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Cambodia Overland

Travelers' Reports:
Overland, Bangkok - Siem Reap

Page 3 of 22 (July 2009 - December 2009)

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Follow the instructions (December 2009):

It was our first trip to Asia and we found your website to be of enormous help. EVERYTHING you cautioned travelers about crossing the Thai border into Cambodia came to pass. The false checkpoints and their collusion with the tuk tuk drivers that pick you up at the bus terminal, to the cab drivers who asked for money up front to take us from Poipet to Siem Reap, to the dozens of children begging or trying to sell you something or carry your luggage. I'm happy to report, due in large part to your site, that we didn't get ripped off once. My son dodged the 'money up front' scam by the cab drivers by saying that we only had Thai money and that we knew a money changer in Siem Reap who gave an astounding rate of exchange (get familiar with the money and quote them a sweet rate that the money changer the cabbies know can't possibly match).

Just outside of Siem Reap the driver pulls over in front of half a dozen tuk tuk's and jumps out. Another guy comes up to the cab and tells you the ride is over and you have to get out of the cab since the driver is only licensed to drive from the border to this point and is not allowed to drive into the city limits. We were told we had to take TWO tuk tuk's from here to accommodate ourselves and our luggage to our hotel. We told him we were fine sitting there and would wait for another driver to show up. After a quick huddle with the group of drivers, our new found friend jumped into the cab, fired it up and we continued on to our hotel. On the way in tried to get us to have him drive us around the temples the next day for $40 which we didn't go for and instead rented a tuk tuk for the day (8 hours) for $15. In these situations we followed your advice..... stay calm, stay alert and be polite but firm with whomever you're dealing with. After they realize you're not going for the scam, everyone is friends again, no harm no foul.

Bus to the border (October 2009):

Cheapest bus ticket (the capitol tours) $3.50 in Siem Reap to Poipet. All bus tickets to Bangkok from Siem Reap will bring you to Kao San road (for approx $8).

There is one tour agency (oposite the foods stalls close to bar street) offering a shared taxi for $9 per seat to Poipet. Leaves at 7 in the morning, only leaves if there are at least 2 passengers. (wish I took that one;-)

Any bus to Poipet is a bit of a scam. They stop two times, first at a shop half way (all the other buses stop there as well) and then again short before Poipet (close to Poipet, certainly too far to walk, it's at the international tourist transport center) for a longgggg lunch. So at the end, all the buses leave at 08.00 in the morning and arrive at the border between 12.00 and 13.00 (for a ride of 2.5 hours....) At the last stop there are some tuk tuk drivers who can take you to the border, I got the price down to $2 for a 15 minute drive to the border.

At the border there are plenty of touts offering you a bus ticket to Kao San road. But if you just pass them all and look for some normal buses (no mini bus) then you will find several buses who can take you to Mor Chit bus station for 200 Baht.

The Aranyaprathet visa scams (September 2009):

I decided to take the Bangkok-Siem Reap trip on my own. From BKK airport, I was able to figure out how to go to Mochit bus station (intercity bus #550 for 35baht). Then on to Aranyaprathet, the tuk-tuk driver stopped at an "agent's office" for visa purposes, a guy suddenly approached the tuk-tuk and told me that I have to sign a document, fortunately I don't need a visa to enter Cambodia because I'm a Filipino (plus the fact that I'm already aware of this scam). They were still insisting that I need to sign that document and it's for free, I didn't entertain them and asked the driver to bring me straight to the border. He made a u-turn and I was shocked to see that he brought me to the Cambodian Consulate this time! The driver said I need a stamp from this office worth 1000baht, even if I don't need a visa. NO WAY!!! I asked him to bring me straight to the border, which he finally did. I didn't have any problem at the border, no money changing scams. I hired a taxi from Poipet to Siem Reap for 40$, a bit expensive because I didn't want to bargain with the drivers anymore. 

Scam control (August 2009):

Just made the trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap a couple of days ago. My GF and I did it on our own with trains and taxi. Just thought I'd post all the current prices and info on the scams for anyone concerned about making this crossing.

