Date: January 25th, 2013
I’m fighting sleepiness in a quiet dorm room in Bangkok after 15 hours’ bus ride from Phnom Penh to Bangkok. Phnom Penh to Poipet takes 9 hours, and Pp to BKK is 6 hours, the max. I’m writing this blog post seeing that even if its not my first time to Bangkok, every travel past the Cambodian immigration office does appear new to me, always.
Already past midnight, this part of Bangkok seems to be a little sleepy. I have chosen a quite nice hostel five minutes of walk from Queen Sirikit Convention Centre MRT, which makes the hostel one of the most convenient options I’ve ever had. I’m not travelling alone this time, tasked to accompany 5 of my family members: my mom, her in law, my brother in law, his 10-month son (my nephew) and my elder sister.
What you need before you travel is www.wikitravel.org, probably one of the best websites you should consult to find out where to sleep, buy, eat or how to travel as cheaply as possible from place to place. I’ve used Wikitravel a lot, and I’m still loving it.
As a matter of fact, I’m still rewinding the whole day’s journey beginning from 6am in Cambodia’s capital city to 10pm in Thailand’s busiest commercial centre. There are definitely some things to learn and ‘hate’ from the past 15 hours. Can I choose?
Two days earlier, my youngest sister helped book 6 seats on local Sorya Bus. As far as I have been told, there are two bus companies which offer tickets from Phnom Penh to Bangkok: Sorya Bus (SB) and Virak Buntham (VB), the latter of which only provides night buses and takes a different route from that of Sorya Bus. VB drives from Phnom Penh, past Koh Kong province and straight to the border, which probably takes a bit more time that SB. VB charges only 9 USD from Phnom Penh to Poipet while Sorya Bus charges a little more than that. However, the whole package from Phnom Penh to Bangkok that SB sells is 17 USD per seat, a quite attractive deal. I’ll tell you what, 17 USD can save you from all the hassles at the border.
Scams at the border?
Sorya Bus drops customers at Poipot, the Cambodian border town next to Thailand. They exactly stop next to the Cambodian visa office where you will need to get your passport stamped to leave the country. Everybody will have to hop off the bus and walk straight to the Cambodian visa office on the right hand side. Today, for the first time I was asked for 10,000 Riel just to leave Cambodia. And, who asked me for that amount shouldn’t be surprising at all. I posted the status update on my Facebook for some ideas:
Bangkok — 24th–27th Jan. Hell, do Cambodians have to pay 10,000 riel to the Cambodian immigration police at Poipet border to cross to Thailand?
I was amazed by the overwhelming responses by nearly 30 friends, both Cambodian and non-Cambodian, who have been through the same situation. Cambodian immigration officers at Poipet are notorious for asking for 10,000 Riel or 100 Baht from Cambodians, but normally not foreigners provided that they know some tourists can blow it off. According to some of the answers to that status update of mine, some decided to give because simply they had sympathy toward the officers who didn’t really get well-paid. Whereas, others did not give a dime while questioning their authority and legitimacy to request the amount of money.
I wanted speed. So I paid.
On the Thai side (entering Thailand) the last 2 times I went through it was 300baht to get to the front of a 2 hour queue, after waiting just 2 or 3 minutes on the Cambodian side. Thieving assholes on both sides.
It appears that even on the Thai border, some young multi-lingual guys who speak Khmer, Thai and English are running convenience services for both Cambodians and foreigners who are eager to waste no time queuing and get their visa. Pay them 300 Baht, and they’ll get you a visa quickly. One of the men working on it is known to be a son of a Thai immigration officer. On busy sweltering days with long lines of tourists waiting to get past the border checkpoint, some resort to paying to get it done fast. However greedy the Thai visa officials are, they don’t glaringly demand the cash from travellers. Whereas, the Cambodian officials have no shame and continue making it hard for Cambodians to leave the town to Bangkok. At times, they would nag on non-stop if people did not give them any money. That’s what the author of that quote meant.
I told them I never pay, and I won’t pay. And I never give them the copy of passport. If they insist on that, you just ask is the Thailand immigration law require traveller to copy a passport for them? Who travel with a copy machine? if you want copy you should have a copy machine.
When you reach Thai Immigration police, the copied passport will be returned to you. They don’t need it. So it is the way that some of the bad Cambodian officials suck Cambodians’ bloods. It was my first time to travel to Bangkok through Poipet border checkpoint, I was asked to photocopy mine and my sister’s passport. I did it. Then, the copied passports were returned to me. Then I asked the Thai immigration police, they told me that “it is not necessary.” Damn bad.
