Cambodia and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

We left for Cambodia with a fever, a sore throat, and a long night and day of travel ahead of us. Our flight was scheduled to leave Phuket at 11:55PM and arrive in Bangkok at 1:115AM. Our plan was to catch the train to the border from Bangkok at 5:55AM, and that part of the plan went off without a hitch. Thailand went smoothly; Cambodia did us in.

We emerged from the Cambodian visa checkpoint with confidence, having successfully navigated the train and border crossing with no problem, and boarded the free shuttle bus to the tourist bus station. For half a second Patrick looked at me and wondered aloud if we should try to find an ATM first. I assured him that there would surely be one at the bus station. I was wrong. This was to be the first of many mistakes.

There was no ATM at the bus terminal, and we did not have enough money for any of the transportation options. There are three transportation options: $9 per person for a bus, $10 per person for a mini-bus, or $12 per person for a taxi. For us there were two options: leave the terminal in search of an ATM or take a taxi and have the driver stop at an ATM in Siem Reap. Being exhausted from our overnight travel, we opted for the taxi. Normally they require four people in a taxi, bringing the total to $48, but they took the two of us for $36. Honestly, unless you really really want to wait for that $9 bus, I’d recommend skipping the tourist bus terminal all together and just getting a taxi from the border in Poi Pet.

While there wasn’t an ATM at the terminal, there was a money changer. Patrick changed what little Thai Baht we had left into Cambodian Riel. That was mistake number two. Nobody wants the Riel. It may as well be Monopoly money. People will begrudgingly take if, but they always ask for dollars or baht first.

After a few stops at some stores so our taxi driver could collect his kick-backs, we made it to an ATM in Siem Reap, but our problems didn’t end there. Patrick withdrew $100, and the machine spit out a single hundred dollar bill. We all know that places hate changing a hundred. In Cambodia, that problem is exponentially worse. Most places physically cannot change a $100 bill. Meanwhile, our taxi driver wouldn’t take us to our hotel. He didn’t know where it was, and wanted to get his kick-back from the tuk-tuk drivers who would take us to our hotel.

The tuk-tuk driver paid the taxi driver then took us to a money changer so we could get change to reimburse him. He didn’t charge us for the ride to the hotel in exchange for being able to take us to Angkor Wat the next day. We were quickly learning that, at least in this area of Cambodia, everyone is getting their palms greased by someone.

We did not ask how much the Angkor Wat trip would be, which was probably mistake number three, but in the end it didn’t matter. We had a horrible experience with somebody stealing our ATM card number and withdrawing a lot of cash. Our poor driver spent a majority of the day waiting around while we called our US bank from his cell phone to get everything straightened out. We felt so bad about it by the end, that we just over-payed because we were so grateful for his help.

That evening though, we had one more tuk-tuk experience. We were wandering the street outside our hotel in search of food. A driver told us he would drive us to and from a restaurant for free because the restaurant would give him and his daughter a meal if he brought us to them. We went along. The meal wasn’t bad, but we definitely wouldn’t have eaten there otherwise. Remember how we told you that in Indonesia you can get super cheap food everywhere? Well, such is not the case in Siem Reap. Food is cheap at small vendors, but if you go to a proper restaurant expect to pay American prices. We ended up splitting a dish for $10. Not bad. But not great. Also, the driver wasn’t there when we left the restaurant. Fortunately, it was very close to our hotel so we just walked back.

I’m sure Cambodia is a lovely country if you have the time to explore it, but a one day trip to Siem Reap is not the way to do it. We have spent our entire stay here feeling like we are getting ripped off. We are ready to get back to Thailand.

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