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Posted by Jessica on May 6, 2009
How to Bribe Your Way Into Cambodia

We often receive emails from fellow travelers with questions about places we've been or tips for planning a round-the-world trip. Sometimes we like to post the questions and our responses so that other travelers may benefit too. Below is one such example: a question about crossing the border into Cambodia.

(And if you have a question you're wondering or worrying about, just drop us a note at jessica_and_timothy@hedgehogswithoutborders.com. We're always happy to help!)

Hey there, Lisa! Jessica here. I'm so glad you enjoyed my Top 13 Tips for a Long Bus Ride. I had a lot of fun writing that post too.

Cambodia is our favorite country we've traveled in thus far. It's really wonderful, and I'm sure you'll love your time there too.

When you travel overland into Cambodia, there is a strong possibility you'll have to give the border guards a little extra money on top of the legal entrance fee. But don't worry: it's not as scary as it sounds. But first, let me walk you through the visa process.

There are three ways you can get a 30 day tourist visa for Cambodia: at the border (airport or overland), in advance at a Cambodian embassy, or (and this is new since we've been there) applying for an e-visa online. (I believe the e-visa costs a few bucks more and is only valid at certain border crossings.) We got our visas at the border for both our visits (once overland, and once flying in), so I'll speak from that experience.

If you plan on flying into Cambodia, definitely get your visa upon entry. It's quick, easy, well-organized, and costs exactly what it should cost (at the time of our visits: US$20). All you'll do is fill out the usual forms for entering another country (usually you'll get these on the flight), then hand over your passport and US$20 to the border guards, they'll give everything a cursory look, and then they'll stamp a few pages and add a full-page sticker (this is your visa) to your passport. It couldn't be easier. So there's no need to waste any of your time in advance at an embassy arranging a visa beforehand.

If you're going overland, you can still get the visa at the border. But this is where you'll probably have to pay a little extra "tea money" in addition to the legal visa fee. Basically what happens is this: the Cambodian visa costs US$20 or 1,000 Thai baht. Since 1,000 Thai baht is approximately US$25 (when we were there, now it's more like US$28), it's obviously better to pay US$20. But the border guards won't let you, and they'll insist that you pay 1,000 Thai baht. In fact, sometimes they'll even insist you pay 1,200 Thai baht. (This does not happen at the airport.)

If you make your peace with this quirk beforehand, then it's not frustrating. Our border guards refused to let us pay the US$20, and asked instead for the 1,000 baht. We actually found it rather amusing and had fun playfully bargaining with them, eventually settling for US$20 and an extra 100 Thai baht. (So instead of paying 1,000 Thai baht or US$25, we paid the equivalent at the time of US$22.50 each.) Now, we could have paid the full amount they were asking (and you can too), but we felt safe enough in the situation that some friendly banter wasn't out of place.

I know this might all sound a bit odd; but really, it's not that bad. If you remain friendly, it goes very smoothly. Our conversation with them probably lasted only two minutes or so.

We were with our friend Klaus at the time (so below when it says "Hedgehogs" it's really "Hedgehogs + Klaus") and our conversation went approximately like this:

Hedgehogs (and our friend Klaus): [trying to hand to them US$20 each]
Cambodian Border Guards: No, it's 1,000 baht each.
Hedgehogs: Hmmm...our friends paid US$20 at the airport in Phnom Penh.
Border Guards: Phnom Penh doesn't pay us well.
Hedgehogs: [smiling politely]
Border Guards: Gas is expensive.
Hedgehogs: [smiling politely]
Border Guards: We have families.
Hedgehogs: [smiling politely]
Border Guards: It's all very expensive.
Hedgehogs: Yeah, we understand. Travel is expensive too.
Border Guards: [smiling politely]
Hedgehogs: [smiling politely]
Border Guards: [smiling politely]
Hedgehogs: So US$20?
Border Guards: No, 1,000 baht.
Hedgehogs: Well can we have a receipt for our payment?
Border Guards: No, no receipt.
Hedgehogs: Are you sure it's not US$20?
Border Guards: No, it's not. It is 1,000 baht.
Hedgehogs: [smiling politely]
Border Guards: 1,000 baht is not much.
Hedgehogs: $20 is even less.
Border Guards: [amused smile]
Hedgehogs: Okay, how about this: Why don't we give you US$20 and 100 baht each instead of 200 baht each. Does that sound okay?
Border Guards: [nodding]

It's all very silly and, really, a bit of fun if you're in the right mood for it. Just keep your cool and you'll be fine. (And you can always skip the bargaining part too and just pay what they're asking.)

