I wanted to take a government bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap as I read that this is “almost scams free” option, but it was full. At the first travel agency in Bangkok I found a private direct bus. Price: 200-350 THB one way. Bargain. Find another travel agency, don’t pay more than 200 THB. The bus company’s name started with “Amazing…”.
PICK UP IN BANGKOK - the minivan picks you up between 7:30 AM and 8:30 AM in front of the travel agency, depending on whether you are the first traveler to be picked up in Bangkok, or the last.
The van makes SEVERAL STOPS BETWEEN BANGKOK AND THE BORDER AT GUS STATIONS. Then, after several hours, the van makes a stop at an “OUTSIDE RESTAURANT”. Which turns out to be the agency which does the visa scam. Before we realized that this was the agency, they broke us into groups - single travelers are put to sit together, travelers traveling in a group are placed at different tables. Then the scammers aim at the weakest link - a woman who is a traveling by herself. They take some of the travelers inside the building (agency).
THE SCAM IS ABOUT GETTING A CAMBODIAN VISA. Instead of $20, they ask for $35. If you already have Cambodian visa (you can purchase it online for $25, but visa processing time is three working days), you are safe.
When you show them that you know about the scam and that Cambodian visa doesn’t cost $35, the scammers become aggressive. They threaten you the bus won’t be waiting for you at the Cambodian side of the border if you decide to get visa between the two borders, because, they will lie to you, it may take long time to get this "cheap visa", and the bus won’t wait for you in that case. All lies. They have to wait for you. Why? Because Cambodian government bus is actually waiting for you on the other side of the border, and a 10 minute ride between the Cambodian border and the International Bus Station in Cambodia is actually operated by the government bus. And your bus will not leave until all the passengers arrive at the International Bus Station in Cambodia.
TO BE, OR NOT TO BE SCAMMED?
Basically, you pay additional $15 if you are scammed. And everybody is nice to you all the time, the bus company rep is with you almost all the time, giving you terrible advice about the travel, giving you false information about where and when to change your money, telling you that ATMs in Cambodia may not work, and that it is best to change your money at the “International Bus Station” on the Cambodian side.
If you decide not to be scammed, make sure you have several other passengers on the same page with you, stick together and be aggressive back. Being aggressive back is the only way. They will try to scam you three times, take you to the “fake” Consular. Just stick together and be aggressive. That is the only way. Half of our bus was scammed, the other half stack together and fought back. And they got to the International Bus Station on Cambodian side 15-20 minutes BEFORE the scammed group, which was told that they purchased “VIP visa”.
WHO ARE THE SCAMMERS? The agencies which issue real Cambodian visas to you, just for more money. I am pretty sure both Thai and Cambodian governments are familiar with this. In the western world this would be called “commission” the agency takes for the service, but in this situation it is a scam because they try to make you pay more by being aggressive to you, by threatening you, lying that this is your only option, etc.
For those who decide not to be scammed, they can purchase Cambodian visa between the two borders for $20.
You have crossed both borders on foot, and Cambodian government bus waits for you and transports you to the INTERNATIONAL BUS STATION in Cambodia. This is about 10 minutes’ ride. The International Bus Station is the place where your bus company recognizes you as their passenger by looking at the colored sticker that was put on your clothes. This is also the place where you are told that you can change your Thai bahts “without commission”, or change EUR without commission to riels. Sure, without commission, but for what RATE? Terrible rate. Do not listen to them. Bring dollars in cash, because dollar to EUR exchange rate in Cambodia is $1 is 0.90 EURO cents. Change some dollars to Cambodian riels, but not much. You can pay in dollars everywhere. Some local shops may give you better price if you pay in riels, but not in Siem Reap.
You board your bus company’s bus and they drive you directly to Siem Reap. They make one more STOP FOR DINNER. Use repellents! This restaurant is by some water (river, lake?), and a lot of mosquitoes and other bugs will attack you. And this is not malaria-free zone.
SIEM REAP - you arrive at the old bus station around 9 PM (they lie to you in Bangkok that you will arrive at 5 PM in Siem Reap) and you need to take tuk tuk to your guest house. You are told that you are so far from the Siem Reap downtown. You are not that far, but you probably will need tuk tuk. Don’t pay more than $1 per person.
SIEM REAP TO BANGKOK - the bus picks you up at your guesthouse between 7AM and 7:30 AM, takes you to the border (a few stops on the way), drop you off at the border, you cross both borders, and on the other side minivan waits for you and takes you directly to Khao San Road in Bangkok at around 7PM, making a few stops at gas stations on the way. Keep your sticker. This part of the trip was smooth.
Government bus: 750 THB one way (you get one meal for free) + visa $20 or $35 (depends on whether you are scammed or not) + 750 THB return. Total 1500 THB ($34) + $20 (or $35). TOTAL: $54 or $69.
Private bus: 200 THB one way + visa $20 or $35 (depends on whether you are scammed or not) + 200 THB return. Total 400 THB ($9) + $20 (or $35). TOTAL: $29 or $44