Bangkok to Siem Reap: Avoiding the scams at Poipet border crossing

James and I had done some extensive research on the border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia in Poipet, after learning about common scams from the Lonely Planet ‘Southeast Asia on a Shoestring’ Guide Book, as well as from forums and blogs online and from other backpackers. We were determined to cross the Poipet border without falling for any of the scams we had read about. Here’s what happened.

Bangkok to Siem Reap: How to avoid the scams at Poipet border crossing Thailand to Cambodia - spinthewindrose.com

Step 1: Getting a bus ticket

On Saturday 28th February James and I went to Mo Chit bus terminal in Bangkok to buy our tickets for the Bangkok to Siem Reap bus, via Poipet border crossing. We wanted to leave on Monday 2nd March, but both the 8am bus and the 9am bus were already full, so we bought two tickets for Tuesday 3rd March leaving at 8am. These cost 750B each.

Step 2: Getting to the Poipet border

We arrived at the bus station at 7:30am on the Tuesday, showed our tickets, put our rucksacks in the storage compartment and boarded the bus. It was comfortable and had air conditioning, and we were introduced to the lady working on the bus as a waitress/ helper (we’ll call her Linda). Linda served us a small breakfast shortly after leaving the bus station.

Bangkok to Siem Reap: Avoiding the scams at Poipet border crossing - spinthewindrose.com
Breakfast: simple but tasty

At around 12.25, we were each handed a laminated card (see below) and Linda told us to wear it while we crossed the border (I assume this was a formality for us so we were familiarised with our bus group).

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Then we turned left off the main road, into a sort of lay-by with a few shops and pulled over. I took a photo of the view (see below) at 12.30pm. Enter scam #1. A man got on the bus and introduced himself (let’s call him Ken). Ken advised us that we would need a visa in order to enter Cambodia. He explained he could sort our visa for us for 1300B (roughly $40). We declined, as the visa is available at the border itself for 30$.

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The view out of the bus window when we pulled into the lay-by. That’s a bus from Bangkok to Phnom Penh on the right, and the main road on the left.

I had previously read that this was a common scam of the Poipet border crossing process. If we had not swotted up beforehand, we could have easily fallen for it. Ken didn’t try to force anyone into using his visa processing service, but simply stated it would be easier and faster than getting a visa on arrival at the border, which in hindsight is probably true. Most people on the bus were aware that a visa could be bought for cheaper at the border; of the 50 or so passengers, only four used Ken’s service. Ken got off the bus with the four passports, we waited around for another 10 minutes before driving 1km or so up the road, where a different man handed the passports back to Linda, and we carried on our journey towards the border.

We arrived at the border at 1pm, and got off the bus, ready for the next scam. I took a photo of the bus number plate so we would know which one was ours!

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Our bus – that’s Linda on the right in the orange

Step 3: Getting out of Thailand

Next we had to master the border crossing. The Thai border gate was a beautiful white Wat-style building. We headed to the left of it – the pedestrian route – and soon reached the Thai immigration building.

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The Thai border gate – fancy!

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Thai Immigration (note: you walk under a shelter on the left side of the road to get to this building).

We got in line, queued for 10 or so minutes, handed over our passports and were told to go to the back of the queue again because we didn’t have our departure cards with us. We asked a different member of staff where we could get one, as there was not a table with departure cards available like in the airport. The member of staff went to a room at the back to get us our cards, and we filled them in while we queued. We were stamped out of Thailand in around another 15 minutes.

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Inside Thai Immigration: there were four desks for Foreigners

We exited the building and followed a path that led us through “no man’s land” across the border and towards Cambodia. We could see the Cambodian Angkor-Wat-style border gate in the distance.

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Upon exiting Thai Immigration you see this, and follow the path…

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… which continues until you can see the Cambodian Angkor Wat-style border gate in the distance

There was a small marquee on the right labelled “Quarantine”. We were handed a form to fill in about our health and were told to continue on, taking the form with us. I’m not sure whether it’s necessary to fill in the form as nobody requested to see it after we left the Quarantine tent, but that’s that.

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The Quarantine Tent

Step 4: Getting the Cambodian Visa

From here, you continue on the left side of the Angkor Wat-style border gate if you already have your visa or if you have an e-visa. If you need a visa on arrival, you have to cross over to the right side of the gate, where there is a small building with yellow writing, the ‘The Office of International Border Check Point of Poipet’.

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James and the Cambodian border gate: you can just see the Visa Office on the right

It was a small office with a few Cambodian officials standing around. Here you have to fill in a simple Visa Application Form. It’s best to take 2 passport photos with you, to avoid having to pay a “fine”.

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Then we encountered scam #2. The official sign above the counter reads: ‘Tourist Visa: $30, Business Visa: $35’ etc. On the desk, there is a handwritten sign that says ‘Tourist Visa: $30 + 100 Baht’. This 100 Baht is a scam – it’s just a tip that the “officials” will pocket. If you question it, they will explain it’s a “processing fee” or some other complete bollocks. It’s so obviously not legit!

James and I stood in line with our forms, passports, 2 x passport photos and 30$ in our hands. We knew we were going to be asked for the additional “processing fee”. We explained we had no Thai Baht left, so we could not pay the 100 Baht. We were told we could pay 3$ instead. We explained we only had 30$ each. We were told to leave the queue.