Cambodian Immigration Office
Some people did always pay but in a smaller amount than requested. A lot of Cambodian as well as some foreign travellers are pressured into paying their way to get away from these filthy greedy Cambodian officers.
A friend wrote: Honestly, I tried NOT to pay them that fee. Yet, they acted like a policeman catching me on the road. Right or wrong, I ended up “forced” to pay. I know this is not a good practice. Then, you can go on to report to the top management. Well, there may be some change for a short period of time. Then, the same phenomenon happens again after that measure tends to be forgotten over time. I’d rather say “education on professional principles” to those officers applies more than “legal enforcement” from the top. (See, there’s “force” in “enforcement”!)
There are several other ways they can swindle you out of money when you get to the border on the Khmer side. By way of illustration, some people can’t fill in the immigration card in “Latin”, so they are supposed to pay $2 to $2.5 to some immigration officers in plain clothes to do that for them.
“Fill in the immigration card in Latin, please,” a young man sitting at a table at the Cambodian immigration office told me, looking suspicious if I could do it myself. Or he would help, I guess, with the request of some money. “Fuck off, man,” I thought I wanted to tell him. I hurriedly filled in 4 forms but one to go, so my elder sister helped me finish it.
Since there are two spots to get through, one of which is for “new passports” and the other “old passports”, you ought to be aware if your passport is an old or new standard one. Otherwise, those officers would just approach you and say, “Pay me some money, and I’ll do this for you quickly.” New passport holders are supposed to go through an electronic machine that takes no more than two minutes – old passport holders might need to queue with foreigners to get their passport stamped by Cambodian immigration officers. Some people at this point are tempted to pay to have it done swiftly. You don’t want to be stranded for much longer and sweat like a pig there.
The lesson learnt here is even though your passport is new and therefore, you don’t need to be on the queue, they will however still scam you. No exception.
Photocopy Machine at the border
But, the most important lesson learnt is to “never” pay no matter what. Say you don’t have money, say you’ve never paid before. Say you’ll never pay. Say you need a real invoice if you pay.
If you are smart enough not to pay in any way to them, then you know that you don’t need to make a copy or several copies of your passport, as you are told. The Cambodian immigration officers will tell that the Thai side needs your passport. Which is not TRUE. The Thai immigration officers never ask for your passport copy but a filled-in immigration card which you can ask for.
I assume that the immigration officers or office owns the photo machine. But the cost of a copy isn’t too costly anyway: 500 riel a piece, but the idea of paying for unnecessary things pisses me off. One foreigner on Facebook mentioned that a lot of scams are run at the border, and the same at the Thai side border. To avoid queuing for several hours, 300 baht is paid to get in front of a 2 or 3 hour queue to get the Thai visa. You’d be lucky if there were less people on the date you travel. Avoid weekends, but if you can’t avoid, just never pay. Of if you pay, just don’t pay more than mentioned here.
After getting the Thai visa stamp, we hopped on the next van. The Cambodian Sorya bus staff will wait for you the whole time till you get through the check point. You will be given colorful stickers or a card to wear around your neck, so they can identify if you are their customer and will head to the next destination: Bangkok. Another 6 hours was quite rough.
But we did make it to De Talak hostel after repeatedly calling our hostel owner for the direction. Our taxi driver was quite helpful, but definitely an idiot. He drove us around, not knowing anything, something I found out later through the hostel’s owner. We had to take a taxi to our hostel since the van dropped us off near Bang Na, a little suburban area in Bangkok. The bill came as 200 Baht for the long distance, which is still considered a pretty good deal. Taxis in Cambodia are still overpriced. I’m however happy to be spending a little bit money in Bangkok and waiting to go around Bangkok again.
To recap it all, whatever has happened at the border reminds me of some words. It doesn’t mean that I agree with everything said here, but there is something that clicks.
Corruption is a market response to fundamental issues with the structures of governance. In systems with expansive bureaucracies, corruption is the grease which keeps the cogs of the economy running. Without bribery and facilitation payments, the engines of growth would come to a standstill. That being said, the only means to eradicate the malaise of corruption is free market reform. Free markets generate wealth and prosperity by setting the individual free to pursue creative growth, trade goods and services, and achieve economies of scale without having to subject themselves to the whims of public officials.
Link to De Talak hostel: http://www.detalakhostel.com/
Address: 14/33 Soi Paisingtoh, Rama 4 Klontei, Klongtei Bangkok 10110. Tel: 086 887 4028 (Mobile); Free Wifi; 240 Baht per bed/person in a mixed dorm; private rooms: 1,000 Baht up.