4/5/18: Border Crossing Scam: Siem Reap to Laos

I had breakfast at 7 am and waited to get picked up to go to the bus station.

My tuk-tuk came at 7:45, and on the way we also picked up a Polish couple.

We were in the van and off to Laos by 8:30, just 30 minutes behind schedule.

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SO many bamboo sticky rice shops along the street!
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My vegan cherry pie I bought at Bang Bang Bakery the day before :)

Around 11, we stopped at a random restaurant. I wasn’t hungry yet so I got two ears of corn from the shop next door and half a watermelon to eat later.

We got back on the bus and drove on for a couple more hours.

We got to Strung Treng, a town about an hour from the border, and had to get off the bus. Our driver spoke no English and couldn’t tell us what was going on. The most he said was “20 minutes” and so we assumed that meant we would wait 20 minutes for the next bus.

We were at a guest house/restaurant, and there was a party going on at one of the tables where a big group of men were guzzling down beers for the New Year.

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Party table

20 minutes later, another van full of backpackers got off.

Some time after that, a third van came to drop off more people.

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Corn!

Eventually an empty van came and we climbed aboard.

We got to the Cambodia/Laos border at 4:45, 15 minutes before it would be closing.

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Van #2

We got off the van and were led inside a shop where a guy in a uniform gave us immigration & visa application forms.

As we were filling them out, the “officer” told us to hurry up and hand them to him as soon as we were done— the border would be closing in 10 minutes.

I handed mine over, feeling rushed. He looked them over and told me I needed to pay now— it would be $45.

The visa only costs $35, so I asked what the extra $10 was for.

He said it was $35 for the visa, $5 for the stamp, $2 for the Laos border, $2 for the Cambodia Border, plus $1 for the border fee.

I said it should really only be $35, but he told me if I don’t want to pay then I need to go to my embassy.

Feeling helpless, I paid the money. Most of the group followed, but there were 3 couples who walked off and headed to the actual border.

I immediately realized I should have just done that.

After the officer had collected our money, he gave $20 to one girl and told her to give the money to the Cambodian immigration officer to pay for all nine of us.

The Cambodian immigration took our fingerprints and we walked a bit further to the Laos border.

We gave the officer our passports again— he would handle the immigration visas for us. He told us to go in the back of a pick-up truck that was a few hundred meters ahead.

We got in the truck and waited for our passports.

While on the truck, a French woman who understands some Khmer told us that she could hear the bus driver every time he picked up the phone. He was updating the guy at the border on where we were at– at one point, the guy told the driver to make another round because it wasn’t close enough to 5 yet.

It was then that it dawned on me why they made us wait an hour and a half at a random town close to the border. It was to delay our arrival and rush us so that there was less of a chance that we would realize we were being scammed.

It’s all a highly orchestrated operation, and it’s pretty incredible.

It was around 5:30 when the smarter people who went to the border themselves were finished negotiating and joined us on the back of the truck.

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Waiting to leave the border
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Border sunset!

They ended up paying about $7 to $10 less than us, which was quite impressive.

We rode about 1.5 hours more to get to the pier to take us to Don Det, an island that is a part of the Four Thousand Islands. On the way, we stopped by a really disgusting ATM that was infested by flies. We had to use it, though, since Don Det had no ATM machines.

There were THOUSANDS of flies— on the ceiling by the light, the walls, and on the ATM machine itself. It was DISGUSTING. As soon as I entered, they were all over me. I had to insert my card, run out, run back in to type my pin, run out, run back in to type the amount, run back out, run back in to retrieve the money and card, run back out.

I was COVERED in them by the end. They were in my hair, my shirt, my pants.

About 10 minutes further up the road  was the pier for the “ferry,” aka a small wooden boat. At this point, it was dark out, so it was interesting to ride a tiny little ferry in pitch black darkness.

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Two of the people I arrived with, Arturo and Laura, didn’t have a place booked so I told them to just come to Easy Go since I was pretty sure it had space.

We walked about 20 minutes from the pier to the hostel. There were no tuk-tuks around to take us. The island had a really nice, quiet, and local vibe.

We got to the hostel exhausted, and were very happy to learn that there was space for all three of us. We got a dorm room with four beds, which was quite nice because it was just the three of us; no one was in the fourth bed.  We showered and went to the hostel restaurant/bar for dinner.

I got veggie noodle soup and a beer, and we all chatted for a while. The group was me, Laura (Dutch; met her on the bus), Roos (Dutch; met her on the bus), Arturo (Italian/French; met him on the bus), Jonny (pronounced Yonny, Finnish; met him at dinner), and Kevin (Swedish; met him at dinner).

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It was nice to just sit and chat for a while with new people. Everyone got along pretty well and there was a lot of laughter.

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