Crossing Over: The Aranyaprathet-Poipet Border

13 12 2008

Poipet, Cambodia

Corruption is everywhere. It’s in governments, organizations, businesses, and average people. I know this. Almost all of us know this. This never really stops any of us from being appalled and infuriated by it, though. It also didn’t stop Gage and me from attempting to cross the border from Thailand into Cambodia. For a person who was angry for three days after the woman at the local bakery blatantly overcharged her a dollar for a bag of cookies, this was just asking for trouble.

Leftovers from the PAD protest in Bangkok

Leftovers from the PAD protest in Bangkok

Southeast Asia does not have the best reputation when it comes to protecting foreign tourists. Exploiting and robbing is much more close to it. However, after being in Thailand for three months Gage and I had let our guard down. Yes, there are tuk-tuk drivers who overcharge, market saleswomen who refuse to bargain, and bakery employees who take advantage of cookie-starved sugar-fiends, but all of these seeming crimes rarely ding your wallet in excess of a dollar. So when we hopped on a bus in Bangkok to take us to the border town of Aranyaprathet, I knew all of the scams that could arise, but was expecting the best. That was my first mistake.

A comfy bus ride should always come with a maggot pillow

A comfy bus ride should always come with a maggot pillow.

Upon arrival at the bus station, Gage and I wrestled through the horde of tuk-tuk drivers and managed to depress most of them by offering only 40 baht to take us the few miles to the border checkpoint instead of their proposed 140 baht. Our mopey driver pulled off the road enroute to the border and stopped in front of a ‘travel agency’ where a pleasant man with lovely English skills told us that we would need to go to the Cambodian consultate and apply for the visa, which he could help us aquire. Welcome to scam #1 – no one can help you acquire a visa to Cambodia. I emphatically told my driver that I would like him to take us to the border NOW and he wisely restarted the motor and took us the rest of the way.

We walked through the border market and were stamped out of Thailand with swift efficiency. I felt a little uneasy reading the signs that said Visa On Arrival was not available at that Thai checkpoint. This meant that being stamped out was the point of no return. It was Cambodia or bust. My apprehension grew as a polite English speaking Cambodian man came up to us and explained that he worked for the Immigration Department and would guide us through the visa process. He led us to a ‘Police Station’ when a uniformed man with a cell phone glued to his ear gave us a couple of visa applications. As we filled them out we commented on the lack of ‘falangs’ or white people around. They said not to worry about it. Right. When Yappy the police wanna-be got off the phone he told us that it would be 1000 baht for the visa. We smiled and explained that the Cambodian embassy quoted $20 and that we would need a receipt with the police officer’s name if we were to pay more. At that point the officer got back on his cell phone and completely ignored us. Scam #2. Polite English speaker boy tried to give us the excuse that they did not have any receipts and I said, “In all of Cambodia, or just here?” He then suggested that we go to the immigration office and that maybe they would have them. Lovely idea.

The border guards who ripped us off.

The border guards who ripped us off.

Upon arrival at the immigration hall we met up with all of the other falangs that we saw on the Thailand side. That made me feel better. Of course finding that every falang was being forced to cough up 1000 baht didn’t make me feel so good. Apparently all of these ‘police officers’ learned the same tactics because Gage and I again became invisible upon the request of a receipt. While most of the police had name badges with ID numbers on them, the officers extorting us conveniently did not have any name badges or numbers. Since causing a scene or yelling will only get you ignored or thrown in a Cambodian prison, we had little choice in the matter. The Cambodian embassy allows people to apply for an e-visa online that allows you to sail right through this border mess. Of course it costs $20 plus a $5 processing fee. Being the cheapo that I am, I figured we’d save some money by not getting the visa in advance. I decided that paying the 1000 baht ($34) would help me burn off the kharma of being a cheapskate. Lesson learned.

After receiving the most expensive sticker ever placed in my passport, we called our guesthouse owner in Battambang who had volunteered to arrange a cab for us. As we waited at the roundabout and fended off various taxi drivers and small children’s wandering hands, I was thankful for having at least some forethought. The border at Poipet can only be described as madness. Tourists can either submit themselves to the mob off taxi drivers or hop on the free shuttle that takes you to the transport center. If we had gone to the transport center we would have been greeted with the news that the only bus to Battambang leaves before the border even opens. There are plenty of buses to Siem Reap that will take you on a 3+ hour bumpy journey, but apparently Battambang isn’t popular enough to have more than one bus a day. Our cab was 1400 baht ($40), which was expensive but worth it to get out of Poipet.

The nasty city of Poipet.

The nasty city of Poipet.

