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.
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.
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.
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).
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 $40). We declined, as the visa is available at the border itself for 30$.
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!
Our bus – that’s Linda on the right in the orange
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.
The Thai border gate – fancy!
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.
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.
Upon exiting Thai Immigration you see this, and follow the path…
… 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.
The Quarantine Tent
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’.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Cambodian Tourist Visa:
Scams we encountered:
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.