How we beat the tuk tuk mafia

Tuk Tuk mafia

When the bus drivers left us in the middle of nowhere, in a muddy alley outside of Siem Reap, I knew we got scammed. Leaving us at the mercy of tuk tuk drivers who charge a lot for the last few kilometers, we became part of an organized tourist fraud.

I warned other travelers that this might happen. Some did not believe, and some were laughing. But when we got left around 10 PM, tired, sweaty and thirsty – we became united.

But let’s start from the beginning.

The adventure begins

As I was doing volunteering job in Thailand in Ban Chang, the easiest way was to take a bus to Chanthaburi, and from there reach Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing to Cambodia, so I wouldn’t have to go all the way up to Bangkok or south to Ko Chang. I obtained my e-visa which was a good move because charging additional “fees” for a visa on arrival is one of the most common fraud. I paid $40 in total and printed out two copies. They can be in black and white.

The morning  my long journey to Cambodia began, I was determined to not overpay anything. I was crossing the border with another volunteer, from Spain.We almost got scammed while still in Thailand, precisely in Chanthaburi.

The Spanish guy is an ideal candidate for all the crooks – naive as a child and full of trust in people but at the wrong places! In cases like these, both your nerves and wallet could suffer.

Various “friendly helpers” started surrounding us in Chanthaburi. The best repellent is not paying any attention to them, and avoid looking them in the eyes. In the Information office no one knew English even though I had only one question written on a piece of paper – Aranyaprathet, which bus? I didn’t go away until an old officer returned with a woman whose English was basic but sufficient. She even wrote me a ticket fare. Thank you! The bus we needed was behind the Thai girl sitting at the table.

“200 Baht” – she said.

“No, no, 140 Baht” – I told her, referring to a woman from the Information office.

Visibly upset, she began throwing papers and asking for 200 baht. She tried to charge us the tourist price and earn 60 baht aside for herself and the “helpers”. Not in this life, honey! I remained perfectly calm which was the best strategy. In the end she had to charge us the price that locals pay – 140 baht. The Spanish and I were the only foreigners on the bus. I fell asleep and woke up at the border. After four hours of driving and only one stop in between, we arrived at Aranyaprathet. “Helpers” were waiting for young flesh here as well, but we didn’t pay any attention to them as we were too busy eating ice cream and drinking ice coffee.

The sun was shining mercilessly. Woman with a tuk tuk drove us to the entrance of crossing on the “other side”. It was a showtime!

Cambodian border crossing

You don’t need any help

You don’t need “helpers” to guide you when filling up the arrival/departure forms. You know your name and passport number. They wander around you just to distract you and sell something over pricey.

The whole process of entry into Cambodia requires concentration. It’s not a place where you’d wish to spend a night. It’s buzzy, dirty and undoubtedly smells of discomfort.

35 degrees, heavy backpacks and sweating like pigs, all we wanted was to get rid of the bureaucracy and buy cold water. “At the checkpoint, please go directly to the e-Visa immigration counter for processing. Look for e-Visa signboard”, it was written in the reminder that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent me with the approval of visa. Well, I have news for you! The respective counter does not exist! After an hour of standing in line, I gave my fingerprints and officially entered Cambodia. Thank God!

Waiting in a line for visa

Police control and checking the baggage? Forget about it! I could have passed three kilograms of heroin without anyone noticing. By that time everything went smoothly though it was late afternoon and we were tired and hungry. We bought cold water, fresh pineapple and dried bananas for refreshment. Once you enter Cambodia, you can still pay stuff in Thai Baht. According to what was written on the internet, there was a free government bus going to the tourist bus station. If I only knew that getting on the “official” bus would mean dropping us off several miles from town, I’d never do it. But it was too late.

We bought the tickets to Siem Reap for $9, as it said on the internet. One “helper” got stuck on us. He didn’t stop talking and I knew he was being boring with the purpose of distracting us. I ignored him, bought my ticket using Thai currency and ask the question that I will later repeat several times.

“Does the bus stop in the city center?”

“Yes” – the “Helper” said. Yes my ass. Sorry for the language

“100 %?” – I wouldn’t give up.

The answer was always Yes.

I couldn’t calm down as my intuition was telling me something was about to go wrong.

We had a driver and his helper. The “helper”, young Asian, was carrying my backpack in the trunk. I followed him and asked the same.