The irritation and aggravation of the whole ordeal was soothed as soon as we got out of the cityscape of Poipet. As the dust covered casinos and honking trucks slipped away, the landscape turned to lush green. Watery rice patties with distant palm tree jungles bordered the road. We passed small villages with banana leaf houses on stilts and saw several small volleyball courts filled with cheering locals. The trip was two and a half hours, but time flew by as Gage and I poked at each other with various “Look!” exclamations. It was a rough introduction to Cambodia, but maybe things wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Suggestions:

  • Definitely get yourself a Cambodian E-Visa online at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It will cost you $25 and will get you through the border (relatively) smoothly. Just be sure that you apply at least three days before arrival as it takes a little while to process. You’ll need to upload a recent photo of yourself and be able to print out the confirmation.

  • Don’t buy a package trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap. They sound like a good idea, but are rife with scams. It’s better to suffer putting the trip together by yourself.

  • You can get from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet by train or bus. The train schedule can be found here. Although the train was cheaper (around 40 baht) we didn’t want to get up that early so we took the bus (221 baht). The buses depart from the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) in the morning at 6, 9:30, and 11. There are some afternoon buses too. I couldn’t find the schedule online, but if you’re in Bangkok, you can call the Tourism Authority of Thailand and get the details from their very helpful staff.

  • From the bus station or train station in Aranyaprathet it should only cost you 40-50 baht to get to the border.

  • No one on the Thai side can help you get a Cambodian visa, so ignore any ‘assistance’. Telling them you already have a Cambodian visa ends the conversation pretty quickly.

  • Once you get to the transportation center (or Tourist Lounge as them euphemistically call it) you can get a taxi to Battambang or Siem Reap for about $40 for the whole taxi. You definitely want to buy the whole taxi because I saw plenty of ‘share taxis’ stuffed with 7 people in the backseat of a standard size 4-door car. You can also get a bus to Siem Reap, though prices are varied. Go to talesofasia.com for more details.

  • Cambodians deal mostly in US dollars (even the ATM’s only give US dollars) and everyone in Poipet takes Thai baht. If anyone tells you that you need Cambodian Riel just laugh and walk away.

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5 responses

14 12 2008
Kathy

Whoa! This post made me feel as though I was reading a suspense novel!

16 12 2008
Becca

You will write a book when you get home, right? I think it’s only appropriate.

I hope that one day, I can grab your guidebook off the shelf at Barnes and Noble and write part 2 with the parts of the world, that is assuming you don’t do it yourself. 🙂

15 01 2009
Foster

Hello, I came across your website via your post on lonely planet about Cambodian pricing. I was interested because I arrived home in november from a 8 month visit to asia and along with reminiscing am dieing to get back. I don’t mean to add insult to injury because I have been through the same situation and know the scamming process but the Cambodian consulate which is on the way to the border from the bus station in Aranyaprathet does sell visas and they are $25 US if you tell them you cannot pay in baht. Anyways great website I am jealous of your travels.

Scott

22 03 2010
Monique

i went to poipet just recently with my mom, my uncle and his wife lives in poipet i feel bad that they have to pay thai baht while the rest of my family who lives elsewhere in cambodia pays cambodian riels …. i never went past the border and it is crazy!!!!!!! im sorry you have to go through that kind of b.s. also great job on bargaining …. when i went shopping with my family over there they knew how to bargain it was AWESOME!!!!! the owners were agitated which made me laugh but they finally went down to the price my aunts asked for

10 08 2010
Szymon

Hey Dude,

Welcome to East Wild West…

I did exactly the same crossing from BKK by train last year & I too am reminiscing whilst reading this blog. I agree entirely with your initial impressions etc, but in hindsight? Wasn’t it an immensely mind blowing experience? I loved every moment of it as it was pure adrenalin, every part of it.

& as for the scams etc, I did my homework but was determined to do the visa etc at the border, & yes, I too was driven to a tent on the Thai side and told to buy the visa here… I cracked up laughing and said pfft! Tuk Tuk to the border! Now! lol. At the border similarities galore, but I followed the rest of the flock and through the offices, & on the Cambodian side, the visa cost $US20+a 100 Baht bribe, that I didn’t hesitate in paying not the 1000, unlike yourself. & lol I boarded the shuttle bus to transport station where I immediately realized *Bang Scam Again… lol But it was good place to chill for bit and have a few cold beers etc, before walking into Poipet to hunt down an independent taxi. & we did but I guess we had better bargaining prowess, as I shared a taxi with two others to Siem Reap for $US30, $US10 each.

Anyways I won’t go on, but I’m the midst of planning my next escape to East Wild West, this time to also take in former (KR) regions i.e Pailin and I’m tempted to spend at least one night in the madness that is Poipet.

Go Hard or Go Home, God be with me, please.

Anyways, I hope your experience/s will keep you on the bumpy less traveled roads in future.

Peace Sz.

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