Borderstress at the Had Lek - Cham Yaem border

This travel journal is part of a series of journals, which are all written during a long trip between november 2007 and may 2009.

> On our Way to Cambodja

Ko Mak(As we don't want you to get bored we add some nice pictures of Ko Mak en Koh Kong.)
22-02-2008 After a couple of truely relaxing days on Ko Mak, an island where mass tourism hasn't arrived yet, we're looking forward to exploring a new country. In our travelguide we read some stories and other travelers also warned us for the "scam-bus" from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. By taking this cheap bus you would be cheated in every possible way, just to discover, having lost much time and money, why this bus could be so damn "cheap".

Fortunately we're already near the border when we get off the boat after a 3 hour trip from Ko Mak to the mainland, so we head over there on our own. Peter on Ko MakThis means we get on a minibus at Trat bus station, and unlike the stories we hear from fellow-travelers and our own experiences in earlier minibus adventures, our driver isn't driving like a madman and an hour later we arrive in Ban Hat Lek, still happy and relaxed.

> The Border

As soon as the van stops the rear door is opened and our bags disappear on a push kart of some Cambodian guy. (notice scam number 1: after this so-called service a hand is held up under our noise) Ah... we were also warned for this, so we get off the van as quick as possible. We find this luggage transfer service not really necessary for 100 metres as well as slightly over-priced at 5 Dollar, so without even blinking we both lift our bags from the cart and soon we're at the "departure-window".
The Thai clerk friendly reminds us of the fact that we're allowed just 1 more free visit to Thailand without a visa and when we got our stamps we follow the barbed wire into nomansland. And then:

Cambodian national FlagA guy starts walking with us. "You go Cambodia?" No man, we're on our way to China. O, not here? Well, then we're at the wrong border. The joke is appreciated, but he keeps following us. The three of us circumnavigate the one-legged beggar and his sons, who obviously haven't seen a shower in months. Fortunately the Cambodian office is not far and we're directed to one of the windows by our new friend who asks us to now hand over our passports to him?! Well, no! In that case he gets us some visa application forms, which we politely refuse, to get ourselves our own forms. Of course we're offered a lot of help to fill out the forms. (notice scam number 2: you're forced to pay 7 Dollars when you accept the help)

As we deliver the properly completed forms, the required photos and our passports a bit later, the fat head behind the glass simply tells us that payment can now only be done in Thai Baht. 1200 per person to be exact. (Scam number 3: charging roughly 10 Dollars extra on top of the standard prise of 20 Dollars each) However, we nicely spent our Bahts this morning in Koh Kong, as we're not planning to come back to Thailand in the near future and we'd wanted to pay our visa in Dollars. We try to negotiate, but the window grimly closes and we're sent back to Thailand to get the required Thai Baht at an ATM.

After crossing the nomansland twice more it all runs fairly smoothly. We do get disturbed to accept help with filling out the "departure-card" and borrowing a pen (scams 4 and 5) and we're asked how we plan to Koh Kong in a moment (taxi, motorbike) and whether we'd like to travel to Phnom Penh tomorrow. Or Sihanoukville? A temple? Waterfall?

> Taxi to Koh Kong

As we finally got our scrapbook back, wth a new sticker in it we can get in a taxi right away. For 300 Baht ( = 9 Dollars, for 10 kilometres). Yeah, right, we've just traveled 90 kilometres for less. Yes, but that man just payed the same amount to get here. Well... we don't know that man and we think it's too much. Allright, then we can come along for 10 Dollars. Huh?! (scams 6 and 7) We decide it's better to start walking from this place, but right after a few steps the taxi can suddenly take us for 5 dollars. Since all of those guys here seem to be part of some sort of "shared company", including the customs clerks, and we're Koh Kongstill quite some distance from town, we accept this offer to get away from here as soon as possible.

Once we're in the car these gentlemen seem to have a thriving bank as well, as we're asked to change some money, naturally for an interesting rate. (number 8) As even their travel agency ("you go Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville? Temple?") is not a succes with us, the next tric is launched. (number 9) They know a much better guesthouse than the one we're planning to go to (and of course they receive a commission when they dump us there). Of we daar eerst even willen kijken. To keep them as our friends we agree, but unluckily for them, this guesthouse is full.

everyone seems to have had it now and without nagging we're taken to "our" guesthouse. Because of a lack of small notes we hand over 10 Dollar one, which disappears in a pocket immediately. Uhm... yeah... 5 back please. And there it comes; a classic one, hold on (the Asia-traveler has now recognized number 10): it suddenly turns out to be 5 Dollar each what we agreed. We both make very clear that we're not going to accept this and with after some complaints we get back our 10 Dollar note, which we quickly change for "smaller" at the reception of our guesthouse. If the owner can give them some commission now. Well, they can try that without our help if they wish. We quickly disappear into our room: welcome to Cambodia!

gas-shop soda-shop

One of the shops up here are selling sodas right on the border. The other one is selling something else: gas per litre. Making us think the expiry date of the coke is so long ago it even discolored.