Cambodia Welcome Scam
This is our second visit to Cambodia. Several months ago, we spent exactly 3 minutes on Cambodian soil, crossing over from Thailand at Poipet for the sole purpose of getting a new Thai visa. Three minutes in Cambodia – and we had a fabulous time as far as I was concerned. Talk about smooth sailing through the border jungle.
The second time, we crossed the border at Cham Yam and it wasn’t quite as smooth. Luckily, we had done our homework on the Cambodian scam machine. Online rumors abound of border guards requesting passport stamping fees or health officials charging money for pointing a thermometer gun at your head. So when we stepped over the border, we knew exactly what to do.
“Twenty Baht,” the health official blurted out after I handed him back our health forms. We had seen a group of unsuspecting tourists coughing up the “obligatory” health fee just moments before. More concerned with a little pocket money than with a bunch of foreigners schlepping in the swine flu virus, he held out his open palm almost poking us in the chest. As confident as we could be under the circumstances (you are at the mercy of the border guards after all), we started our part of the spiel.
“There is no fee,” I snapped at him doing a well-rehearsed condescending flick of my hand. Before he could answer, Tony got his word in, “We’ve crossed the border many times and we’ve never had to pay for that.” Silently holding each other’s stare for what seemed like several minutes, the Cambodian border guard suddenly relaxed and started smiling. “It’s okay,” he said and waived us through.
“Well, that was easy,” I whispered to Tony. Another $0.60 saved. Hey, it may not sound much but it makes a difference over the course of a day. Obviously, resistance is not always futile. In fact, resistance has often earned us more respect than condemnation by making it clear that we are no wandering cash cows. And the smile on Mr. Scam Bag’s face confirmed that. Don’t feel bad for his loss, he’ll probably charge the next tourist double.
We didn’t run into any border scams flying into Phnom Penh–well, none that we recognized. We did crack up at the large signs in English at the passport stamping stations that read: “Nothing to Pay Here”. Clearly the immigration officials have made some extra cash there in the past.
Arrival at the airport in Phnom Penh is supposed to be much more straight-forward now. Evidently, the Cambodian government is SLOWLY trying to reduce corruption at major entry points. The Cham Yam crossing from Thailand and the northern crossing from Laos are still very corrupt.
There was an interesting article in the San Diego Union Tribune yesterday (1-30-10)about this very topic. It seems that an Indian professor teaching in the US has printed his own ZERO RUPEE bank notes that look exactly like a 50 Rupee in color, shape etc..He uses them to “pay” for all the illegal fees charged by corrupt gov’t officials. The officials are completely caught off guard-How can they complain about worthless money in response to their illegal requests?.. Local villagers have been given @250,000 of these notes and are now using them when the officials come with their palms out for illegal taxes…Causing quite a stir,shamed faces officials feeling the sting of local protest…
What a great story, Heather. I wish we had had some of those zero Rupee notes while we were bribing our way through India!