Land Border Bus Scam from Thailand to Cambodia

Land border crossings are a pain in my butt. And the granddaddy of them all has got to be the Aranyaprathet/Poipet crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. Most people who cross at this border are heading to Siem Reap.

Beware the Khao San Road Bus Scam! Khao San Road bus tickets are a complete rip-off. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you buy a cheap or expensive ticket, once you are out of Thailand and into Cambodia, the gloves are off and you are at the mercy of the bus driver and tour guide. This is a journey that should take independent travelers between 8 and 11 hours. Traveling with a bus company can take up to 18 hours if you get on the wrong bus and there’s no way of knowing whether you’re getting a good bus or a bad bus.

We departed at 8:20 am and had a relatively uneventful ride to the Cambodian border. Our only concern was being stuck with a load of other travelers who hadn’t arranged for visas.

The bus stopped 2km before the border. We were asked to collect our gear and walk the rest of the way. We actually crossed into Cambodia on foot. Our entry into Cambodia didn’t take long, but as we had feared, we had to wait for the rest of the passengers on our bus to secure their visas. Little did we know that our two hour wait at the border in Poipet would quickly descend into a long bus ride from hell. Once everyone was through, we progressed to the bus station, where we boarded an old, rickety bus. There were too many of us to sit comfortably. Everyone was jammed in and our luggage was thrown in the aisle. The exit to the door was completely blocked. We had to climb over luggage to get in and out of the bus.

READ:  Cambodia Photo Journal: Border Crossing At Poipet

Before we left, we were told our Thai baht wouldn’t be accepted in Cambodia and we were encouraged to switch our remaining baht for a ridiculously low exchange of 3400 riel to one American dollar. The actual rate is around 4000 riel to the dollar. This scam cheats you out of $15 and of course, it’s a complete lie. Baht is accepted in Siem Reap. However, we decided to keep our Baht for our return to Thailand. John was smart enough to change over $50 American to get us through to Siem Reap. We got a much better exchange rate when we arrived.

Our bus departed at 1pm. We were told the journey would take six hours. The road conditions were horrible despite the dry weather. The road was full of ruts the size of Texas and cloying red dust seemed to be seeping in the cracks and floorboards of the bus. The air-conditioning broke down after being on the road for an hour and a half. Pretty soon, every window was rolled down and the dust blew in and covered us within seconds. I wrapped my sarong around my head and put my sunglasses on to keep from choking. Other travelers followed suit. Everyone was absolutely miserable.

Our first bathroom break was on the side of the highway. Women were huddling behind sarongs and towels for privacy. When the guys wandered a bit off the road for privacy, they were warned about the possibility of stepping on unexploded bombs.

As day turned into night, we bumped slowly along. The road conditions were bad, but not so bad to warrant such slow progress. The driver was deliberately driving slow to prolong the trip. At 9pm, 8 hours into our “6 hour” journey, we still had another hour and a half before we would reach our destination.

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We stopped at a ramshackle roadside restaurant for dinner. They served us fried beef jerky with several bugs mixed in for good measure. We also found out that the restaurant owner is the uncle of our tour guide. At this point, our guide drops by our table to give us a quick update and encourages us to stay at his guesthouse in Siem Reap. We tell him we have already booked accommodations and have arranged for a pick-up from the bus station in Siem Reap, which is where we are supposed to be dropped off. He tells us he has never heard of our hotel and offers to let us stay at his guesthouse for the special price of $5.

At 9:30pm, we are back on the road again on the last leg of the journey. Just as the city lights of Siem Reap’s airport come into view, the bus breaks down completely. The driver claims that the air brakes are gone. John protests and says that the bus isn’t equipped with air brakes. Actually, it didn’t really break down and John knows what he’s talking about as his family owns a trucking company. He offers to take a look and adds that in all likelihood, he can get the bus started. Of course, the driver and guide refuse. In the meantime, everyone has exited the bus and is waiting on the side of a dark Cambodian road which we can’t leave because there isn’t any light to see by. Again, we are warned not to venture too far in case of bombs.

We have to wait for the next bus to come. We end up getting into town shortly after 1am after being on the road for 17 hours. The bus drives directly to the guesthouse instead of going to the bus station. Most people are so tired they opt to stay at the guesthouse. A few of us decide to find our hotels.

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Meanwhile, John asks to use their phone to make a local call to our hotel to get a pick-up. He spends one minute on the phone and is assured that our ride is on the way. When he hangs up, the owners of the guesthouse try to charge him $5 US for the phone call. John’s temper finally gets the best of him and he starts yelling. We’re immediately surrounded by a dozen angry Cambodians with John in the center giving it right back.

Our ride shows up just in time and we jump into the back of the tuk-tuk and speed away with several Cambodians running after us. I’m terrified they are going to follow us back to our hotel, where our friendly host assures us that this happens all the time. He has been living in Cambodia for several years and was caught on the same scam bus several years ago. He wonders out loud what will happen to the guests that are supposed to be arriving at his hotel the next day.

As it turns out, we saw a few of the people we traveled with the next day. The guesthouse promised them clean rooms at $5. They were riddled with cockroaches. When they check out the next day in search of better accommodations, they’re charged $8. And as for the guests arriving later that evening at our hotel, they got in at 1pm on the same bus with the same tale.

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Post Author: Carrie Kellenberger

I'm a chronically ill Canadian expat who has been living abroad in Asia since 2003. I moved from China to Taiwan in 2006. My husband and I have owned our own business in Taiwan since 2012. In addition to my own work, I've been writing professionally about Asia, travel and health advocacy since 2007, providing regular content to several publishing companies and travel publications in Asia and North America. Follow Carrie on on Twitter @globetrotteri or on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/carriekellenberger/.