Firstly, anyone that's experienced border crossings in central Africa will not find this border all that intimidating. Infact, the scams are mostly very transparent in comparison, and the demand for bribes also quite tame compared to Africa where you are not only asked for it at the border, but sometimes at every checkpoint down the road.

Anyway, this info is for people who feel they need it. Prices current as of August 20th 2009.

TAXI to Hualamphong station from Banglamphu at 4:30am. 53 Baht. We were staying north of Khao San by about 1km, so from Khao San it could be 45-50 Baht if you're lucky.

TRAIN 5:55am Bangkok to Arranyaprahtet from Hualamphong station. 48 Baht pp. Disregard any old info advising there is a 10 Baht excise. It's 48 Baht, and you won't be overcharged here in any case.

TRAIN SCAMS: Train arrived late to Arranyaprathet due to breakdown, which I have to say seemed suspicious as someone off the train tried to bump everyone (locals included) into buses to the border. Stick with the train, ignore any bus touts that approach you on the train.

TUK TUK: From Arranyaprathet it's about 15mins to the border by Tuk-Tuk. We took one for 40 Baht. You could definitely get this for a lower price, but be careful. They will go down to as low as 10, because they expect to get scam money out of you on the way. The correct fair is somewhere around 35-40, so if you agree to lower than that and then worm your way out of the scam, you might find yourself in an argument with the driver when it comes to payment, despite the agreed price.

VISA SCAM: Since we had agreed on 40 (despite other drivers offering 10) we breezed through the visa scam. En-route to the border the driver made a right hand turn at a point where there was a sign directing straight ahead for the border. I pointed it out to him and asked him to go straight, but he turned anyway. He pulled up to a shack where a man approached the Tuk Tuk and handed us immigration forms and told us we were at the border. We told our driver to get going and made it (politely) clear that we weren't the least bit interested in this scam. In any case, this one is so transparent it's ridiculous. There is a sign to the border in the other direction, the 'post' is a shack, the guy offers you forms while still in the vehicle, they are Cambodian immigration forms even though you haven't departed Thailand. Use some common sense, none of this adds up. It's easilly detectable.

VISA BRIBE: When you reach the border, try to ignore anyone that approaches you directing you to a visa desk. You can find it easilly for yourself it's clearly labeled over to the right just after Thai departure formalities. The officers issuing visas asked us for 100 Baht each for "Thai fees". We had already intentionally removed all but $20 US dollars from our wallets and my GF made a point of letting one officer see her open the empty wallet as she removed the 20. I told him we didn't have any extra and that we weren't going to pay. He asked us to sit down and 1 minute later we had our visas. Remember, they are just people, they won't shoot you if you don't pay. It's a bit of a game for them, so just smile and try to be calm and jovial.

GOVERNMENT "HELPERS": These men will be wearing pale yellow shirts and have ID cards on lanyards around their necks. They are dodgy too unfortunately, but their part of the scam comes after you are IN Cambodia, so they will direct you through the correct channels if you get lost during immigration. Once you get stamped in the helpers will tell you to board the free shuttle bus to the bus station from where you can take a gov taxi to Siem Reap without the scams that you may get from non-gov taxis at the border. They will insist that you can come right back for free if you aren't happy, but who knows how long the turn around is. The bus station is cleverly located in the middle of nowhere. You will pay a lot more for a taxi here than at the border and the bus option that they offer could be hours away. No-one will tell you this though.

TAXI: We got our taxi for $25US between 2 pax. We thought it was good since we'd heard others had taken it for 30 and groups of 4 usually paid around $10 pp. Same rules as the tuk-tuk apply here. Push the price too low and you will have more trouble getting out of the scams. Find the happy medium. Pick your driver wisely too. Since I knew there were scams ahead I bailed on the driver at the last minute when a more timid guy offered the same price. Might sound weird, but I just knew he'd be easier to talk out of a scam than the loud mouth fat guy that approached us first...and I was right.

TAXI SCAM: 10 minutes into the trip the driver tells us we will be stopping just outside Siem Reap and he will pay for a Tuk Tuk to take us into to town because he gets charged $5 by the cops for entering the CBD. This is nonsense. Do not agree to this and insist to be taken to the hotel you've chosen. Remember, make a joke out of it, laugh, smile. Don't get angry. Also, when you get in the taxi confirm everything. Make sure everyone agrees that you aren't paying anything till you arrive, you insist to be taken to the door of your destination and there are no extra costs. Do not give him money for fuel along the way.

