Last week (October 2010) I crossed the border from Thailand into Poi Pet, Cambodia. I had read on internet forums and websites about how hairy it is with scams at every corner. My experience was exactly as others had mentioned so I wanted to detail that information for other people that plan on making that crossing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poipet
If you’re crossing the Cambodia/Thailand border via Poi Pet it’s probably because you are going to or coming from Siem Reap (Angor Wat) Cambodia. Angor Wat was fantastic. I cannot imagine anyone who would not enjoy it. Well worth the journey. So here’s info to make your journey safer.
We took a taxi from Koh Sahmed Thailand (2 hours Southeast of Pattaya) to Poi Pet. We were quoted 4,000 Baht for the trip but got it for 2800 Baht (about $90) for private car.
QUICK READ – THINGS TO KNOW
- BRING US DOLLARS. All purchases in Cambodia can be done with US dollars. Everything is quoted in US dollars. You do NOT need Cambodia Real money for anything. Bring a $20 USD for your visa and a few more for your taxi.
- The new road from Poi Pet to Siem Reap is a paved highway. Very smooth. Just have to worry about the crazy driving style of the taxi drivers.
- You do NOT need a visa in advance. You get the Visa on arrival in Poi Pet on the Cambodia side for only $20 USD. Your taxi driver will take you to a visa place to get your visa in advance for twice the price. You do not need it. It’s a scam.
- Your taxi driver will not take you right to the border gate. He will take you a block away or even a different location where you will be inundated with street hawkers trying to get you to buy a visa for an inflated price. Our driver actually took us to a Visa place about 5 minutes short of the border. We refused so then he took us one block away from the border gate. We just got out and asked the local bank where to go. Then asked again at 7-11. They were happy to help.
- THE MAGIC WORDS – Tell your taxi driver “Yes, I’ve been to Cambodia before. This is my second time.” Tell the street hawkers “Yes, I already have my Visa.” Tell the street hawkers and taxi drivers “Yes, I already have my hotel”. We booked our hotel in advance online so we could just show the taxi and Tuk Tuk’s exactly where to go without hassling on another scam. The Tuk Tuk driver actually followed us into the hotel and would not stop pressuring us for tours, etc.
- You will reach the large gate around the corner from 7-11 that’s the actual border crossing. Fill out a little form and present your passport. After this you have to walk down the street a bit and then cross that street to the right where you’ll see a large wooden building. This is the visa office with government officials in uniform.
- YES – EVERYONE will try to scam you. This includes the government officials in uniform. The Visa is only $20. There’s a big sign “TOURIST VISA $20” – just point to the sign. Bring US dollars. Have $20 bills and have just one in your wallet so they see you don’t have more for the visa. They will just go “ok” and no problem. They will not hold your or detain you (from my experience and what I have read online). Taxi will be $15 a person or $50 for the whole taxi.
- YES – EVERYONE on the street will point you in the wrong direction to get a Visa. If you are not sure just pop into 7-11 or the local bank and ask them.
- After you get the visa, then you need it stamped. The stamp is free. The road is blocked off so you have to go through the stamp line after leaving the Visa building. It’s just a couple blocks up on the right.
- After the visa is stamped there is a free tourist bus to the taxi area. Take that and get your taxi.
- You do NOT have to convert to Cambodian Real (Khmer money) to pay for anything in Cambodia. Everyone uses US dollars. Even the ATM’s dispense US money.
- Just short of Siem Reap your taxi will pass you off to a Tuk Tuk driver. We just refused to get out of the car and had our bags with us. After 10 minutes of haggling the driver finally took us to the hotel which was literally 3 blocks away. I actually think you’d be ok being transferred to the Tuk Tuk. But DO NOT agree to have the Tuk Tuk do any tours for you. Get a real guide and a private car. It’s so cheap. A Tuk Tuk driver will want $20 for the day in Angor Wat. You can get a licensed tour guide all day for $30 and a private car with driver for $25.
There is a new road from Poi Pet to Siem Reap (I think they finished it in 2009). The road is paved and very smooth. It’s also raised to avoid flooding. It’s not like the old days where you’re bumping around in the dust. But Cambodian drivers have a very dangerous driving style (and in Thailand too). They are getting paid for the trip so they drive fast and try to pass everyone. The entire trip (2 hours Poi Pet to Siem Reap) is a constant game of chicken. Passing and trying to avoid oncoming traffic. It’s only a two way highway. I don’t know how you can avoid this. (FYI – we took a bus later from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh that was 5 hours of CRAZY driving. At one point we actually went off the road and almost smeared a car by less than inches. I highly recommend getting a one way flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh for 100 USD if you can.)
Siem Reap (Angor Wat) is just fantastic for two or three days. I cannot imagine anyone who would not enjoy it. Once we had our own guide, driver and a good hotel it was a fantastic experience. We also enjoyed the shopping 5 hours south in Phnom Penh at the Russian Market. Better shopping than even in Siem Reap. I filled up two big hiking backpacks full of stuff. So much fun.
Really the only real downer is that border crossing. It’s unsettling that even government officials in uniform try to scam you for a couple bucks here and there. Once you cross the border into Poi Pet you may have a street hawker just waiting for you, explaining that it’s their job to make sure you cross safely. It was very annoying and they followed us all the way through to where we got our taxi after the bus ride. Very annoying. In Siem Reap it will be the same. Once a tuk tuk driver has you it’s very difficult to get them to leave. They will wait for hours while you eat so they can snag you when you’re finished. Oh well – sometimes you do need a tuk tuk. All tuk tuk rides are one US dollar. Maybe two if you go a long ways. Don’t get suckered too bad.
We tipped well on our trip if the service was good. And we found the Cambodian people overall to be so warm and friendly. We felt good about spending our money there and helping the economy. Especially after touring the Killing Fields and the S-21 Genocide Museum school house that detailed tortures by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.
Spend your money in Cambodia. Have a great time. Just be ready for that border crossing. And a note to the Cambodian government: We Farang tourists love to spend money. Can you please extend the hospitality of creating a simple border crossing that is not full of so many scams and problems? I don’t think that’s asking too much. Your people will find we are very generous when we are on vacation.
FYI – My cousin and I stayed at the Somadevi Angkor Hotel and Spa. Rooms were around $55 dollars per night. Four star hotel. We loved it. Great service and nice clean rooms. Also right next door to a fantastic buffet with a dinner dance show for $15. I highly recommend it.