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The Pros and Cons of Crossing the Cambodian Border

THAILAND | Monday, 14 May 2007 | Views [2417] | Comments [1]

       

I’m here to dispel a rumor that’s going around the backpacking community:  you CAN get your Cambodia visa at the border between Laos and Cambodia.  Too often we were told that this was an impossibility, and that we would have to kill a few days and hand over our passport (a risky maneuver) to obtain one in Vientiane.  But this is not the case.  After we were rescued from a financial flat tire on Don Det in the 4,000 islands by a very generous and trusting Israeli couple, we booked our tickets south to Cambodia with a nice travel agent who told us that acquiring a Cambodian visa at the border was not only possible, but simple!

Once again, we were duped, a common occurrence in South East Asia.  You get the impression here that someone is constantly trying to pull the wool over your eyes while at the same time trying to slip their other hand into your back pocket…and they’re not looking for a friendly tushy squeeze, either. 

For $30 American, this agent told us we could get from 4,000 islands to Siem Reap (the location of our only destination in Cambodia, Angkor Wat) in a day and a half.  Still untainted by cynicism, we were inclined to believe him, so we bought four tickets leaving the next morning for Siem Reap.

Let the games begin.

I think God, in some small way, has a distaste for backpackers crossing borders, because of course the day started with a monsoon.  Soaking wet, we crossed a river in an uncovered boat, waited for half an hour for our buses to come.  From there it’s a short ride to the Laos/Cambodia border.  But don’t expect any pomp and circumstance, because it turns out that the border that the locals cross and the border that travelers cross are not the same.  At some point down the dirt road in the middle of the forest miles from anywhere, we turned down a road that, if at all possible, was less paved than the previous and headed to the border crossing.

   

And what better way to instill confidence in your country than by greeting its visitors with this:

Or, better yet, inculcating these travelers with faith in the system by representing your country with official looking facilities like these:

 

If you had told us that this was formerly the lot where Blair Witch was filmed, I would have believed you.  You cross the border, and you think to yourself “I’ve seen horror movies that start this way.”

And the con continues.  We were told that the visa costs $20 American.  It turned out costing $25 American.  That’s only five bucks, what’s he complaining about, you’re probably thinking to yourself.  Remember that five dollars American is enough to get by on for two or three days in Southeast Asia.

Now in Cambodia $50 poorer than when we started, our driver and guide decided it was time to stop for lunch in some town where it just so happens his cousin owns a restaurant.  What are the chances?!  This check point is also where those going to different destinations like Phnom Penh split from the group, so we lost a few passengers.  Once our new bus arrived to take us to our first night’s accommodation, we quickly ascertained that there were more passengers than seats on the bus.  After an hour of arguing with the tour organizer (who was trying to convince us first that the leftover passengers should stay the night (his other cousin owns a guesthouse nearby and can give us a good rate) and then next that he could get us an additional bus for the leftovers, but that it would be going somewhere different than the original bus, which contained the leftovers’ bags) we finally acquired a second bus that was going to the same place as the original bus.  Finally on our way, we stopped about an hour into the ride to pick up the passengers bound for Phnom Penh previously, who, it turns out, had been traveling in the wrong direction for the past few hours, and so were just going to continue with us.

But the circus doesn’t end there.  Just a few hours after that, we stopped at a guesthouse that was owned by our new guides friend that was, we thought at the time, only two hours from our original first night’s destination.  Agitated by this unscheduled stop, the owner of the guesthouse told us that we would have to stop and stay the night here because our driver was sick in the head and could not continue to our first night’s destination, Kopang Cham.  But, after two hours of arguing, we finally convinced our sick-in-the-head driver to forge ahead, and we were off.  As we watched the sun droop to the horizon, we watched as the driver’s eyelids did the same.  A two and a half hour journey turned into five hours of prayer as we watched our driver fall asleep at the wheel, swerve all over the road, and flagellate himself over the head with his fist in an attempt to keep prevent falling asleep behind the wheel.

But we made it alive to Kopang Cham, where we were greeted by a man who informed us that all the guest houses in town were full and that we would, instead, drive 6 more hours to Siem Reap.  Then he disappeared.  Twenty minutes later, he cam back to tell us that he had found ten available room’s outside of town at his friend’s guesthouse.  We’d had enough.  We told him we wanted to go to Siem Reap, and we wanted a new driver.  After a bit more arguing, he agreed to both terms, and we were on our way.

What was only supposed to be a few hours on the bus turned into 24 hours of The Big Con.  Once in Siem Reap, the new driver dropped us at his friend’s guesthouse, where we all promptly high tailed it out of there, determined to give these people no more of our money.  The only positives of this trip were the sunrise over the plains of Cambodia, which was phenomenal, and our eventual guest house, The European Guesthouse, which is the nicest and most accommodating guesthouse we’ve stayed at thus far.

Tags: On the Road

Comments

1

I am very happy that no one got hurt and I would loe to join a trip anytime. I am ver concerned though about ghosts I see ghost and I am very excited to say I have seen the dude in the top hat that comes to the abondend house very often. I haven't seen him lately though but I think he will come out on halloween.

  Kristen Oct 10, 2007 1:47 AM

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