Border run

Trip Start Apr 16, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Arun Garden 2

Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, October 19, 2009

Not a lot to say about Aranyaprathet, on Thailand's border with Cambodia. We arrived in the dark, checked into a cheap, clean motel and wandered up the road for some fried rice. Hit the sack nice and early ready for our border travails the next day.

Armed with reams of internet tips about successfully and economically navigating what sounded like a scam infested frontier, we set off early via stretch tuk-tuk to the border. We warned the driver to go to the border, go directly to the border, without passing go, or he would not be collecting his 80 baht. On the way we nevertheless pull up outside a building with an official-looking sign outside saying 'Royal Cambodian Consulate', but it was no such thing. "You get visa here?" he asked, rather sheepishly it must be said. We frowned at him, "Border! ...Please." The Thai side was a breeze, and then we came out in the most curious no-man's-land that we've seen yet. Casinos on both sides of the street, people milling around, a market - at every other border you get hurried along from one checkpoint to the next. Wary of those con-men still we brushed off approaches from anyone and everyone (uniformed or otherwise) and marched forward, heads down. This unfortunately led to us walking straight past the visa application hut and it wasn't until we were point-blank barred from going any further by the immigration desk that we turned around and went back, tails between legs. Still, we were ready for the next scam, from the Cambodian border officials themselves. We were handed forms and told that the visa would cost 1000 baht - just over $30 - we told the guy we had no baht and pointed to the sign above his head that said "Tourist visa $20". "Ok" he retorted, "You pay $20 plus 100 baht express service!". We told him no need for express service, we'd wait, and handed him passports, completed forms and $20 bills. He handed them straight back. We waited a few minutes before going through exactly the same procedure again. We played  this game a couple more times before our passports were reluctantly taken and stamped and we were ordered on our way. Upon entering Cambodia proper we found ourselves at a dusty roundabout with touts greedily eyeing us up. A guy from the 'Cambodian tourist authority' steered us onto a free shuttle bus that would take us to the bus and taxi terminal - it may well have been a fake terminal but at least it reduced our choices to one and so we went along and jumped in a cab to Siem Reap. 

Things got a lot better from here, all scams done and dusted we settled back in the taxi, chatted with the Aussies that we were sharing the taxi with, and watched the lush green, and very, very flat Cambodian countryside zip by. Like Laos, the villages were often entirely made up of stilt-houses, for the flat ground was obviously prone to flooding, and we saw men wading waist-deep through ponds out in the paddy fields, some casting nets about for fish. For some reason every town and village seemed to have a rudimentary volleyball court with groups of men enjoying a game. Look out for Cambodian volleyball at 2012, you heard it here first.
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