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Siem Reap

September 15th, 2008 | Posted by Davey in 05-Cambodia - (1 Comments)

Siem Reap is the gateway to Cambodia’s spiritual and cultural heartbeat.  The town was a quiet, sleepy backwater until a few years ago, but it’s quickly reinventing itself as a sophisticated centre for the new wave of visitors passing through each year.  If Cambodia is hot right now, then Siem Reap is at boiling point, the one place everyone coming to Cambodia will hit during their visit (Lonely Planet).

Most claim the Lonely Planet to be the traveller’s bible, and for us it is, but sometimes it gets its blatantly wrong.  Siem Reap is not a ‘charming town with rural qualities’, it’s an overcrowded pit with nagging tuk tuk drivers and touts leaving you feeling vulnerable and scammed at every turn.

The whole of Cambodia has had it’s fair share of hardship and grief in recent years, especially during Pol Pot’s genocidal Khumer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, and this is especially true for the people of Siem Reap who were in the heart of the troubles.  It is only in recent years that the country has been able to put the past aside and focus on the future – this development s pretty evident as you tour around the town. 

This aside, we’ve enjoyed ourselves here hugely, especially as a foursome, and are looking forward to exploring the country a little more.

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Scam city

September 10th, 2008 | Posted by Davey in 05-Cambodia - (3 Comments)

Yesterday we made our way from Ko Chang in Thailand to Siem Reap in Cambodia – an experience we we hope we’ll never have to encounter again – scam city.

We had heard that there were a few typhoons in northern Thailand which were heading south, so we decided to cut our stay short by a day or so and head for the border and into Cambodia.

Four of us had arranged our transport through a travel agent recommended by our hotel.  The bus was an hour and a half late, a great start. 

Scam 1 – when we got near the border we conveniently stopped at an office and were told that it was the only place we could obtain our visas.  We handed over the cash, but it didn’t feel right and I felt a scam, out came the bible (lonely planet) and sure enough it was, so we kindly asked for our money back.  That’s when the trouble started, they got aggressive and threatened us with all sorts.  All eight of us (from the bus) gave as good as we got and not until we had our mobiles out to call the police did they hand back the cash – a one hour ordeal.

Scam 2 – we then had to walk to the border to arrange our visas ourselves, only to be greeted by corrupt border patrol officers.  The signs clearly stated ‘visas to Cambodia $20’, but no, they wanted 1,000 Batt ($30).  There was no arguing, we had to pay it or they wouldn’t let us through. 

Scam 3 – while we were arranging our visas, the driver from the Thai border had telephoned the driver on the Cambodian border and ordered him to drive off without us, so we were left high and dry with only taxis at extortionate prices left to take us to Siem Reap, at cost of $45 per cab.

Scam 4 – about 8k outside of Siem Reap, in the arse hole of nowhere, the taxi pulled into a lay by and waited – conveniently he didn’t speak a word of English.  Fifteen minutes later a few tuk tuks turned up with an English speaking guy who said the taxis could not enter the city because they were ‘too dirty’ having driven along the country roads, but hey!, we could get a ‘free’ ride into town on his tuk tuks.  Knowing full well that they would take us to some dodgy hotel, we refused.  Again they got seriously aggressive.  We had no other choice but to agree a fee to take us to our chosen hotel.

Thankfully, and having paid a small fortune, we arrived safely – a total journey of 14 hours.  We checked into our hotel, went for a meal, had a few beers and headed for bed.  We had every scam listed in the Cambodian Lonely Planet in one full day.  We’ve since discovered that the majority of guests here at the hotel have had similar experiences and some much worse.

Welcome to Cambodia – more to follow!