Border Crossing: Thailand into Cambodia

On paper, it looked very simple: a bus from Bangkok to Aranya Prathet in Thailand, hire a tuk tuk to take you to the border, pay for the visa, walk through immigration, and take a bus from Poipet to Siem Riep once in Cambodia. Proceed on with Angkor Wat.
The reality? Much different. The Thailand part was easy, but the Cambodia side was...a test. A test of negotiations, patience, bargaining skills, communicating with hand gestures, and avoiding being run over as you cross the street with a backpack weighing you down.
Once Julia and I were herded off the Thailand bus in Aranya Prathet, the vultures swooped in. "Visa? Visa? Where you go?" asked the incessant locals. After we found an English-speaking Cambodian who said he would help us apply for a visa, we sat down on a concrete bench and filled out the necessary paperwork.
"OK, you give me 1200 baht (equivalent to US $38) and I process visa for you now."
I pointed out to him that my travel bible, the Lonely Planet, warned of visa scams and claimed that a Cambodian visa should only cost US $20.
"No, this if you apply in US. You apply here, you pay 1200 baht."
I was suspicious; and I looked around for any help. Our visa "friend" ushered an Australian man over to help negotiate. Julia and I learned that the Australian man was working as an English teacher in Aranya (on the Thailand side) for several years, and he assured us that all foreigners do pay 1200 baht.
Satisfied, we dug deep into our money belts to pay for our visas, and a second local rushed off with our money and forms to process the visa application. Several minutes later, he returned and said we were set; all we had to do now was to go to the immigration office, stamp our passports, and walk 100 meters into Cambodian territory.

Thirty minutes later, Julia and I were comparing visa stamps in our passports, marvelling at their beauty. Next priority: get to Siem Riep. "You go to Siem Riep?" asked a Cambodian man waiting for dumb tourists like ourselves. "Free bus to bus station take you to Siem Riep."
One thing we've learned since coming to Southeast Asia is that nothing is free, so we immediately grew suspicious. But he assured us that this bus was indeed free and that it would take us to the bus station, unless we wanted to bear the 90* heat and walk with our heavy backpacks to the bus station. We gave in and clamored on the bus.
A two-minute drive found us dropped off at a travel agency office. Annoyed and sweaty, we argued that we were to be taken to the bus station.
Group of four Cambodian men: "No bus station."
Julia and I: "What do you mean, no bus station? Your driver told us he was taking us to the bus station."
Cambodians: "No bus station in Poipet (the border town in Cambodia)."
Us: "That's ridiculous. There has to be a bus station."
Cambodians: "Yes, there is a bus station."
Us: "Where?"
Cambodians: "But no buses in bus station. Only buses leaves at 10 a.m. (it was 1 p.m.)."
Us: "No other time?"
Cambodians: "No. Unless you want to stay here, I show you very nice guesthouse."
Julia and I scanned the town, which was a dusty road lined with shacks, car repair shops, overcrowded minibuses, naked children, and women washing clothes.
Us: "How can we get to Siem Riep?"
Cambodians: "You take car to Siem Riep. Here we have nice car with air conditioning."
Us: "How much for a car?"
Cambodians: "Each person 15 dollars but you must have 2 more people."
After asking other pitiful and stranded tourists, we realized that this was a dead-end situation and agreed to share a taxi to Siem Riep with a German girl, who had walked around the town for an hour asking everyone where the bus station was, only to end up at an empty dust pit. We bargained the price down to $13 a person, grumbling over the inefficiency of this border town and the lack of a bus station (in retrospect, $13 for a four-hour car ride would be a very reasonable price in the States, but as a tourist in Cambodia, we knew we were paying over four times the price a local would pay).

Thankfully, we were in Siem Riep before sunset...with very sore butts. The road from the western border to Siem Riep is dubbed the "Boulevard of Broken Backsides," and it's rumored that an airline agency is paying the government not to pave this road so that people will be forced to fly into Siem Riep instead of doing the land crossing. We did find out from fellow tourists that the visa price is $20, but if the locals get you before you find the visa desk, you end up like we did: paying twice as much.

The next day, we booked flights from Cambodia into Thailand - no chance we were going through that ordeal again.

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