Crossing into Cambodia

Vendors and jungle near the boat dock

Vendors and jungle near the boat dock

If you’re superstitious, I suppose Friday, March 13th is not a good day to attempt a land border crossing from Thailand into Cambodia. Thankfully we’re barely aware of what day of the week it is while we’re traveling so we went ahead with our travel plans. Our morning started with a crowded minibus from Koh Chang to the border. And when I say crowded, I mean every seat and space between had a person or luggage in it. The scenery was mostly rubber tree plantations and dirt-poor houses along the roadside. At one point we did drive through some impressive limestone hills and cliffs, but that was the only highlight, scenery-wise.

Boat dock as we left Koh Chang

Boat dock as we left Koh Chang

As we approached the border, our driver stopped at a roadside restaurant and unloaded everyone. Everyone else on the bus had booked passage through to Siem Reap and so based on accounts I’d read on the internet, they were probably being unloaded here to be scammed out of some money for unnecessary “visa fees” before being taken to the actual visa office. We, however, had anticipated this phase of border scams and had booked passage only as far as the border itself. Therefore, our driver took Caroline and I a little further and dropped us at the actual border. The border area was very busy and there were lots of people crossing in both directions. Some people offered to carry our bags or help us find the visa office, but I was wary of any such offer of help. We found the official visa office without trouble and paid for our visas plus the extra charge the guys working there add in for their own profit.  It was pretty quick and easy and we thought we were through the worst of it.

Outside we continued walking toward Cambodia and came upon a long line of tourists waiting for their Cambodian entrance stamps. This is where the headaches of the border crossing really occur! At least the line was mostly inside a long building and out of the sun, but it was still super hot and miserable. There were guys offering to “help” folks bypass the line for a fee or in exchange for taking their over-priced taxi into Siem Reap. We decided to just wait in line, but were soon wishing we had bribed somebody to skip ahead. On the plus side, we befriended a couple other Americans in line and agreed to share a taxi together into Siem Reap. The odd thing is, as we foreigners waited in the long line, locals seemed to cross the border without any such delay.

Eventually we were across the border and enjoying a harrowing taxi ride into Siem Reap. When I say “harrowing”, imagine driving down a two-lane road with everything from bikes, scooters, tractors, cars, trucks and buses. Now imagine that the faster vehicles pass the slower ones whenever they want. If they’re coming head-on you simply have to slow down and swerve out of the way or hope they do. It’s completely chaotic by Western standards, but it seems to work. I guess people here don’t want to get in accidents and try hard to avoid them.

Now, just because you’re in a taxi to Siem Reap doesn’t mean the locals are done trying to get a few more bucks from you. The guy driving us into Siem Reap had said he would take us to our hotels, but as we entered town his tune changed. He now said that since our two hotels were far apart he had to drop us at a different location where tuk-tuk drivers could take us to our hotels for “free”. We had fully expected this based on internet accounts and so we took it in stride. The small crowd of tuk-tuk drivers offered us free rides to our hotel and one in particular latched onto Caroline and I. I don’t know what system they use to determine which driver gets which tourist, but I’ve never seen them fight over potential tourist customers. Anyway, this guy finally made it clear the free ride to our hotel was only in exchange for us agreeing to use his services to drive around the temples at Angkor Wat while in town. That’s where the real money is, apparently. We told him we only wanted to pay for the ride to our hotel and started to walk away before he finally agreed to take us.

By this time it was almost dark out and we were exhausted from a long day of travel. Thankfully our hotel in Siem Reap, Image d’Angkor, is nice and the staff is helpful. We had a quiet dinner at their small poolside restaurant and called it a day.

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