There’s no shortage of information out there about avoiding visa scams when crossing the border into Cambodia from Thailand.
Head straight to the border, make a beeline to Thai Customs, do not be swayed by anyone who approaches you about getting a visa.
But what if your unscrupulous tuktuk driver drops you off at a visa scam office and leaves you to their clutches?
It all started as we stepped off the train in Aranyaprathet. I could see tuktuks waiting just outside the station, but a driver in an orange vest with a slightly downturned face and quiet voice approached us while we were still on the platform and asked where we wanted to go. Too easy.
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Mistake one: trusting the driver in the orange vest (T thinks those in orange were not very legit). Also: feeling sorry for him and deciding not to bargain down from 100 baht, the going rate.
Eventually, a road sign bearing the word ‘border’ came into sight, and we turned left into that road, then hastily pulled into a parking lot behind a nondescript building with a ‘Welcome to Cambodia’ sign. Dodgy. Along with a few other people who’d arrived at the same time, we were ushered inside by a storm of men who’d descended upon us as we alighted. Two Asian girls ducked away down the front towards the road, and my instinct was to follow them – but I let us be swept along. Mistake number two.
Inside, a ton of Western tourists were busy filling out forms. The same forms were placed in front of us – plain A4s printed with black ink, not looking particularly governmental. I tried pulling the “Mee visa lao!” schtick on the man who’d attached himself to us like a leech, but I don’t think I was particularly convincing. After a bit of muttering back and forth with T, I asked the man how much visas were.
“1000 baht,” he replied. “No! US$20,” I said, outraged. And at that, we got up to leave.
“You go check, see police, then come back” said the man. That worried me a bit. These guys were obviously shady; what would a visit to their ‘police’ entail? Nonetheless, my aversion to being ripped off won out.
Once out on the hot, dusty road, T and I were both at a loss. We’re both beginner travellers, from New Zealand no less – we’re not used to land border crossings, what they look like, or how they operate. I knew we weren’t in the right place; I just didn’t know where we were supposed to be or how to get there.
At that very moment, a man in a blue uniform came up from behind and told us to walk to the end of the road until we saw Thai customs. Someone offering genuine help! I could have kissed him.
Sure enough, we headed down towards the end of the road, and before long we saw massive signs for ‘Departures’ to the left. There were a ton of Thais in the Thai exit line, but not many foreigners. Wild guess: most fell prey to visa scams. I did see one tuktuk carrying a Westerner down to the real border office – he was, however, disabled, so presumably the driver took pity on him.
Lesson one: do not be afraid to get up and leave. Simply walk out.
Lesson two: if you are unceremoniously dumped at a fake visa office, but you know you’re on the border road (i.e. you’ve seen the sign), then walk to the end. That’s it.
From then on, simply fill out your departure card, proceed through Thai Customs, exit over the Friendship Bridge, through the Cambodian arch, and head right into the Cambodian office to get your visa on arrival.
And try not to let it mar your experience – the whole thing soured T on Cambodia, despite the fact this all took place on the Thailand side.