We stood at the side and waited 10 minutes, then re-joined the queue. Again, we were asked for the additional fee, and again we refused, pointing to the sign above our heads, which clearly states the correct price. Again, we were told to stand aside, as we would not be granted a visa without the “processing fee”.

We waited patiently again. A different Cambodian official came over to us and took our passports, asked us to wait for a few minutes and handed them back to another official behind the counter. We had our passports back, complete with visas, within about 3 minutes.

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Leaving the Visa Office with our visas

Please note: I think many people pay the extra 100B / 3$ simply to make things easier; we didn’t want to out of principle that we knew it was a complete scam.

5: Going through Cambodian Immigration

After getting your visa, you still need to be stamped into the country, so you must go through immigration. Our bus was parked before the Cambodian Immigration building, so we boarded, thinking we were all done. Luckily we realised after a few minutes that we had yet to get a stamp. Here came Scam #3: we told Linda we needed our stamps, and she advised us she could do an “express service” for 200 baht, because the queue in the Immigration building was 45 minutes long. We refused, got off the bus and went into the Cambodian Immigration building anyway.

We joined the queue, fully aware that we may need to wait 45 minutes to get to the front, and therefore thoroughly piss off the few other passengers who had already got back onto the bus. We were in the right-hand queue, which splits off into two queues further up, and were at the front desk within 15 minutes. We got our stamps, had our fingerprints taken and went back to the bus (we even overtook some other passengers in the queue!) Safe to say we were feeling pretty smug.

Please note: other people on the bus HAD paid 200 Baht for the “express service”. I think the bus driver purposefully parks the bus BEFORE you reach the immigration office, making you forget about getting your stamp and therefore paying the “express service” fee to avoid delaying the other passengers.

Step 6: Getting from the Poipet border to Siem Reap

Back on the bus, we left the border just before 2:30pm and were served a simple lunch. The rest of the journey was quite pleasant, and we arrived in Siem Reap just after 4:30pm.

We pulled up by a tourist office and the luggage in the hold was put in the reception area. In the office, we were offered a “free tuk tuk” to any hotel or hostel. We declined and said we would prefer to walk – we weren’t sure whether this was going to be scam #4.

To summarise our experience at the Poipet border crossing:

So there you have it – our journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap was pretty smooth, and because we had read up on the scams before leaving, we were quite aware of what to expect. I actually print-screened most of this blog post on the Bangkok to Siem Reap bus and border scams so I could follow the journey step by step – so thank you artydubs.com!

Direct Bus: Bangkok, Thailand – Siem Reap, Cambodia:

  • Buy from: Mo Chit Bus Terminal, Bangkok
  • Cost: 750B
  • Departure Time: 8am
  • Arrival Time: 4:30pm
  • Duration: 8hr 30mins, but around 1.5 hours was spent crossing the border

Cambodian Tourist Visa:

  • Buy from: the Official Visa Office at the Cambodian Border Gate
  • Cost: 30$
  • Requirements: Passport, 2x passport photo, and an assertive attitude

Scams we encountered:

  • #1: Ken’s overpriced visa service
  • #2: The 100 Baht “processing fee” for the visa
  • #3: Linda’s 200 Baht “express service” for the stamp into Cambodia

Further tips:

  • You will know when you’re at the Poipet border because you will see the Thai Wat-style gate.
  • You have to cross the border by foot. You have to physically get out of the vehicle, be stamped out of Thailand, walk across “no man’s land” and be stamped into Cambodia.
  • Do not pay anyone other than the Cambodian officials in the Visa office for your Visa on arrival, unless you don’t mind being overcharged.
  • Take 30$ cash with you and insist that it is all you have. Use the sign on the wall as a reference of the real price of the visa. Be firm, and be prepared to wait longer.
  • See gov.uk for more info
  • To avoid all of the above, you could just take a flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Pricier, but undoubtedly easier and more comfortable! Skyscanner or Air Asia are the best websites for cheap flights around South East Asia.

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Have you crossed the Poipet border? Did you experience any of these scams? I am interested to know if they vary depending on which bus you take etc. Let me know if you have any info!

Thanks for reading,

Please note: all information provided here is correct at the time of writing regarding our journey on 3rd March 2015. It is entirely your own decision if you would prefer to pay a little extra to avoid hassle when crossing the Poipet border. We did not want to pay extra out of principle.

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4 Comments

  1. On Christmas 2015, the border officials didn’t ask for the “processing fee” anymore – maybe because of the anti-corruption crackdown by the government.

    Instead, the staff at the quarantine booth had invened another innovative scam : they asked us to fill out the visa application forms. Then they told us that the tourist visa would be 40 $ now, and that we had to pay them. At first I believed them … they were government officials in uniform … so they must be honest [ joke ] ! But later, after they had returned our passports with the visa ( with a written price tag of 30 $ ! ) I realised I had been scammed by uniformed officials :-0

    I wasn’t willing to give in, and warned all people arriving at the quarantine booth that the visa costs actually 30 $ and not 40. I did that for a while, much to the dislike of the quaratine staff.

    Then I went to the visa office just behind the quaratine booth and complained to a cop about the scam. His only answer : “I don’t know, I don’t know.” Then I went to a high ranking police officer ( decorated like a general ) and complained. Within minutes I had my money back ! And that officer gave me a “thumbs up” and a smile …

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