Why, yes Mr. Border Guard…I do believe I would like a beer and some contraband cigarettes please

Posted by - August 22, 2011 | Category: Asia, Cambodia, Escapes, Thailand

Border crossings are a crapshoot.  At times they are effortless and perfunctory, and at others, check one wrong box or make one wrong comment, and they spiral into a scene from Deliverance.  But they don’t scare me.  And it’s because I’m a relatively organized person. 

deliverance_thumb.jpgBack home, the cap is on the toothpaste, the smoke detector battery is working, the underwear is folded. You see, chaos is preventable.  It just takes some planning and elbow grease. 

So on the bus from Bangkok to Trat, when I realized that my visa for Thailand was set to expire that very day, instead of the next day as I thought, I was thrown a curveball.  These things do not happen.  I did not plan for this.

I had intended to stay in Trat that night, leisurely waltz across the border to Cambodia in the AM, and take the bus to the beach town of Sihanoukville from there.  Now I faced a conundrum — make a run for it (the border crossing closes at 8:00pm), or pay the 500 Baht per day fine.  As God is my witness, I am one miserable cheapskate.  I intended to do everything within my power to avoid that fine.

Here’s how it went from there…

5:40 PM: Arrive in Trat. 


The last bus to the border town at Had Lek is scheduled to leave at 6:00 and arrive at 7:30.  At least it is supposed to leave at 6:00.  I am the only one here. 

6:00 PM:  Korea sends back-up.

A diminutive Cambodia-bound Korean girl arrives.  She appears to be travelling with only her purse.  Unfortunately, two people does not a full bus make.  We hold vigil. 

6:10 PM:  A small Thai army emerges.

Apparently, they were hiding in the toilets.  They ask to get dropped off at the town just before the border.  Bus driver wants to charge Korea and me 200 Baht each to go all the way to the border.  That’s 80 Baht more than the posted price.  Mind goes:  500 Baht – 80 Baht = 420 Baht.  Still ahead.  We agree.

6:15 PM:  Bus departs.

The bus, well, it departs. Korea sits in the back tending to her purse.

6:45 PM to 7:15 PM:  Starts and stops.

Bus driver stops numerous times to pick up and drop off both passengers and packages.  Korea is oddly nonchalant about the whole thing.  She appears medicated.

7:25 PM:  Final stop before border.

The last of the locals get off.  Korea remains in her happy place in the back. Driver decides now is a good time to pee.

7:50 PM:  Arrive at Thailand immigration. 

Official looks at my passport with “just-in-the-nick-time” snicker and stamps me out.  I start jogging in the rain in the no-man’s land between Thailand and Cambodia.  Korea is hot on my trail.

7:52 PM:  Arrive at Cambodia Immigration.

Several “helpers” approach and offer to take my passport.  I’m certain I’m capable of handing it to the border guard myself, so I do.  Korea?  Not so capable.  She enlists two assistants.

Had Lek Border Crossing

From here, things get a little blurry.  We are asked to wait off to the side while they stamp our passports.  I ask Korea if she wants to share a taxi into Koh Kong – the closest town to the border.  She emits a sound that vaguely resembles a yes.

We are both approached separately by several of the “helpers” and one of guards who ask if we want cigarettes.  I decline, but Korea does not.  The medication she is on apparently is not a smoking cessation aid.  She disappears around the corner.

Ten minutes go by and a “helper” hands me my passport.  I ask where Korea is, and the taxi driver offers, “She…umm…is staying behind.  She will go later.”  Thinking the worst, but also thinking she’s an idiot, I tell him she’s coming with me and make my way around the corner.  Korea emerges from the darkness — carton of cigarettes and purse in one hand, open beer in the other.  Not bad considering we are technically not even in the country yet.  She’s a rock star rebel.

8:10 PM:  We are in a cab to Koh Kong.

Korea and her purse sit in the back.   Both considerably lighter.

Travel Tips:

  • Buses from Bangkok to Trat leave from both the Northern (Mo Chit) and Eastern (Ekkamai) bus terminals.  Mine cost 248 Baht.
  • The Trat to Had Lek bus is 120 Baht, and leaves from platform 13.  You can buy your tickets there. 
  • Don’t listen to the taxi drivers as you get off your Bangkok to Trat bus.  The bus is still running.  They are trying to sell you a 700 Baht private taxi ride to the border.
  • Don’t take any assistance from the “helpers” at the Cambodia border.  They will expect at tip.  Just walk in the office instead of waiting at the window where they are hovering.
  • The Cambodian border guards are notorious for overcharging.  The official rate for a Cambodian visa is $20 USD.  The will charge anywhere from 1000 to 1300 Baht.
  • Bring at least one-passport sized photo.  The border guards will use any excuse to jack up the price.
  • The Kingdom of Cambodia now allows you to do an e-visa.  It costs $25 instead of the normal $20, but will save you a lot of hassle at the border.  Print two copies  – the immigration thieves have been known to charge 5 bucks for a photocopy. Here is the link: Cambodia e-visa

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60 comments - add one
  1. Are you still in touch with Korea? Love the part where you tell them that she’s coming with you — just like in a movie! The story is totally fun to read and I should say, educational.

    1. Well I woulda felt like a jerk if I left here there. I don’t think she had any idea what was going on…

      Thanks for the compliment! I like fun to read!!

  2. Good story, very well told. So have you written up your less smooth border adventures?

    While I like the idea of removing the need to negotiate the visa cost at the border with an evisa, it is worth noting that it is only accepted for entry at the major crossings – both airports, Poipet, Bavet and where you entered at Cham Yaem. Fortunately, it is valid at all exit points so no potential bombs there.

    1. Good point — I did not realize the evisa was only valid at certain border crossings.

      As for the “less smooth” border crossings — I’m saving Turkey into Syria for another post… 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by Christine!

  3. Maybe having lived amongst Korean girls for two and a bit years did it, but I had such a hilarious image of the stereotypical overdressed and underprepared Korean woman riding the wave of being overwhelmed, haha.

    Did she talk to you at all?

    1. She only squealed “yes” when I asked her it she wanted to share a cab. Oh, and when I asked her what she was going to do in Cambodia she said, “Study German.” (???)

  4. We got nabbed by the same helpers at the Cambodian border as well, most vexatious fellas they are too. Although, as with folk in most developing countries, only trying to make a living.

    1. I would think they make a pretty comfortable living if they do that to everyone who passes through the border. I would rather give the extra baht to some homeless person…

  5. Great story I can’t remember that I had any problems yet crossing any border! I have two nationalities and depends on which border I’m crossing I either take the passport of the one nation or the other. It often helps 🙂

  6. Excellent read! Has anyone been through border control at Bangkok airport lately – even in transit every item of your luggage is searched by the border control helpers – maybe they’re related to your ones!?

  7. Sooo…. how much is 500 Baht in U.S. dollars? Having a hard time determining if I’d do the same thing in your place, and I think that exchange rate makes a difference. 🙂 And I can’t believe they just charge you a fine if your visa is overdue…

  8. Loved the story and great tips. Korea is a rock-star alright 😉 I’m sure I will be coming back to this post when I need to cross this border.

  9. Bribery….its inescapable huh? Good to know this info when we need to make a border run. Thanks for the great tips! I love your storytelling. I thought Korea was going to end up being a ho. Guess not!

  10. I’m reading this from the desk in the office laughing out loud. I can picture every moment with such clarity. I can’t wait till you come home.


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