Why are border crossings full of scammers?

Trip Start Aug 15, 2006
Trip End May 27, 2008

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, February 17, 2008

The boat leaving Ko Kood was quite late, possibly due to a bit of rough sea as it was quite chilly, raining and windy.  Back in Trat we stocked up on waffles and got a bus with a couple (Alex and Suzy) to the border town of Hat Lek.  As soon as we stepped off the bus two local guys had grabbed our backpacks and put them into a cart and were dashing off across the border wigth them.  We kept saying we wanted to carry them ourselves and didn't need any help (since we didn't want to fall into the usual trap of them demanding over a day's wages for their 5 minutes of work) but they simply carried on.  Over the border they then dashed up to the desk, grabbed our passports out of our hands and started filling the form in for us.  We were quick to grab them back, again stating that we didn't need help and could complete the forms ourselves. 

Once we were officially signed into Cambodia we needed to get a taxi to the nearest town of Ko Kong which was supposedly 10km away.  We asked how much a taxi would be, decided that even though it was over the odds, we could afford it between the 4 of us and got it.  We were then hasled for the next 10 minutes by the local guys for huge amounts of money to pay for their services to us.  The problem we faced was that this other couple paid up quite a bit as they didn't know what to do.  Us hardened travellers (well, myself and Ollie) stuck to our guns and insisted that we hadn't asked for any help and they took the risk knowing they may not get any money and as far as we were concerned they were being friendly and halping us out.  Eventually we couldn't take any more though and offered them what was left of our Thai baht (not a lot but a generous amount considering the situation - you wouldn't just hand over cash willy nilly to strangers back home demanding money as they'd opened the shop door for you) and they weren't happy with that either.  When it got to the point that we were about to leave and they'd get nothing from us, they angrily snatched the money out of Ollie's hand and we drove off. 

You'd think we'd be happy to be rid of those guys but our problems weren't over quite yet........  A couple of km down the road we came to a toll bridge and the taxi driver asked us to all pay for it, which we flatly refused, especially as we had no Cambodian cash anyway.  He 'kindly' offered to drive us to a cash machine once we were in town, but again we refused as he should pay the toll himself.  He then offerred to take us to his hotel where he could book our boat ticket  for the following day (which we knew would be at an inflated price) as he tried to claim it gets sold out quickly but we politely told him we'd take our chance and get there early in the morning.  Still trying, he drove us to his place anyway and asked again if we wanted to buy the boat ticket.  By this point we'd had enough and decided to just get out and find somewhere to stay but it wasn't quite that easy......somehow our taxi fare had doubled from the value we'd been told.  Now.....to be fair, it was the local guys that told us the taxi fare, not the driver himself but he never corrected it either so it seems everyone here is in cahoots with trying to scam the tourists (especially as he didn't just drive off when they kept hassling us in the car for cash).  Again, we faced the problem that Alex and Suzy just decided to pay up and I think we ended up forking out a small fortune in the end. 

They went off to a nice hotel and myself and Ollie checked into Otto's guest house.  Otto is the name of a trampy drunken bus driver in the Simpson's show and I could have quite easily believed it was his place as it wasn't the best (although we'd stayed in worse to be fair).  We'd made the mistake of not testing the beds and when we collapsed in a heap on them we almost broke our bones as they were wooden boards (similar to the beds in Bangkok).  Oh well. 

We took a wander around the streets and could instantly see how poor the country is - Thailand had it's fair share of rubbish but Cambodia is more of a dumping ground with waste everywhere and everyone looks poor in shabby clothes.  Even though we felt that we looked quite trampy in our dirty clothes we got a lot of inquisitive stares from the locals. 

We did have a nice dinner in some place around the corner from our hotel where we met a young French girl and a middle aged French doctor working at the local orphanage.  She was very sweet but to be fair, somwhat naive.....she'd been 'throwing' money at the kids by going to the local market and buying huge trays of meat to give them a good meal and lots of toys, plus she was having problems understanding why her boyfriend back home was not happy with her plans to adopt a Cambodian child and raise it together in London.....like I said, a very sweet girl......

Back at the guest house we found a cool hammock swing in the liv ing room which we took over and annoyed the owners as not only did it make a loud annoying creaking noise, but they wanted to sit on it.  We guarded our territory for as long as possible but they won by putting something terrible on the TV so we went to bed. 
I just hope that we do actually manage to get that boat tomorrow to Sihanoukville.  There is a bus but apparently the road is horrendous and this boat is supposed to be quite a crazy trip in itself where they jam pack the seats.....
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