Some years back, an overland journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap was considered a tough journey as the Poipet border post on the Cambodia side used to be ridden with scams. In the last few years, these scams have disappeared owing to better policy enforcement by Cambodia and the provision of an e-visa for entry. But, in spite of all these good measures, the journey is interesting and definitely provides huge savings for backpackers and budget travellers.
To set the context right, a one-way flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap costs about $220 and upwards. Hence, a lot of people prefer to take the road journey, which allows to complete the same trip at a fraction of the air fare. I am also one such budget traveler who took the road journey yesterday.
First, I booked myself a AC bus (1st class) from Mowchit bus station to Aranyaprathet (Thai border point). The cost of this bus ride was 228 THB (or ~7.6 USD) and the journey took 5 and a half hours. From here, I took a tuk tuk to the border checkpoint. The distance is about 1 to 1.5 kilometres and cost me 50 baht. I could have also walked, but the sun was high and I wanted to preserve my energy.
The first step was to get the exit stamp done at Thailand. While I was standing in the queue, a lady asked me to fill up my exit form and all the stamping got done in 20 minutes after that. I thought that was quick and I expected the same to happen at Cambodia, but unfortunately for me I was in for an unpleasant surprise. A member from the Cambodia passport control office asked me if I already had a visa and on hearing that I had the e-visa, he guided me to the passport control office. Here, I stood in the line (4 parallel lines were there) along with the other tourists.
But, for some reason, the line never moved. Only later did I know that all the four immigration officers took a lunch break together. That was definitely a first for me. While I stood in the queue for 2 hours, I saw some interesting behavior. Some people paid agents who were standing outside the passport office to get their visa on arrival done. Some people paid to get themselves chairs to sit. And some paid to jump the queue and get special treatment. I wasn’t keen on paying any bribes and hence doggedly stood in my line.
While I had the e-visa, I heard from other tourists that it was easy to get the visa on arrival. In fact, the queue for visa on arrival was very less as more or less all tourists either had a visa/e-visa or had the Asean permits. By the time I had my passport stamped, I was hungry, thirsty and tired, but I still had some reserve energy in me. A Cambodia passport officer again met us and told us to wait for the free shuttle bus to the Poipet bus station. The bus was ready in 5 minutes and in the next 10 minutes, we were all dropped at the Poipet international bus terminal.
Upon entering, we were told that we could book ourselves a bus ($9 per person), mini-bus ($10 per person) or taxi ($48 for the full taxi) to go to Siem Reap. This clearly smelled of a scam as the same cost in more organized and expensive Thailand would be half the quoted prices. But, we were left with no options. When I asked for the mini-bus ticket, I was told that the mini-bus was full and was asked to book either a bus or taxi. Since the taxi was too pricey for 2 of us and other didn’t want to share with us, I was forced to take a bus ticket, even though it meant that I had to wait for an hour for the bus to start.
But, thankfully, during the wait at the bus station, I recharged my batteries with some nuts, cake and water that I had bought in Thailand. All the stuff at the bus station was over priced. Now, here is where the interesting part of the story begins. Just before 3 pm when the bus was supposed to start, we were asked to board the bus. In a short while, all the passengers had gotten into the bus and even the ticket collector had checked all our tickets. It was 15 minutes past actual departure time and we were told that the driver was hungry and hence wanted to eat some food. After another delay, we were told that the driver had a stomach upset and had to use the rest room and there was another delay. Suddenly, the fat police officer from the bus station boarded our bus and told us that there has been some problem at the immigration counter and that some of the passenger’s passports have been wrongly stamped as 14 Jan when it was 15 Jan on that day. Upon checking our passports, we got to know that about 40% of the bus had that problem.
The police officer asked the people to come out of the bus and then after a brief discussion told them that they would have to go back to the border to get their passports re stamped. All the passengers cringed unanimously at the thought of going back to the long lines at the border. Then, another police officer came in 10 minutes. He asked everyone to give them their passports and told them that he would get it stamped at the office himself. This is where the bells started ringing loud in my head. Why is he asking for the passports. I told the guys around me not to separate themselves from their passport coz without it they would at the complete mercy of the Cambodia border officials. In the meanwhile, 4 passengers from the bus walked away, decided to lose the bus fare, took a taxi and went to Siem Reap.
The discussion for the passports continued. The officer told them that they would need to get the stamp rectified else they would have trouble at the border while exiting the country. After some discussion, the police officer told them that for 100 baht per person, he would get the stamping rectified in 15 minutes. At this point, everyone started losing their temper and took back their passports. They said that they are ready to bear the consequences and walked back to the bus. Slowly the driver also walked to the bus and we finally reached Siem Reap by 7 in the evening.
My personal take on this scam is that everyone at the border is involved in it and I guess out of the 4 lines at the border, one immigration official used the wrong dates for stamping. And then they use the bus and mini-bus passengers, try to send panic among them and try to make some money for themselves.
As with all scams, do not budge. Be stubborn and never part with your passport. If they say you will face trouble, be ready to face it and walk away.