16 thoughts on “Land Border Bus Scam from Thailand to Cambodia

    Farfallina -a roam to Rome

    (August 11, 2007 - 12:43 am)

    This story captivated me and drew me in! I can tell both of you are experienced travelers and saw through the whole thing, though it is still unacceptable to have to go through this!

    Simply amazing…

    globetrotteri

    (August 11, 2007 - 1:56 am)

    We wish we had known before we got on the bus, but everything ended okay. It was certainly an adventure. I wouldn’t do it again, but our border crossing was definitely a tale to write home about. If you’re looking for adventure, I guarantee you’ll find it here.

    Dave, the owner of our hotel in Siem Reap told us that these scams are somewhat seasonal. We went to Siem Reap in April, at the height of the dry season. Since most people don’t choose to travel at this time, almost all the buses coming by land are running some sort of scam.

    jorees

    (August 11, 2007 - 5:59 pm)

    Wow Carrie this is quite the story. I’m glad that you and John finally made it to your guest house o.k. and did not get to scammed to badly. Good you for getting through this experience in one piece!

    Cambodia Photo Journal: Border Crossing At Poipet « My Several Worlds

    (August 11, 2007 - 10:03 am)

    […] As far as land border crossings go, the most interesting, and certainly the strangest one I’ve ever been to is the Thailand/Cambodia land border at Aranyaprathet/Poipet.  There seem to be a number of scams running at this border as well.  For a complete listing of scams to date, I’d recommend visiting Tales of Asia for a current update of road conditions and scams to be aware of.  Or, you can read all about our experience at this border here.  […]

    Juan Ariel Comia

    (August 15, 2007 - 11:00 am)

    What a terrible experience! Thanks for the warning, I plant to visit Cambodia in December and I feel better knowing what to expect.

    BeyondHogwart

    (August 19, 2007 - 8:43 am)

    wow! what an interesting trip, thanks for the info! Hope you keep posting so that all can benefit from it 🙂

    geisha

    (September 4, 2007 - 4:50 pm)

    Oh I sympathise with you as I too, have recently been scammed at the Poipet border from Thailand to Cambodia!

    I had the same experience with the walk-through crossing, money exchange, a horrendous 6hr ride in a beatup old bus with no aircon, bus failure conveniently followed by a stop off on a roadside diner, offers of guesthouses and drop offs by a “free” tuk tuk. I refused and insisted to go to the hotel I had made reservations for but the next day there was a knock on my door from the receptionist who said the tuk tuk driver was apparently downstairs and demanded money for his services the night before! I refused to give any money as I suspected the receptionist was possibly trying to scam me too.

    I hope by telling our stories, future travellers will not go through the same ordeal.

    globetrotteri

    (September 4, 2007 - 6:54 pm)

    Geisha,

    I wish more people would share their ‘horrid’ travel stories, although to be honest, this story really isn’t that bad. Some guy wrote a few weeks ago to tell me that I obviously wasn’t an experienced traveler and very immature to post an article like this.

    The reality is, this happens to loads of travelers, including travelers with years of experience. Although annoying, I personally think experiences like these add flavor to our travel diaries, as long as people are smart about how they deal with the situation. It sounds like you handled things perfectly. Thanks for stopping by!

    Travel at Thailand

    (August 18, 2008 - 3:52 am)

    well this is very useful… (at least for me)

    very thanks

    ——————————–
    Travel at Thailand

    harry

    (March 11, 2009 - 4:32 pm)

    about 100 meters south of the casinos there is a bus stop and english is better spoke then thailand so you can ask around for it. i never been to poipot but from what i have read. dont take a taxi from the physical border area the local police take share or fine any taxi driver that refuses they are not suppose to but this is the mafia. so if you take a taxi go away from the border where it is less corrupt and no scamers

    holly

    (September 2, 2009 - 7:04 pm)

    umm this is what happens when you travel…it happened to me and this is th same as every experience i have heard fromthe thai/cambodia border crossing. yes its annoying and frustrating but these people know how easy it is to rip rich travellers off so they might as well take advantage of it at such a popular backpacking route.

      Carrie

      (September 4, 2009 - 1:55 am)

      Hi Holly,
      Sure, when you travel, you should expect that things like this will happen every once in a while. Yes, it’s frustrating and annoying, but my whole point here though is that it’s important to write about these experiences so that other travelers know what to expect. Besides, it does make for a good travel story.

      Arriving in the middle of the night in a foreign country with no place to stay would make most people feel as though they don’t have a choice but to accept what is being offered by the very people who are cheating them. That is not a pleasant feeling by any means, and no one should have to expect that to happen to them every time they get on the road. I think it’s important to remember that things like this CAN happen, but all in all, I would rather believe that most of the people I will encounter on my travels will be kind, honest and hospitable.

      I think it’s ridiculous to state that “these people know how easy to rip rich travelers off so they might as well take advantage of it.” Huh? By making a statement like this, you are condoning scams and saying that it is alright for people to take advantage of travelers. I’m really glad I’m not traveling with you.

    tempo dulu

    (March 7, 2010 - 7:35 am)

    madness – but it makes for a good story! All part of the travel experience in this part of the world.
    .-= tempo dulu´s last blog ..On long distance bus journeys in Indonesia =-.

      Carrie

      (March 8, 2010 - 3:45 am)

      TD,

      True. Although it was madness, it always makes for good travel copy.

    […] untold number of tourists each year board buses in Southeast Asia to travel between countries only to find out that the tour bus they believed […]

    Sheila

    (December 15, 2010 - 6:22 am)

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m at the start of my Southeast Asia planning and I’m a little nervous now, but still determined to go. How do you think is the best way to handle these scammers?

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