We booked two seats in a van to get us from Ko Chang to Siem Rep. After our experience the previous day (the tour forgot to pick us up) we were a little concerned about getting picked up to go to Siem Rep. We were waiting outside the hotel when a guy showed up on a motorcycle to tell us that the van was on the way.The van arrived and the driver took our slips of paper and gave use two new wrinkled slips of paper. It did not seem important at the time but it was later. The van drove from hotel to hotel picking up guests along the way. We then stopped at the tour office and we were all given stickers to wear which we expected at this point. The van took us to the ferry to the mainland. We bought instant noodles for breakfast which turned out to be spicier than expected and we chatted with some of our fellow van travellers. One was a German who had been to coming to Ko Chang for years. He was going to Siem Rep for the first time but he had been to the boarder many times for visa runs. Thai tourist visas are good for 30 days if you come in by air and 15 days if you come in by land but you can extend your visa at the boarder so there is a regular trip available to go to the boarder and then come straight back. All of the books and posts we read before we came had warned of scams at the boarder particularly the one we were crossing, Aranya Prathrt-Poipet. There is a new government run bus service from Bangkok which is supposed to be the most hassle free way to get across but we were in Ko Chang!
The van made a couple of stops along the way but we made it to the border town. We stopped and were told to get out at a restaurant about 1 km from the boarder (we did not know we were that close at the time). We were told they would “look after” our visas here. We had purchased eVisa’s in advance to avoid this kind of thing. ( Note that e-Visa’s are not valid at all crossings).
When we got out of the van we were asked for our tickets. All we had was the wrinkled piece of paper which turned out to be what they wanted. We had paid extra to take a van directly to Siem Rep not a bus apparently our piece of paper was the proof. We were sent to step #2. There was a couple from Vancouver and a couple from Norway who said they had paid the extra but they did not have the piece of paper. The Canadian couple got mad, the guy got madder and then threw them out. The Norwegians were calmer but still firmly insisted they had paid. Eventually a driver confirmed that he had “forgotten” to give them their slip. Lesson learned- take a picture of all the pieces of paper you are given with your phone! Anyone else who had not paid the extra was strongly encouraged to pay extra to upgrade.
At step #2 we were asked to produce our visa’s which we did reluctantly. Anyone without one was being “helped” to buy a visa for over $40 US (the prices may have varied). The actual price of a visa is $30US and one group were not willing to be “helped”. They wanted to buy their own visas at the border. They eventually left to walk to the border. The owner was not pleased and informed them that they would not be able to continue on the tickets they had paid for across the border.
At this point the German we met earlier befriended the owner and started buying him beer. We waited around for at least an hour and eventually we were crammed into a shared taxi and taken to the border which was very close.
At the border we were given a long lecture. We were told that there were no bank machines in Siem Rep, that the services charges were very high, that the bank machines only give out US$ which only benefits the banks, that we should be using Cambodian money not US$, that the prices are much higher in US$, and the people of Siem Rep would get more and the government less if we avoided US$. So is was HIGHLY recommended that we go to a bank machine (which just so happened to be right there) and take out lots of Thai BHT so could exchange them for Cambodian money after we crossed the border. I do not know if the part about the money going to the people is true but there were lots of bank machines in Siem Rep, all the prices were in US$, there was a fixed exchange rate between US$ and Cambodian Real, everyone was using US$ and real was used as change.
We smelled a scam but we could not quite figure out what it was. The bank machine was a major chain so it was unlikely they were getting a cut. We had US$ which we had purchased for this part of the trip as what we had read said they were official currency in Cambodia. We decided to get some Thai BHT because we would need it later anyway. We did not take out the large amount suggested.
After we were all convinced to use the bank machine we walked across the no-man’s land between Thailand and Cambodia. There is a bridge, various cars, carts and trucks, a casino and duty free street stalls. We were (of course) encouraged to stop and shop at the duty free stall. Its quite a sight but we were not comfortable taking pictures.
One of the stranger features of this border is that cars in Thailand drive on the left and cars in Cambodia drive on the right. We asked how that worked and were told they figure it out!
When we arrived at the Cambodian border we were asked to pay a 200 BHT VIP fee. This was supposed to save us a two hour wait at the border but it would only be helpful if everyone in the van paid. We had already been hanging around for hours between scams so most of the van wanted to pay. We gave in to the pressure and paid as well. A man came and collected all of our passports which made us rather uncomfortable but he returned later with passports stamped and legal. the Cambodian side of the border looked less prosperous than the Thai side.
We were then loaded onto the “faster” van we had paid extra for. There was not enough room for everyone so we (the people who refused to exchange money) were “picked” to get out of the van. The German who had been buying the guide beer all afternoon got the front seat. They did stop another older looking van and after a long discussion with the driver we were told to get in. The van did take us to Siem Rep and we only stopped once for a “break” at a stall selling food and gifts. We all refused to get out. The driver was not very pleased but we were entertained while waiting watching them take the battery out of our van and putting it in another to get it started.
We were dropped off at a back street bus depot in Siem Rep. Our “included” drop off at our hotel turned out to be a tuk-tuk ride we had to pay for but once the driver managed to find it, our hotel, the Golden Butterfly Villa was the best thing that happened to us all day. They meet us with cold towels, a drink, fried banana chips and an explanation in English. We had dinner at Good Food which had free WiFi and $0.50 draft. We ended the day watching BBC world news.