We have heard some stories – perhaps some of the same ones you've heard too – about folks being denied entry into Cambodia because they became angry that the border guards asked for more money. But whenever I've read these stories it's clear that the tourist is being an ass to the border guards: a no-no for any country and a guarantee for refused entry too.

If you have to pay more, just keep in mind that it's only a difference of a few bucks and it can be an interesting experience to have. So when you look at it that way – specifically that it can be a good story to tell your friends later on – it's not so bad. And as long as you're not angry or yelling at the border guards, I can't imagine anything unsavory happening.

Now, theoretically you could avoid any silliness by getting your visa in advance at a Cambodian embassy (or perhaps online using the e-visa). But, since we haven't done that ourselves, I'm not entirely sure they wouldn't ask for a 200 baht "processing fee" or something to that effect at an overland border anyway. (Again, though, none of this "tea money" shenanigans happens at the airport. At the airport you pay your US$20 and receive your visa and you're out the door. Easy as pie.)

I'm not sure if you've seen it or not, but there's a great website on border crossings into Cambodia called TalesOfAsia.com. It's run by a guy named Gordon, an expat who runs a hotel in Siem Reap. It's chock-full of handy information, particularly for the Aranyaprathet/Poipet overland crossing (the border nearest Siem Reap/Angkor), including detailed maps of that actual border crossing.

One more thing before I forget: I think the biggest piece of advice we have for Cambodia is to not let any border crossing event or issue affect your impression of that gorgeous country. (We have also have a story called Five Tips for Enjoying Cambodia that might be helpful too.) And, of course, if you do go overland, just make a game of the "tea money" process. It's much more fun that way!

I hope this helps. And definitely let us know if you have any more questions: we're always happy to help fellow travelers!

Happy Travels,

Jessica (and Tim too)

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like these ones:

May 8, 2009 at 7:17pm
the way you describe it, sounds like a fun adventure. love always daddy, mommy, meow and woof woof.
May 8, 2009 at 7:18pm
yeah i'm first
Jessica the hedgehog
May 11, 2009 at 11:18am

the way you describe it, sounds like a fun adventure.

*nodding* Yeah, it's actually kind of fun! And when you know ahead of time that it's likely to happen, it's much easier to just approach it as something fun or interesting instead of something to be upset or frustrated about. :)

Love you! *hughug*

May 11, 2009 at 11:58am
It was me who said "Hmmmm" to open the game. I am able to say "Hmmmm" in a very impressive way, conveying unfathomable depths of meaning :)
Jessica the hedgehog
May 11, 2009 at 1:29pm
LOL! You are indeed able to convey much meaning via your "Hmmmm" sound! :)

You actually said many of the things in the conversation, but for the narrative I just typed "Hedgehogs" when it really means "Hedgehogs + Klaus" :)

Tim the hedgehog
May 11, 2009 at 1:47pm

I am able to say "Hmmmm" in a very impressive way, conveying unfathomable depths of meaning

Heh. That is undeniably true, my friend. I'd add that you're also capable of infusing a nice ambiguous "uh-huh" with unfathomable depths of meaning as well. The "Klaus uh-huh" has been a staple of hedgehog conversation since early 2006. :)

May 14, 2009 at 9:28pm
I don't know about friendly banter with border guards, but whatever works for you guys. :)

Do they use Thai baht often in Cambodia, or only in the border areas? I thought the Cambodian currency was the Riel.

Jessica the hedgehog
May 19, 2009 at 10:01am

Do they use Thai baht often in Cambodia, or only in the border areas? I thought the Cambodian currency was the Riel.

You are correct, good sir. The Riel is the Cambodian currency, but the Thai baht is often used at the border areas. They know backpackers are often coming into Cambodia with extra Thai baht in their packs, so why not help them unload them? Of course, it'll cost the backpacker a bit extra to do so but they don't usually seem to notice. ;)

Throughout the rest of Cambodia, US dollars are often used for hotels and bus rides and in larger grocery stores. Whereas Cambodian riel will be used for the smaller transactions (or even to supplement the US dollar when you don't have exact change). So at the border areas, you actually have the potential to use three currencies – the Thai baht, the US dollar, and the Cambodian riel – all at once! :)

October 26, 2009 at 1:59am
uh oh… spammers.
Tim if you dont want to be bothered with this on your honeymoon, give me an admin account and I will zap them for you :D
Tim the hedgehog
October 26, 2009 at 5:42am
Hello from Istanbul, Klaus! :)

Thanks so much for the offer, friend. We might take you up on that at some point. But for now, I'm going to take the lazy way out and just close comments on this particular post. :)

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