Voen Kham border scams and Angkor with Kotoe

I decided to leave Don Det two days before my visa is due to expire, as although the last few days have been relaxing, there’s a limit to how long my restless body can tolerate it and i think 4 days is its limit! Crossing the border into Cambodia turned out to be a more difficult task than i’d anticipated. Just as there are Laotians operating the whole speedboat scam in Huay Xai, there are also Cambodian people out to get an extra few dollars from unsuspecting tourists. Unfortunately this time they picked the wrong group of tourists to try and scam . . .
The scam goes as follows :
  • You will be driven to the Lao border to get your exit stamps and pay 10,000kip or $1. This all goes very smoothly until you are told you must walk (with backpacks) to the Cambodian border. However, you will stop not at the Cambodian border but in no man’s land, at small open sided wooden building. You will be told to rest before a skinny Cambodian guy who wears glasses and who speaks too fast, will arrive.
  • He asks who has visas pre-arranged and who needs visas to be organised. 4 people in our group needed visas on arrival (which are now available at Voen Kham for just $20) and were told that if they paid an extra $5, he would be able to get their visas for them within 20 minutes but if they didn’t they (and in turn the rest of the group) would have to wait 3.5 hours.
  • This is complete bul***it : we all realised that he was playing us off against each other. He wanted the 4 people who needed visas to feel guity at having to make the rest of us wait, so that they would all pay their extra $5.

The annoying aspect (one Canadian girl was so angry she started crying) was that although we knew he was trying to scam us, there was nothing we could do as we were relying on transport to the border and then subsequently to our onward destinations. Some people were travelling all the way to Siem Reap and did not have time to wait around if they were going to make it there this side of midnight.

The trick, we found, is not not back down. We basically made the guy aware that we knew what he was trying to do and that no-one would be paying any extra money to anyone but the people at the immigration office. We demanded to be driven straight to the Cambodian border so that we could sort the matter out ourselves. After about 2 hours, this is what finally happened. The 10 of us and 6 huge blocks of ice were driven to the border. 10 minutes and $80 later the 4 of them had a visa. The rest of us were quite envious as, not realising a visa on arrival could now be obtained at Voen Kham, we had all paid around $30 each to get our visas pre-arranged.

The British couple in our group had been travelling for the best part of 5 years and we were all intertested in exactly how they have afforded to do this. The guy joked that he was a drug dealer and then proceeded to inform us that they had worked for 8 months in South America and 3 months in Australia, and that it was possible to get by on $10 each per day. Maybe it is in South East Asia but you’d struggle in South America and Australia where the accommodation alone would cost you $10 a night at least. Maybe the whole drug dealer concept wasn’t a joke afterall . . .

The scenery throughout the drive down from Stung Treng was very similar to Laos : lots of bamboo huts/wooden houses built alongside the river, and shaded by tall palms. The roads were straighter and the surfaces more even but they were still very dusty, so we had to keep the windows shut despite the intense heat.

When I arrived in Kratie, i followed one of the guesthouse touts for the first time in my trip. You Hong‘s laminated flyer really caught my eye : $2 rooms, attached restarant/chill out area with music, T.V, and internet, and photographs of all. Kotoe (a Japanese girl who was in our group as we crossed the border over from Laos) had the same idea so we both took a look. The $2 rooms turned out to be a bit cell-like but for an extra $0.50, we both got a more homely room with attached bathroom.

After checking in Kotoe and I sat down to enjoy a cold Angkor beer and some peanuts. We spent the remainder of the evening hanging out together and in some degree of intoxication!

Photo is of some Cambodian girls operating the sugar cane juice extraction machine at a village between Stung Treng and Kratie.


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