to be there. $37 lighter I was on my way to the border.

I got a moto for 10,000 riel, the driver offered me waterproofs for the ride which I accepted wisely because it lashed rain from the heavens. I then got through Cambodian immigration and Thai immigration with no problems. It was now about 7pm.

I usually get the minibus to Trat from the border but these had stopped running due to the late hour. In their place was a Songthem taxi operation who wanted 1,000 baht a vehicle to go to Trat!! Being in no mood for fooling around in the rain I got in the next one and waited for some other people to arrive. 20 minutes later, 4 people, 250 baht each and off we go.

Got to Trat at 8.25 pm and found a first class bus leaving at 8.30pm!!!!! Hopped on, 220 baht and made it to Morchit station at 1.30 am. Walked by the taxi husslers and got a meter taxi home to Sukhumvit, 160 baht. The time was 2am. 

Time: 17 hours.

Money:: Moto to market: $0.25; Taxi to Koh Kong: $37.00; Moto to border: $2.50; Taxi to Trat: $7.25; Bus to Bangkok: $5.50: Taxi to Sukhumvit: $4.00: TOTAL: $56.50 (Including my friends taxi fare)

And the moral is.................FLY.

Bangkok to Sihanoukville and back to Bangkok (April 2005):

Trat to Hat Lek is pretty standard and smooth at 100 B. If you're catching the 8 a.m. boat, you might be running late. Don't panic. Your visa cost and taxi fare to the boat will go up. In most of Asia, they won't turn down a fare - in the West, we'll blow off a fare to stay on time. Smile pretty and be patient at the border and you'll get skinned for 1000 B - the $5 US up-charge seems pretty standard here. You should be able to get a car or bike taxi for the 10km or so to the boat for $2 U.S. per person, including the bridge toll. Here, like Sihanhoukville and everywhere else I went in Cambodia, standard currency is Baht, Rial, and US @ 40/4000/1 respectively, completely interchangeable, with every taxi, store, restaurant, hotel, gas station, bar,  . . .whatever.

The boat is new and fast, and probably won't turn down the $15 per head from the Thailand buses, even if they have to wait a bit. The ride on top is great but subject to heavy spray in rough seas. You can head inside to the puke catacomb like I did for thoroughly enjoyable chop, with Chinese drama's dubbed in Khmer to drown out the gagging, coughing and final rites. Nothing to overcome the chunder, however. Check the weather before you decide the boat or the bus.

Motorcycle taxis are $1 anywhere in town. If you're the organized type, you can e-mail "Johnny", honest kid paying his way through school, excellent English. Chantha Kong <chan_tha2003@yahoo.com>  Same rates apply, but I usually tipped him a Fanta or extra buck because I picked his brain a lot about various Khmer / Sihanoukville topics. Very laid back dude.

Heading back, I decided for the bus rather than the boat, even though the wind had changed and the seas were calmer. It was $13 and left at 6 a.m. from the bus terminal. Long, dusty, slow and rough. 4 ferry crossings - but pretty clean rivers! Actually some decent grade road, apparently built by the Thai army - red and dusty, subject to potholes in wet season I reckon. 7 hours to Koh Kong, dropped at the border. Departure and arrival form protocols, 2 hour? (always asleep) ride to Trat bus "drop". Bangkok buses across the street. Ran into a couple I met in Snookyville - their mini to Koh Kong had broken down the day before and didn't get in to Trat until midnight! If you are bagged, it's worth staying in Trat - quaint, cheap and great food.

Visa Fun (February 2005):

Back in Cambodia where apparently everyone has decided to use riels...I was verbally assaulted by a Frenchman-"So you are American so can only use dollers? would you let me use Euros if I came to the US?"-for asking for change in dollers, it didn't seem to matter to him that I was changing a hundred.

As for the border, the usual friendliness...

Hat Lek / Koh Kong Border report for Feb. 21, 2005

Uneventful ride to border, cleared Thai immigration, entered Cam, needed Visa-on-Arrival...the fun begins. Walk straight past touts and kids, and into VOA office, take form from guard and fill out. Hand guard form, photo, US 20. Guard looks at form, looks at me, looks at 20, hands 20 back to me. "1000 Baht."
'No, 20.' I say with a laugh and hand him back the bill.
He looks at the form again, looks at me again, looks at the 20 again, then puts the money away, and hands the form to his partner. His partner begins to fill out the form while asking me where i'm going in Cambodia, who I am visiting, why I am coming back again...He then adds as he sticks the visa in my passport and stamps it that if I fly into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap the cost of a visa is US 20, but here at the border, it is 1000 Baht. I look at him, smile, take my visa and walk out. Uneventful once past immigration, save for the three passport checks, two before leaving the border, one on arrival at the port in Sihanoukville.

