Scambodia

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There was hardly anyone on Soi Rambuttri that early in the morning, except the taxi drivers who doorstepped me as usual:

You wan’ taxi? Where you go?”

“Cambodia.”

That shut them up for a minute, but no longer than that; one of them followed me down the street:

“I take you Cambodia. Fi’ thousand Baht.”

But I had already paid 250 Baht for a seat in a minibus driven by a lunatic. On the motorway, driving as if getting away from a bank job, pulling right up – just inches away – to the car in front, then lurching out to overtake. On a single-track road, about to overtake a pick-up when it pulled out to overtake the truck in front, then overtaking the pick-up while it was overtaking the truck. There was another truck in front of that and a third speeding towards us, but somehow squeezing between them.

Once, a barrel fell off a trailer and bounced straight towards us, but the driver swerved round it with an unconcerned flick of the wrist. Once, he lost control, briefly, on gravel and had the minibus sideways but opposite-locked it back into line like a racing driver.

A few hours of this, punctuated by gasps and screams, then waiting forever and forever and forever: to get a visa, to be checked through the Thai border, and then checked through the Cambodian border down the street.

The agent warned us not to trust Cambodian ATM’s. “Maybe it give you cash, maybe it keep your card, and it take you one week minimum to get it back.” No, he said, “My advice, get the cash you need for one week, two week, however long you stay, at Thai side then cross over Cambodian side and change at the border. Best rate in the country.” I wondered why none of this was in the guidebook, but everyone else went to the ATM and withdrew a bundle of Bahts and, like a dull-witted sheep, I got in the queue behind them: I fell for it too.

The bus to Siem Reap would be there in an hour, maybe longer. It would then take three hours to get there. “But if you want I arrange taxi.” I fell for that one too, along with a bunch of girls from Lisbon.

The whole border crossing is a racket. I should have realised it was. Everyone is in on it; everyone gets a piece of the unsuspecting travellers, from the agents through the money-changers to the taxi drivers. But I had not yet finished being ripped off.

I have a hotel, very cheap,” the agent said.

Course you have, I thought: a favour for a mate at best, an outright scam at worst. But I glanced at the brochure he thrust at me, out of politeness.

 “Aircon, WiFi, just 400 Baht one night.

I looked but could not see the catch I expected. It was £7 and the place looked fine and even if it was nothing like the pictures, I thought, I could put up with it for three nights.

Where you from?” asked the jolly man from the hotel.

UK.”

“I am from CK – Cambodian Kingdom. Which area in UK?”

“London.”

“Lavly jabbly.

That’s quite good. Is Jamie Oliver on TV here?”

“Who?”

“Where did you hear ‘lovely jubbly’?”

“That is what they say in London? Lavly jabbly?”

My room was not ready yet, he said, but they were putting me up in another hotel and he would pick me up in the morning, lovely jubbly. It was a characterful old colonial villa.

There was no coffee at the hotel and I was half asleep when he came to collect me. He told me they were still getting my room ready – still? – but I could drop off my bags and he would take me to the temples so I did not have to hang around waiting, lovely jubbly. That’s nice, I thought, and shuffled sleepily around Angkor Thom, dreaming about coffee. Then I finally got a cup – filthy stuff – and my brain woke up and told me that I had been stupid again.   

The two-day temple tour I had somnambulantly agreed to was costing me 500,000 Riel, or 4000 Baht, or £70, or ten nights’ accommodation. The agencies, I saw later, were charging 100,000 for the same tour in a minibus. Like Cambodian coffee, it left a very nasty taste.

I had booked three nights but could not wait to leave Siem Reap and as soon as I got back from the second day of my exorbitant temple tour, I checked out and got a bus to Phnom Penh. The hotel tried to say I had overstayed and had to pay more, but I told them they had screwed enough out of me already.

Then I discovered that evening that, while I was on my temple tour, they had stolen all of my Riels, most of my Bahts and a lot of my emergency Dollars from the pouch I left in the safety deposit box. Lovely fucking jubbly.

© Richard Senior 2015

3 thoughts on “Scambodia

    • Don’t let it put you off though. The Poipet border is notoriously mafia-riddled (though not so notorious that I knew about it). Elsewhere there are just the same low level scams you get all over Southeast Asia – usually so inept you spot it a mile off. The Khmers as a whole are friendly, welcoming people.

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