Sorry there’s no pictures, this was just an outrageous story that happened to us that needs to be told.
So we decided to cross the Thailand/Cambodian border by land. We’d read it was a bit of the hassle, but the bus was much cheaper than the plane and we found a good bus company that was supposed to help you through the process (Giant Ibis) so we felt confident that we’d make it work.
There are a few ways to get a Cambodian tourist visa, which most nationalities need. You can get an e-visa in advance but it costs more, or get the bus guide to do up the visa before hand, but of course that costs more money too. Or get it on arrival to the border – which is the cheapest way, which is what we chose.
So, first things first, the bus drops you at the border and you have to cross on foot (the bus waits for you on the other side when you are all done – with your bags, which you don’t have to take off the bus). Our bus guy guided us across the border and first to Thai immigration where we got our 30 day Thailand visa stamped and processed, basically saying that we hadn’t overstayed our visa.
Then he led us to where we had to get a Cambodian visa. We walked into the visa office and were handed an application form which we proceeded to fill out. Then comes the tricky- part paying for it.
Officially, a tourist visa costs $30 USD or 1200 Thai Baht (more than $30 USD – but they capitalize on the fact you may not have the right currency), and there’s a big official sign printed above the counter that says this. However, when you get to the counter there is a sheet of looseleaf that says $30 USD + 100 Thai baht ($4 CAD). We’d read that this is a bribe for the officials that goes into their pocket and its how they make a bit of money on the side. We’d also read of people saying that if you insist not to pay it and become annoying to them they’ll just process you through. They actually wanted us to pay $30 USD + 200 Thai Baht because we didn’t have a passport photo to attach to our application form (which you apparently need). After refusing, they told us to go outside and get a photo done and then come back.
Now, all over Asia we’ve seen little booths that offer to take passport photos, so when we went outside this was what we were looking for. We didn’t find one. We were also accompanied by 3 guys from Sweden, 2 of which needed the same thing we did, and 1 who somehow had handed them $30 USD and they processed his visa without a picture – so he was just accompanying his friends.
After walking for 5 min, we came across a police officer in a chair on a street corner who said he could get us pictures. He had his buddy sitting on a motorbike take our pictures on his iphone, against a background of trees (very professional – not) and then leave and return in 10 minutes with passport sized photos of us, tree background and all. We paid him $4 CAD for them (we got two copies) and said “I guess we’ll see if it works.”
It did. We attached these bogus photos to our application, refused the bribe again, and just handed them $30 USD. They seem not to bother you too much for the bribe if you just have the money in hand. They processed our Visas and that was that. What a joke.
Then we had to wait in line for another 45 minutes to basically have immigration look at our visas, stamp them and process them. It should have only taken 20 minutes but after we reached the front the first time, we had all apparently not filled in a number we were supposed to, and instead of letting us take 30 sec at the counter to fill it in, they made us move to the side and then told us to go to the back of the line.
The people beside us felt sorry for us and tried to let us filter/cut into their line. Then the official looked upset about this and just up and walked away from his station at his line. So we had to move to another line, after he gave no explanation or anything and just wasn’t there. Once we had moved to the back of another line and he had taken a 10 minute break, he stepped back to his post. Ridiculous. Anyways, after waiting in line again, we finally got our stuff all wrapped up, found our bus and went on our way into Cambodia.
The real joke is that they put you through all of this hassle for a piece of paper but they never checked our bags on the bus, or in our hand for anything. There’s no security or anything. So while we ran in circles to get a bogus photo and get our tiny piece of paper stamped they never actually cared to check if anyone was bringing in contraband items into the country. It was an interesting day.
However, it provided us with a fun story to tell!
Thanks for Reading!
Check out our next blog on our time in Siem Reap!