On March 21st, we got up early to catch the 5:55 am train to Aranyaprathet, one of the major border crossings into Cambodia. We arrived about 5 or 6 hours later, and after being hounded by a tuk-tuk driver (he saw us while we were still in our seats on the train pulling into the station and followed us through the crowd for a few hundred yards trying to sell us a ride) we hopped on a songthaew (a small bus built onto a pickup truck) to the border. Having read about the myriad scams involved with this border crossing, we managed to maneuver through all of the “helpful” offers for visa service–the earnest, the aggressive, and the outright lying– and ignored the official-looking signs directing foreigners to go the complete wrong direction to the “consulate” and visa service offices. We waited in a very long line that we hoped was the right one, behind a few busloads of tourists from Khao San Road.
We asked the people behind us in line, a nice middle-aged Australian couple, if it was okay to be in this line, since we still didn’t know where we were supposed to be going. They thought so, but had been on a bus from Khao San that stopped the whole group and basically forced everyone to get visas through a fake consulate that charged them more than twice the normal price. They knew better, and waited for the border to apply also (the woman had her visa already but the man didn’t).
At the Thai border I tried to confirm with the border officer that we could get visas after exiting Thailand and that I could get passport photos taken (I used all mine up applying for China and India visas and stupidly forgot to get more), and he smiled and nodded but I wasn’t sure he had understood me, so I tried to reconfirm at the Cambodian quarantine gate in no-man’s land. The woman there told me that I had to have a photo, that there was no where to get one taken, that she didn’t know what I should do, and that I would have to “make an arrangement” with the Cambodian border officer (to which I replied “excuse me?” but meant to say, “what the hell does that mean?,” assuming the worst). Luckily it didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal and the border officer seemed to overcharge us only a little. We waited in another line for an hour or so, and finally entered PoiPet, Cambodia, crossing the border on foot.
The Australian woman, Rachel, made an agreement for a taxi fare of $25 USD, to the protests of the indignant translator of the driver (she lives and teaches in Siem Reap and seemed to know what a normal fare was). The taxi itself may have been Thai, for while Cambodians drive on the right side of the road, this car’s driver’s seat was also on the right which, in addition to the fact that we spent more time passing on the left or driving down the middle of the road than actually driving in the right lane, made for a rather exciting car ride. It wasn’t so bad, though, since this is how all of Cambodia drives. However, the taxi driver did stop at a car wash for an excessive amount of time while the storeowners tried to sell us overpriced water, maps, guidebooks, pineapples and coconuts. Then, when we arrived near Siem Reap the driver claimed (through another, different interpreter who also happened to be a certain guesthouse’s pusher) that not only could he not take us any further and that we’d have to take and pay for a tuk-tuk ride into the city, and that we had to pay more because the taxi was originally for 2 people (not true, we were all standing there as Rachel bargained for a better price), but also that he had to pay an extra fee to the police for having 4 tourists in the car. Now, we knew that wasn’t true since we had been in the car the whole time and he very obviously hadn’t paid any fees to any police, and we knew he hadn’t pre-paid the police since he claimed to not have known there would be 4 passengers. Daniel and I took the tuk-tuk after Rachel confirmed it would be free (she was admirably aggressive, and I was so grateful to have her there to keep us from being further taken advantage of) and she and her husband stayed to fight the fare with the driver.
Feeling very exhausted and overwhelmed (me, at least), we got a mildewy but comfortable guesthouse room, and dinner and a beer, and set the alarm for 4 am again to go see the sunrise over Angkor Wat.