And when they won't take less for a visa? (September 2004):

From Bangkok to Trat and from Trat to the border an uneventful ride.

At the border a health officer informed me that I needed a health certificate. Before starting traveling I had been at a medical centre in my hometown, got the needed vaccination and pills and a small booklet with a statement about the vaccinations. I showed this to the man, smiled kindly and went to the next door, the visa-office.

Here, the problems started. The officer wanted 1300 baht, I informed him politely that the correct amount was 1000. He said: 1300 and sticked to that amount. I said: o.k. but in that case I would like a receipt which he refused. I informed him very politely that I was going to pay 1300 baht but would complain at the governement. Then, he simply said: "I refuse you entry in Cambodia." Some, polite discussion but he sticked to that. I had to return to the Thai border, cancel my exit and entered Cambodia via the other overland route. Cost me an extra day.

The man at the Thai border informed me that I was not the first one who was refused entrance in Cambodia.

Easy ride, Bangkok to Phnom Penh (March 2004):

This was my 2nd trip to Cambodia, after last year to Siem Reap.

Started at 8 a.m. from Ekamai Bus Station in Bangkok. Paid 147 Baht for the 2nd class ticket. Arrived in Trat, the minibus to the border was located exactly opposite the bus stop. I was lucky, the minbus was nearly full, so we left immediately (100 Baht). At the border, I paid the 1100 Baht without much discussion. Took a motobike to Otto's for 50 baht + 11 baht bridge toll. I arrived at about 4 in the afternoon. Stayed in Koh Kong in the Raksmey Makara Hotel, the room (550 baht or 13 Dollar) was okay. Next morning I started at 8.15 from Otto's. They sell also the ticket for the minbus to Phnom Penh (550 Baht). The first half of the trip the landscape is very impressive, with 4 river crossings on a ferry. We arrived in Phnom Penh about 2 in the afternoon. Everything went okay, I recommend the transport starting from Otto's!

Bangkok > Pattaya > Koh Kong > Phnom Penh (March 2004):

This was my second trip to Cambodia. I arrived at the airport in Bangkok and took a meter taxi to Morchit bus station. 95 baht on the meter plus the 50 baht airport surcharge. I purchased a bus ticket to Pattaya for 97 baht and in Pattaya took a "baht bus" to a hotel.

I visited several travel agents in Pattaya attempting to purchase a minibus ticket to Hat Lek at the Cambodian border. The first two travel agents asked 1200 baht for the ticket which I knew was not right. The third agent offered a ticket for 700 baht which is the correct price. I also attempted to purchase an airline ticket from Phnom Penh to Bangkok for the return, but no one could get me a good price so I decided to wait and just buy my return plane ticket in Phnom Penh which turned out to be a good decision.

I spent the night and was picked up at my hotel to be taken to the Cambodian border the next morning. The trip was uneventful and we arrived at the border in good time.

Crossing into Cambodia the health officier asked for 50 baht for processing whatever paperwork he had. I simply smiled and said "no" and he put up no significant argument and processed my paperwork and stapled the yellow SARS form in my passport without me paying. I wonder what would happen if I just did not even go in that office. In the visa office I completed the application, stapled my photo in place, and handed it to them with 1000 baht. He told me "1100 baht" and I smiled and said "I know its $20 so 1000 baht is a very good deal for you". He gave a huge smile back and said "yes it is". He took my 1000 baht and issued the visa. There was very little argument from them this time.

Then I took a motodop into town. I offered 50 baht which was accepted without argument. I paid the toll on the bridge too. I didn't feel like dealing with the motodop/hotel commission issue this time so I just asked him to drop me at Otto's figuring that it was only about two blocks from where I wanted to stay. When he dropped me off he tried to say 100 baht. I handed him the 50 we had agreed on and walked away. From Otto's I walked to hotel Pumin which was recommended to me by an expat as a little more upscale (for Koh Kong) hotel. I paid $10 for a room with AC, TV, and hot water. It was pretty good and the location is excellent.

Later I went back to Otto's to purchase my minibus ticket to Phnom Phen. Remembering what I had read on Tales of Asia I made sure to avoid Mealy Chenda. I purchased the ticket from "Local Adventures" for 550 baht.

The next morning came and of course the bus was a half hour late. As I boarded, they took my ticket saying "Local Adventures" and handed me a ticket saying.................... MEALY CHENDA. Seeing that, I expected the worst. Seemingly confirming my suspicions, we were driven on the bus about two blocks to the central market and then they said "change bus".

