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Cambodia :: Everything has a price

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Wednesday, 13 October 2004

After 3 hours of sleep, a 6 hour train ride and a couple of coffees, I arrive at the Cambodian border. On the very long, but interesting 3rd class train ride - which cost me 48 Baht (less than a pound) - I meet a couple of travellers: Julia is a vet from Norway, and Adam is a Drug Force officer from Australia. We decide to share a taxi to Siem Reap as advised by a Canadian I met at the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok the day before.

As we start to cross the border, a taxi driver, on the Thai side, says he'll take us the 100 miles to Siem Reap for 1500 Baht. That would come to 500 Baht each (around 6.50). Our alternatives are a bus, which costs around 4 but takes 6 hours rather than the 3 by taxi. Or a pickup truck, which costs around 1 for the whole journey, but can take up to 6 hours and you have to sit in the back of the truck, with 12 other people, and sizzle under the sun.

After filling out our departure cards, we head to the Visa office (which was more like a bench under a parasol). Suddenly, we discover that it is a National holiday today, so the Visas cost 100 Baht more. Moreover, I soon realise I had lost my ID photos (during a small incident on my balcony in Bangkok). After thoroughly searching my bags, I tell the guard I have no photos. "No problem!" says the guard. "It will cost you 100 Baht for me to scan the one in your passport". I doubt he really did, as new passports have all sorts of holograms to stop anyone doing so.

Now, the great vaccination scam. I was told all sorts of things by the Canadian guy the previous day: careful about this, careful about that... but one thing did stick to my mind: the vaccination scam. Apparently, if you don't have some kind of special Cambodian vaccination, they fine you 100 Baht. But they'll nevertheless allow you into the country, after paying the fine, without being vaccinated! I told the story to Julia on the train, and told the couple what they should look out for. Whilst I was waiting to get my photo scanned, Julia and Adam get pulled over. "Vaccination please" asks the guard. I sit and listen to see what happens. Julia immediately replies: "I'm a doctor. We have all the vaccinations required". To this, the guards grunted with disappointment and left them alone.

During all this time, the taxi driver was waiting patiently under a tree. Somehow, he managed to follow us right across the border, without showing the police a single document. He turned out to be Cambodian, and knew the guards just too well.

As we wait for our visas to clear, Adam decides to strike up a small conversation with the local police: "do you know the Drug Force?" The officers look puzzled. So to help them understand, Adam decides to make gestures of drug use by shoving imaginary needles into his veins. Julia and I flip out. "That's it" we think, "we're going to get arrested and searched". But luckily for us, the guards didn't understand a thing. Maybe had we paid them 100 Baht more, they might have been more willing to understand what Adam was saying and arrest us.

I found 1200 Baht to enter the country a little hefty - 200 more than what I had anticipated. But at least we managed to cross the border without getting arrested, only to face the bumpiest ride in our lives...