Our driver spoke great english, so during the trip my GF made a point of saying to me "lucky we have a booking or it might be hard to get a room now that we're so late". The driver heard and said "oh, you have a booking". This is a quick way to dissipate any hope he might have of touting you into the hotel for a comission. When he began the story about paying for our tuk-tuk, we asked how much it cost and he said 3 dollars. So we suggested we pay him 3 less and organise the tuk tuk ourselves. This must have done the trick because 2hrs later he dropped us at the door to a hotel we had picked from the LP which we had no booking at, or intention of staying at, but was central as far as pricing rooms goes. We used their loo and got them to break a note for the taxi fair and then bailed...terrible aren't we?

Admittedly, I felt quite within my comfort zone with all these scams. I'd experienced similar things before in other parts of the world. There is however, a lot to deal with in one hit and it can get chaotic at the border, but there is no reason why anyone with a little common sense and patience should fall victim to these little tricks.

A bit long winded on my part I know, but I really felt some current info on this crossing and some elaboration on how to avoid the scams painlessly could be of use to some folks. If it's no use to you, congratulations, for the rest, I hope it helps a little.

Airport scam (July 2009):

Our family just flew into Siem Reap and then traveled overland to Poipet with two kids under 12.
If you are thinking that by reading this website you will know all the scams and how to avoid them, think again, the Cambodian border guards are professional manipulators.
Cambodia is a beautiful country, but unfortunately the people have taken to ripping off the tourists to make a living.
If you go to Cambodia to see the beautiful ruins, accept one import fact. They will try to rip you off at least once everyday.  With that kind of expectation, the Cambodian people will not disappoint you and you can still enjoy the beauty.  It is a skill they have become very adept at.
Arriving in Siem Reap by air from Korea at midnight, (after filling out 4 pieces of paper for each of us, 16 total with the same info) our family of 4 was taken out of the visa line by a masked man with airport ID (HUV I think was his name) past the border guards to the baggage claim area.
He then explained that because we were a large group we didn't have to wait in line; asked for our passports and 20 USD for each of us.  I questioned him about the charge for the kids and whether to give him money. He lied to me that the kids had to pay and said it was safe because he was the police flashing his ID badge.
Short time later I see him take our 4 passports and drop them off 1 at a time at each border guard station for processing.  He then returns to pick them up and hand them to us asking "do you have anything for me" I hadn't but gave him a buck just as well.  He showed us the dates of the visa, but the border guards had stapled the exit form over the visa so as to cover the price of the visas.
Only back at the hotel did I discover the kids visa had no price stamped and under remarks it said "minor under 12 years age"
So every one of the four Border guards was in on this scam and we were one of three families that night given the extra treatment.
I won't go into detail about the other minor Tuk-Tuk and hotel/restaurant scams, but just to say Cambodia is a beautiful yet sad place. As a tourist you are viewed as a ATM machine, with their scams the secret PIN to unlock your cash. Even my wife who looked Cambodian couldn't get a decent price for anything.
For the trip from Siem Reap to Poipet we were quoted  taxi fees for 1995 Toyota Camry 50 USD.  If arranged by a contract company with the Sofitel it was 80 USD. After being ripped off at the airport border crossing we went with the safer route, a 14 passenger Ford Transport Van (a huge high clearance Van) from the Sofitel with Driver/Fuel/Insurance and cooler full of iced bottled water. The road was smooth and aprox two hours. We were able to bypass the aprox 4 police checkpoints without bribes or shakedowns and two or three crashed out hulls of Toyota Camry's in the rice fields along the way.
On a positive note; go early for sunrise to the temples half day Tuk-Tuk should be 10 USD (get it in writing and don't let the driver choose a restaurant) leave 4:30-5:00 early is better. You will find you have the minor temples pretty much to yourself. Be back for breakfast around 9. Also don't be afraid of minor rain, We had the most magical time visiting the jungle temple Ta Prohm with our kids and a couple umbrellas in the light sporadic rain. Not a single other tourist there!!!! :)
Important note:
Warning the Thai border at Aranyaprathet is only giving 15 day tourist visa on arrival for land crossing and marks the upper left corner of your passport with a small white permanent pencil slash mark.

