Ghetto visa carnival madness
Trip Start Jul 05, 2008
30Trip End Aug 30, 2008
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We took a tuk tuk to the border. The driver looked like a war vet with a red tshirt wrapped around his head commando style. He took us to an "embassy" which was basically a total sham. We (well, Aaron) were prepared for the scams though. So anyhow in this Cambodian visa office, which was actually several km from the border, they ask for 1000 Thai baht (about $33 USD) for the visa, even though I know it's only 20USD. There isn't a price list or sign of any form in this place. A couple of tourists hand over their 1000 baht, get a piece of paper, and head to the border. No stamp, visa, nothing in their passport. Being slightly smarter than the average bear, I decide that this is sketchy, confer with Aaron, and we head on to the border. It turns out that this paper was a total fraud and those tourists basically threw their money in the garbage. They had to pay the full fare a second time.
At the border, getting through Thai immigration was simplistic. Than came the Cambodian side, the town of Poipet. We waded through all the touts telling us to go this way or that way, to this trap or that trap, and came to the visa office. There is a large sign directly above the visa window that lists the visa price at $20USD. The visa guy asks for 1000baht. I say, no baht, USD. He says $30. We point to the sign. He says, "old sign, now $30". At this point we begin arguing with him, a cop. We are bargaining with a government border official. It is a wierd feeling. We get him down to $25, and take it. There are random Cambodians who appear to have no government affiliation whatsoever grabbing at our passports and forms and trying to tell us what to do. What a mess. We get the visa, though no one ever bothers to check it, and head to get our customs forms stamped.
Gong show #3: the "taxi" to Siem Reap. Back before we got the visa, people were hounding us with outrageous quotes about the taxi ride to Siem Reap, as high as $75, telling us that what we read in the guide books was wrong. Basically, these guys belong to a taxi mafia, which herds tourists onto a "free"shuttle bus once they get their Cambodian visa, drives them 6km out of town, and then they have no choice but to take one of the very expensive mafia taxis the rest of the way. We wanted a non-mafia taxi, but these ones are very hush-hush because the drivers get threatened by the taxi mafia guys. One of the non-mafia guys approached Aaron prior to the visa office. One of the things about travelling with a guy in Asia is that no one ever, ever attempts to do business with me, they all go straight to him. Anyhow, he told Aaron hé''d take us for $45 dollars, he'd find us after the visa stuff. Then he disappeared. All through the visa process the mafia guy kept following us, and non-mafia guy would materialize, tell us to keep walking, and then vanish. After the visa stuff this Belgian couple asked us to share a taxi, but they got on the mafia shuttle, so nuts to them, goodbye. We walked through Poipet, which is an absolute hole (SEP: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gunnie/1466358696/) , with mafia guy following us around. He got in a car and continued to follow us. Non-mafia guy appeared and told us to try to lose mafia guy, and then he'd come find us. He told us to fake turning him down infront of the mafia guy, so we did, waving him off and telling him "no, no, go away!". It was like making a drug deal. So we walked down the street, pretended to be interested in the fine ghetto parade of Poipet... "oh look at that pharmacy! My, that's interesting. And what a mud puddle! That's quite a mud puddle, I'd say". Mafia guy was driving along beside us, hounding us to take his $75 taxi, but he got a bit tied up in the traffic. Then another car appeared with a driver we didn't recognize, asking us for a taxi, and our non-mafia guy popped his head out of the back seat. We had to be quick and jump in before mafia guy saw us... they're very competitive and have been known to physically assault the non-mafia taxis, and even the foreigners who use them! So Aaron jumps into the back seat of this car, throws his big bag on top of non-mafia guy, who hides under it. Aaron drags me into the back, my bag still on me, the straps all twisted around my neck. The driver in the front helps him wrench it off my neck, we slam the door, and away we go. The driver gets off the main road asap to prevent being sighted by the mafia. I felt like we had just bought a shipment of crack or something. Off we went to Siem Reap, a 3 hour drive of questionable sanity on the worst roads you've ever seen in your life. Muddy potholed roads at high speeds. But here we are, arrived in Siem Reap in two fine pieces, without getting ripped off or taken to strange secondary destinations by scam artists. Hurray!
Does that make any sense? If not, read this: http://www.talesofasia.com/cambodia-overland-bkksr-self.htm
Skim on down to the heading marked "border crossing" to where things get interesting.
Tomorrow is Angkor Wat Day!!
ps Aaron got his Chinese Visa. Prayers answered!!