Busy borders are always filled with people wanting to make as much money out of naïve tourists as possible. However, out of all the borders I have ever crossed, none come close to what I experienced crossing from Aranya Prathet in Thailand to Poipet in Cambodia.
After arriving at Aranya Prathet we took a tuk tuk to the border, or at least that’s where we thought we were going. Instead we were taken to a building next to the Cambodian Consulate and experienced one of the most professional scams I have ever seen. We were met by very professional looking men who told us that we needed to stay with them to fill out forms and then they would go with us to the Cambodian Consulate next door where we would get a visa. We told them we thought we had received a visa at the border but they insisted we could only get one there. We were dubious, but only because we had been warned of scams at this border crossing, otherwise I would definitely have believed them. To start with we politely told them we would go there instead but all of them – even our tuk tuk drivers, who were obviously in on it – persisted to us that we needed to get our visas at the Consulate. It was only when I, very forcefully, demanded to be taken to the border that we finally went on our way.
The success of this scam lies not only in how official everything looks but also in the fact that you can get a visa from the Cambodian Consulate but it will cost up to 40 dollars, twice what you pay on the border. So you wouldn’t be aware of what had happened until you arrived to the border and realised you had been fooled.
After that narrow escape we carried on to the border and crossed over to the Cambodian side without a hitch. We went to the visa office, where we were subjected to another scam. Tourist visas cost 20 dollars but one of the officials, who was needlessly taking our passports to and from the visa desk, tried to charge us 100 baht for the ‘express service’, insisting it would take 2-3 hours otherwise. No signs mentioned anything about an extra charge and so we flatly refused to pay. As the man was talking to other tourists we took our passports to the desk ourselves and got our passports back in about 10 minutes.
Don’t judge those that conduct the scams too harshly though. These scams are a product of need not greed. It is the Cambodian government that is really to blame as they pay their officials far too little. Many officials have had to ‘buy’ their positions from higher ranking officials and are forced to pay monthly installments to keep their jobs secure. Just remember to keep your head and trust your guidebook and, like us, you will get through unscathed.