It turned out the new bus was at least as good as the one we were on to start out with. It was a small bus, not just a van. A little cramped for legroom but reasonable. There was only one person per seat and the air conditioning worked. No major complaints about the bus. The bus was unmarked but the driver was wearing a Mealy Chenda tee-shirt.

The dirt road was rough, but was actually much better than what I had expected and was prepared for. The ferry crossings were great. Still, having taken the boat to Sihanoukville a few months ago, I would certainly say the boat is the easiest way to reach Sihanoukville.

I did an informal poll of other passengers and many of them were headed to Sihanoukville whereas I was headed to Phnom Penh. Obviously this meant there would be another change of bus at Sre Ambel and looking at my ticket and seeing the name "Mealy Chenda" I was paranoid that would not work out well. Sure enough as expected we pulled over near several of those blue minivans and they ask for everyone headed to Phnom Penh to get off. There were only three of us. Everyone else was headed for Sihanoukville. The three of us were directed to a minivan. There was a very friendly driver who spoke no English, and a woman with a baby in the front passenger seat who I suspect was his wife and child. No other Cambodian passengers. I figured surely they will stop 3 miles up the road and load in 50 other passengers but it never happened. All the way to Phnom Penh there were just us three passengers. In Phnom Penh the driver stopped for no apparent reason and got out and was talking to someone on the phone. We waited there about 10 minutes before moving on.

As we got to downtown we stopped and an English speaking guide boarded the van. He asked if we had hotel arrangements. Seeing Mealy Chenda on my ticket I expected a hard sell for a Mealy Chenda guest house but that never happened. I had planned to stay at Diamond hotel and they were happy to drop me there. Another passenger did not have a hotel picked out so they pushed Hawaii hotel. Not a hard sell though and Hawaii is a decent hotel. I stayed there last time. The third passenger was not staying near downtown so he agreed to just take a motodop to his guest house.

Total trip time was about 8 hours. Despite my Local Adventures ticket being exchanged for a Mealy Chenda ticket, I was dealt with professionally the entire way. I'm thinking maybe Local Adventures handled the van ride from Sre Ambel to Phnom Penh but just stuck me on the Mealy Chenda bus for the trip from Koh Kong to Sre Ambel since there were only three passengers. In any case there was nothing really wrong with the bus so I can't complain. It just made me a little unnecessarily paranoid.

In Phnom Penh I bought my return airline ticket one way PNH-BKK. In Pattaya three different agents quoted a price around $150 for the one way ticket which I declined. In Phnom Penh the same ticket was only $95 on President Air so I'm glad I didn't buy the ticket in Thailand.

Overall, this trip went awesome.

Annoying motodops in Koh Kong (January 2004):

From Sihanoukville we went by ferry to Koh Kong, where a crowd of bikers met the ferry at the pier. We went out of this crowd and stopped to smoke a cigarette - and five or more drivers followed us asking where we would like to go. One guy seemed to have the best English suggested us the bike - if we go to the border - or hotel if we would like to stay in Koh Kong. I didn't like him but kept silence. When finally he asked me despairingly what do I want - I answered to him that right now I want to smoke a cigarette, may I? So I got rid of him while all the rest kept standing close to us although stopped crying. After we smoked I told to one of the bikers "to the border, one dollar" - and in 10-15 min we were there. We got the minibus to Trat and arrived there about an hour before the 7 pm bus to Bangkok. I ignored the guys asking me where I would go, took the ticket and was in Bangkok before midnight. The bus was very comfortable and half-full. We thought about spending some time in Trat - but the next bus was too late, at 11:30 pm and we didn't like the idea to arrive in Bangkok at 4 am.

I would like to add that it was our first travel on our own - without travel agency, and we liked this way of travelling very much. Met some other Russians in Sihanoukville but none of them went overland - just by air.

Border scam (January 2004):

There appears to be a new scam on the Koh Kong border crossing. First you are directed to an office to fill in a yellow form. When you have done this, you are told to pay a dollar. When I asked what this was for, I was told it was a service charge for helping to fill in the visa form. As I had crossed at Koh Kong before and did not remember this particular charge, I questioned it and said that I did not need any help. The then took the form off me and ripped it up. I then proceeded to the next room and filled out the real immigration form. I got through with no problem and as quickly as anyone else. Absence of the yellow sheet made no difference. The refusal to accept dollars scam continues. Baht is the only currency accepted for visa payments there.



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