Scams are rife on the Bangkok to Siem Reap bus trail. We mentioned a few of these in our previous post about Bangkok. The culprits are usually the dodgy Khao San Road “travel agencies” or aggressive tuk tuk and taxi drivers preying on vulnerable travellers at the border. But you wouldn’t expect there to be any such mischief on a bus put on by a Thai government owned company (Transport Company Limited) would you?
We had bought two tickets from Mo Chit bus terminal in Bangkok at 750 Baht (about US$25) each for that government bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. There’s also loads of useful info about how to get the tickets in our Bangkok post. Despite the bus being government backed, we had read warnings on-line about a “scam” that the Transport Company Limited likes to do. After setting off from Bangkok it stops at its bus depot in a town called Aranyaprathet, which is about 7km from the Cambodian border. A company official then tells everyone on the bus that whoever does not have a Cambodian visa already must get off the bus and provide their passports to the official who will arrange for their visas to be issued. They do actually get the visas issued appropriately, although the scam (if you want to call it that) is that they charge US$30 or 900 Baht for the privilege of using their service. That’s a markup of around 50% on the US$20 you should pay if you do it yourself.
Being the budget travellers that we are (or try to be at least), we did not want to pay extra and were ready for this little ruse by the bus company. We set off from Bangkok and everything was hunkeydorey – the bus was on time, it was modern, had A/C and plenty of leg room. A bus attendant gave us a little breakfast of instant coffee, a small pot of orange juice and a chocolate muffin. So far, so good, worth the 750 Baht.
After about 3 hours we stopped in Aranyaprathet and sure enough an official looking guy with an ID badge slung around his neck, wearing sensible clothes and neat hair made it sound very mandatory indeed that we should get off the bus to let his guys arrange our visas (nothing was mentioned at that stage about the fee). He sounded so official that we were in two minds ourselves whether to get off or not but we stayed in our seats determined to brave the Visa officials ourselves and save some dollar. There were a couple of people on the bus who had purchased e-visas for US$25, so they were sitting relaxed and slightly smug, although, in my humble opinion, the same principle applies to the e-visa as the bus company visa service – you pay more for a little less hassle, so best to just do it yourself at the crossing.
Once we got off the bus at the actual border it wasn’t entirely clear where we were supposed to go, but like sheep we just followed other Western looking tourists and found the Thai immigration bit. We were stamped out of Thailand after waiting in line for around 30 minutes and headed down to the Cambodian side of the border – a town called Poipet. Poipet is a small, creepy looking place full of gambling holes and it has not got the safest reputation, especially after dark. We got that vibe as we came out onto the street looking for the Cambodian visa office and there were groups of dodgy looking blokes standing around eyeing up Westerns, guys on motorbikes criss-crossing in every direction occasionally shouting “hey, you England”, “hey Germany” to us. Luckily, I had seen the following photo of the visa office, courtesy of www.globaltravelmate.com, and so we made straight for that with no messing around.
We had heard that the officials in the visa office ask for a small bribe on top of the US$20 for the 30 day visa and having read probably too much about the scams along the Bangkok to Siem Reap route, we were a bit too pent up just waiting to get ripped off. So when the official said we had to pay 100 Baht each (roughly £2/US$3) on top of the 20 dollars, angered and through gritted teeth we stood firm saying we would only pay for the visa and that we had no Baht left anyway (this worked for a few people we met, but not us – probably depends on the official). He moved us aside and said the same to others, everyone else seemed to pay the small bribe with little fuss. After a further unsuccessful try to give him our passport minus the bribe, he told us to sit down. Nothing happened for a further 15 minutes as we realised he was playing some sort of “visa bribe poker” with us. Fearing that the bus might drive on without us, I approached the guy with 40 dollars and 90 Baht for both of us, explaining that was all we had – ten minutes later we had our 30 day visas and so got away relatively unscathed money-wise in the end.
That wasn’t the end of the saga though, as after getting the visa there is another huge queue just up the road from the visa office for “signing in” to the country. You have to complete some personal information on an arrival card and let the officials take a scan of your fingerprints. We had to wait for around an hour and a half in that queue in the heat, so be prepared and bring some water – you’ll need it!
After everyone got sorted and climbed back on the bus, we made the two hour journey to Siem Reap from the border and were fed a decent, although small, dinner of fried rice and sausage by the bus people. At Siem Reap the bus guys organised a free tuk tuk to take us near the centre of town to hunt for a room, which was pretty handy.
So the Bangkok to Siem Reap journey can be done quite easily on the Transport Company Limited bus and at 750 Baht for a direct service, it can work out cheaper than doing it yourself on public transport, taxis and tuk tuks. Also, if you are prepared for the scams and learn how to avoid them, naturally that will save you money too.
Anyway, good luck if you’re making that trip and feel free to ask us any questions you want about the border crossing or anything else, anything at all…
[THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON OUR PREVIOUS SITE ON 16 FEBRUARY 2014]