Trip Start Aug 19, 2010
92Trip End Aug 31, 2011
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We got a bus from Bangkok through a legitimate company and had booked a top rated hostel who had warned us about the scams in their emails to us confirming the booking. Having now crossed many borders overland particularly through South America we thought nothing of it that the bus would take us through the visa information. The bus stopped at an outhouse of sorts about 100m from the border, we could not see the border and everyone in our bus were told to get out for getting visas. The guy was so professional; with government badges he asked where we were from and did a line 'awight geezer’ that afterwards we heard they all do if they hear you are from England. He had a smarmy stripped shirt on and a horrid panama style hat and I instantly asked why we were here and why he was taking our bus ticket? He got angry and starting banging on about how this is where the visa happens and there is nowhere else and that this is procedure, he must have repeated himself three times.
Anish said lets just do what he says, everyone else was. So we filled in the papers (which later we learned were not even the correct papers) and gave two passport pictures (which later we learned they only require one) and gave over a wad of Thai Bhat, the only currency acceptable (even though Cambodia trades in US$). Later Anish admitted he is the trusting one and always wants the easy route rather then kicking up a fuss like me and although I had a feeling this was wrong, he would have gone mad at me if I had insisted on going to the border alone, unless there were other tourists doing the same, even if I had known and asked, his lies were too good and we had no idea about obtaining the visa.
We crossed the border wondering what exactly this guy was doing for us as we could quite have easily have crossed it ourselves. We got to the bus stop on the other side and this is where he scammed us –again. He started telling our group that if we spend the dollar we will always be paying more but if we exchange money at the commission free government place at the border into Cambodian Riel we will always pay less. Everyone thought this sounded great so we all proceeded to withdraw cash and exchange.
Like I said, we only lost US$50 all in all. Afterwards we started to talk to a British couple at another con toilet stop (buy something and you can use toilet for free) we started asking how much they paid for visa and they told us they had heard of these scams, refused to fill in papers unless it was the amount they heard it should be and were shunned by the guy for the rest of the journey, literally tutted at and dismissed them for asking to be taken straight to the border. They said it was dead easy, cheap and quicker in fact then everyone else. Plus they only used one passport photo.
Later we started telling them about the ‘secret’ we had picked up about spending the Cambodian Riel and it sunk in this was a great fat lie. We utilized the free pick up service from the nearest big hotel and rang our hostel and thought we were at least winners for not spending money on a tuk tuk. But after a few conversations with the lovely reception guy at this fancy 5 star hotel, it sunk in even more. Everybody explained that spending the dollar is much easier and worthwhile. We were stuck with literally millions of this money and would have lost even more if we changed it into US$. Puh, we even cracked jokes about how we were millionaires when we exchanged it all.
So there. Shame on us. The oldest scam in the world. We kicked ourselves for days, I know everyone at home will think it was only US$50, around £35 I think, but when the room we are staying in (which is really nice, en suite and everything!) costs only £4 a night, imagine how far that money could have got us.
Embarrassingly, I read the book afterwards and sure enough it was clearly stated in there too. The only thing we took pleasure in afterwards was when we got to the room we both held up the pillows for the other to punch, and through this whole trip we have (secretly) congratulated ourselves on being slightly disorganised. Everyone we have met who has planned their trips, booked tickets months in advance and bulk bought accommodation and transfers 6 months before from STA and trailfinders have felt conned. Everyone we meet feels like they wish they hadn’t bothered and just turned up they way we have done everywhere. It sounds a small thing but we were so glad that we hadn’t planned the trip to the day, we have had so much flexibility (and tense uncertainty at times!) but it feels to us we have always had good deals for the most part and had a real travelling experience in that we go, discover and move on whenever we feel like it. That is worth at least US$50?!