Trust no one

“Yes” was again the answer. But after my angry look, he whispered – I don’t know. That was the moment in which I knew that we are going to be left in the middle of nowhere, at the mercy of tuk-tuk drivers who pay for access to passengers. From what I heard, police is reaping the rewards of this well-established crime.

I saw some people entering a private minivan. Boy, did I wish I was with them!I changed my mind when after a play, in which the minivan suddenly “broke down” so all the passengers came to us.

I was sitting behind the driver, literally breathing down his neck. Though the road to Siem Reap is well paved, he drove like we want to spend our lives on the bus. And then a delay of an hour. Traffic accident. Again I asked the driver if he’s going to drive us into the city center. The answer was always the same. I was anxious to see if we were going to stop halfway at a restaurant. You can guess. Forty minute break after barely one hour of driving.

Their plan was to exhaust us even more. They knew we were traveling all day and  wanted to take a shower and fall asleep. If not before, now I was 100 % sure what was going to happen. So I waited for other passengers to get on board and told everyone about the possible scam. We agreed,  if this would happen, we will not leave the bus as we paid our tickets all the way to the center.

The moment you realize that you got scammed

The last hour and half of driving. It was almost 10 PM. My eyes were closing but it wasn’t time to give up. Then I saw the sign “Siem Reap town”, while we turned right. I got so angry!

“Yet you deceived us. You lied to us and deceived us” – I told the driver, asking him why was he doing that. He laughed at me.

“I don’t know, I don’t know” – he repeated with a smile.

I started telling to other that we got scammed. The door opened and the tuk tuk drivers entered the bus which scared some of the travelers.

We refused to leave the bus and argued with the drivers. One of them showed me to shut up as he doesn’t talk to women.

“I have to earn my salary!” – he yelled at me.

“You’re not earning money! You are stealing from me!” – I yelled back.

Lift your backpack and walk away

The situation became tense as they started to throw our backpacks off the bus while shouting that the city center is 6 kilometers away and that they were the only one to “help” us.

One girl had GPS on her phone and shouted that the city is only 1,2 kilometers away.

“Let’s walk, let’s not give them a dime!” – I was determined.

I wondered if they ever experienced a similar scenario. The situation wasn’t harmless. Left in the middle of nowhere, in the land that we don’t know, at the mercy of strangers. What if they became aggressive? It’s interesting that Cambodian authorities tolerate such behavior but on the other hand, is not overly surprising since the country is poor and people are ready to do anything for a dollar. How many such stories are out there?

80 percent of passengers left the “bus” station. Exhausted, hungry and thirsty, we reached Siem Reap with singing. If more passengers would do what we did,  frauds like these would come to an end. Maybe we got “lucky” because I heard that sometimes they leave people 15 km outside of the city. It casts a negative light on a country that keeps one of the world’s most beautiful pearls – Angkor Wat.

Fraudsters count on our fear and exhaustion but I believe they wouldn’t dare to harm us since it would cause the public and media reaction. It is important to be aware of possible scams and know how to react if they actually happen. Did we exaggerate? I think not. I’m not walking ATM and I had to work for my money. But in a fair way.
Finally, after 17 hours of continuous driving and six means of transportation, we entered the center of Siem Reap.


5 thoughts on “How we beat the tuk tuk mafia

  1. Congrats! Here in Thailand, I’ve talked about the scams – and how to respond to them – over at

    I’ve also learned that you can spot someone that’s got his eye on you. I raise my index finger to my lips with that universal ‘shhhh!’. I get some laughs, as if to say ‘I don’t have a response for that’. They never do – or at least they don’t yet.

    I also keep my scooter key in hand to help fend off the tuk-tuk drivers. Motion like it’s the middle finger for bonus points.

    1. Thanks Chris! I’ll read it in a sec! Thanks for sharing. I noticed that when the “helper” surrounds you, talks a lot and doesn’t let you “breath”, then he’s up to something!

  2. I saw this post. on FB shared by you in one of the FB groups. I’m heading to Cambodia pretty soon & i know some people with similar troubles at the border as well. Hopefully i will never had to go through these scams but sometimes i just felt pity for them at the same time angry! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Dear Lya! I can’t feel pity for them because there are many other ways to earn money! You don’t have to cheat on people. Though I understand what you’re trying to say. They are poor and searching for ways to earn money but I still can’t find a way to justify it. Thank you for the comment and safe travel to Cambodia! Let me know how it went!

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