March 1st 2011
Took a 5-hour bus from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, a town at the border of Thailand and Cambodia. The tuk-tuk driver tried to drop me off at a “travel agency” to help us tourists get Cambodia visas but I knew immediately it was bullshit because we can get visas on-arrival at the Cambodian side. I saw a few other tourists walk into the office but I didn’t say a thing to them but I wish I did. I walked to the border to clean Thai immigration and cross into Cambodia.
The Cambodian immigration told me I had run out of room on my passport for visas and that I had to get it renewed the first chance I get, which I told them I would do in Phnom Penh. By Cambodian law, I wasn’t supposed to be able to get my visa because of this but they made an exception. They found a non-visa page and pasted it on there and I got through fine.
The city of Poipet had nothing going for it. It had a bunch of fancy new hotels and casinos set against a backdrop of a very weary and dusty town. It clashed and as a result, the buildings were really more of an eyesore than anything else.
The government-shuttle bus was supposed to take us to a transport depot where tourists could get onward buses or shared taxis to Siem Reap, a 2-hour journey. Four other tourists got on and behind them, some English-speaking touts, following us like sharks on a blood-scented trail. I kept my guard up. We arrived at a remote bus terminal that was pretty much closing. Inside, a few food stalls and a ticket window with several bus times and their prices in USD. The touts had been telling us there were no more buses that day and that shared-taxis were our only choice ($10 vs $50). Everything about the place looked fake and set up for tourists. But the prices were about close to “normal” and since 4 was the maximum the taxi would take, I decided to stay a night in Poipet and taking a local bus the next day. When the taxi left, I joked around with the touts about their whole scheme, telling them I understood what they were doing and why etc. and one of them became quite open about it. At least they weren’t completely ripping off tourists, just overcharging a few dollars more.
The next day, I found out that in Cambodia, they really do use USD (and Riel and Baht) and the prices weren’t just written in USD for tourists. It was a currency used everywhere in Cambodia and ATMs even dispensed USD. So I guess the whole bus station set up from the day before wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it was.