Backpacking in Southeast Asia: Tips on Crossing the Thailand/Cambodia Land Border
A roundup of Southeast Asia travel guides on Amazon
If you're backpacking in southeast Asia you will probably cross a land border or two along the way.
Land borders can vary across the region and it's wise to be clued up before you set off. Here are some tips on staying safe (and in pocket) when crossing the land border from Thailand into Cambodia.
First of all, if you're visiting Cambodia as part of your backpacking in Southeast Asia itinerary, good for you - it's an amazing country made up of incredibly friendly and brave people. It has jaw-dropping sights and a sad history that everyone in the western world should learn more about.
Unfortunately, if you travel across the border into Cambodia the first impression is not always a good one, which is a shame. For a country so diverse and awe-inspiring, the con artists masquerading as immigration officials invariable taint first impressions.
So how do you handle them?
Firstly, if you’re approaching the land border from the Thailand end, do avoid the Khao San Road scammers by taking a public bus rather than an 'organized coach' to the border - this can be easily researched from Bangkok.
Secondly, other travellers and, yes, the good old Lonely Planet, will tell you not to engage with any touts, tuk tuk drivers, children or, well anyone really, when you get to the border. Listen to them! Approach the border without making eye contact and with your backpack locked. Yes, this feels as anti-social as it sounds but it’s a simple way of not complicating your border-crossing experience so it’s well worth heeding.
Throughout your time backpacking in Southeast Asia you may or may not pick up on the traveller’s grapevine that the Cambodian tourist visas on the border are officially $20 USD (at time of print - these are now $25). You may also hear that the Cambodian officials will absolutely try to swindle more out of tourists like you. Also true. My particular exchange on the border went something like this:
Immigration Official (nonchalantly): 35 dollars for visa.
Me (politely): No, 20 dollars.
Him: OK 20 dollars, 200 Baht.
Me (pointing to a sign above his head stating, “Cambodian Tourist Visa $20”): No, 20 dollars.
This went on for some time until finally the official lost interest and wandered off. After a while he returned and we played out the above exchange once again, like a well-rehearsed script. Eventually he took my documents, muttering that I would have a three-hour wait in that case. I took a seat in anticipation of the long wait ahead and precisely three minutes later he emerged with my visa.
OK, so it’s a tiny bit scary having to stand up for yourself in a foreign country, particularly to people of an ‘official’ nature, but being polite and firm really worked. It wasn't the money of course (200 Thai Baht is equivalent to about £4). Like many travellers backpacking in Southeast Asia, I don’t mind paying more than locals at restaurants, markets or on public transport – it’s all part and parcel and really not a problem in those situations. However, when your first experience of a country is of the immigration police trying to rip you off at the border, I draw a firm line.
Yes yes, of course it happens all over the world all of the time, but if you don’t fancy it happening to you while you're backpacking in Southeast Asia then take my advice. You'll then be free to go and enjoy the beautiful scenery and people that make up Cambodia. Be sure to say a warm 'choum reap souar' from me.