UPDATE (October 2009):

I got a written reply from the Cambodian Embassy in our country to our complaint about the Siem Reap airport visa "over charging". They apologized and sent us a 40.00 western union check!!!!!! Cambodia is a really beautiful country and like everywhere else in the world, you've got kind hearted people who want to do the right thing and then  a few bad apples. Amazing, only took six emails to find the right email address for someone who would listen and luckily we had the name of the official who "over charged" us.

The change money at the border scam (July 2009):

Me and my girlfriend booked a tour from Koh Chang to Siem Reap via Poipet at the Nature Beach Resort (Lonely Beach). In Poipet they first charged us 1200 baht for the visa, which is 200 baht more for the "service", but no serious problem so far. [Editor's note: We'd consider this a serious problem because it's not 200 baht more, it's 530 baht more. $20 x 33.5 = 670 baht.]

But then we met our Cambodian "guide" who should bring us through the various passport controls from Thailand to Cambodia. Then he presented the following story to our traveller group from Koh Chang:

"It is extremely difficult to get money in cambodia, at the rare ATM you will get no riel, if you get dollar in Cambodia the people will charge you high commision when you pay in dollar. So it is best to draw like 10.000 Baht here in Thailand from an ATM where I
bring you to, then we cross the border, and you can change there in Riel with very low commission [Editor's note: USD remains the de facto currency of Cambodia and most prices are quoted in dollars. There is no commission of any kind for spending USD in Cambodia. Further, there are dozens of ATMs *everywhere* in Siem Reap.]

After we crossed the border, erverything had to go very fast ("quick quick") and we were brought to an exchange counter at the big bus-terminal. All people from our group then changed as recommended the baht to riel, later on we realized that the exchange rate was like 1dollar=3000 Riel, which is like 1/4 "commission".

We were lucky, cause we 'changed" just 2000 Baht, other guys lost 70 dollars and more with this transaction.

[Editor's note: The dollar is presently worth about 4150 riels. It's been said all over this site, all over the internet, in travel guidebooks, everywhere. And we guess it needs to be said again: ***DO NOT CHANGE ANY MONEY AT THE BORDER IN POIPET NO MATTER WHAT REASON YOU ARE TOLD THAT YOU SHOULD*** Got it? Good.]

Minibus, Siem Reap to BKK (July 2009):

I've just done the Siem Reap to Bangkok minibus - thought I'd let you know, it was cheap, comfortable, and very cheerful, totally recommended.  Bought the ticket from RTR travel near Molly Malone's, $9 all the way, no extras at all.  Used them before on the same route, when the road was bad.  This time there is a new minibus company based on the river just before the Pagoda and the Angkor Trade Centre, among the woodshops there. Newish minibus, left just after 12 noon, with 4 British flashpackers, and we arrived at the new "international bus station" at Poipet just after 2pm - very fast road now, very smooth. This new bus station has proper toilets, small cafe, sweet shop that tried to swindle with the change - 2000 Riel for a carton of milk, only gave me 1000 Riel change for $1, bluffed me when I queried that, finally gave me the other 1000 Riel. 

Full size coach transfered the 4 of us to the border, took our paper tickets and gave us plastic pockets on a neck string marked BKK. No border queues - it's a good time to travel.

Minibus to BKK had one seat empty so we all waitied for more than one hour for one last passenger - at the brother's cousin's toilet and cafe ... The flashpackers said the 40 Baht fried rice was good, and bottled water was 10 Baht, fair enough.

Arrived BKK 7pm, the driver checked who was going where and dropped half of us near Phayathai BTS, saving me the taxi fare from KSR. I would have given him a tip for that, but he had already gone. Total time just 7 hours, total cost $9, reasonable comfort all the way.

Tomorrow I have to arrange my journey back to SR - so I'm reading about all this in your site and others.  Nobody yet organises a proper ticket BKK to SR BECAUSE of the taxi scams at Poipet and the visa scams on the Thai side. 


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