Where to start!? The border crossing wasn't as flawless as I had hoped. In fact, I would have to say that we were bested by practiced scam artists. It is frustrating and embarassing, but I have found some consolation in approaching the event as a learning experience so I will relate it to you.
Things went awry just as we got to the border. We were taken to a restaurant where we (a group of about 12 were on our van) were sat down at individual tables apart from each other and given their spiel. They said that they would need to process a special expedited visa for us because we hadn't already acquired one. We knew this was a scam because we had read about it, but if we didn't comply they would not take us the rest of the way (2-3 hours past the border to Angkor), which we had already paid for. We were cornered and so we were forced, along with everyone else on the van, to cough up the extra 15 dollars. This was the first and least embarassing of the two incidents.
The second scam pains me to recall, mostly because I am more to blame and it could have been avoided. Once we crossed the border we were told that we should exchange money to the local currency. Though the USD is accepted country-wide because it is considered stable and tourism is so significant, we were told local vendors take advantage of it because they don't use the coins, only the dollars; so this would mean that a 50 cent water would cost a whole dollar. That part made sense at the time, so we went to change money at the place they told us had the best exchange rate (they actually told us there was no fee whatsoever, but that was also a lie having done research on the exchange rate which is currently 4150 Cambodian Riel to 1 dollar, crazy right?). We were told to hurry because our next leg, a private taxi was booked and waiting for us. Long story short, we were all cheated out of about $20 from the exchange place. We were all changing Thai Baht (30 Baht to 1 dollar) to the Cambodian Riel. In retrospect the math is easy, but as we were being forced through and they wouldn't let us use electronics to calculate, we were shorted about 80,000 Riel , 600 Baht or ~$20each. Ugh it makes me so mad, and I would have loved to catch them red handed and make a giant fuss, warning the rest of my co-travelers and exposing the Cambodian bastards for what they really were: malicious thieves. And what tops it off is that they asked for a tip (really told us we better tip them) as we were loaded on to our taxi. Good grief! Alright, enough complaining. I will never exchange money in a hurry again, and I hope that you will always do the obvious thing and count out the money, do the calculation and make sure you receive a receipt for the transaction as any trustworthy place will provide.
A brief blurb on Angkor so far: These temples are crazy cool. I really can't do them justice by explaining how intricate and ornate every inch of them is. I can't convey their imposing massiveness by relaying a comparison of size. I would only embarass myself if I attempted to describe the eerie, knowing face that is carved into the stone entrances all over the ruins. Look at our pictures, do a 5 minute search on Angkor ruins and visit the place for yourself. It's incredible.
We have spent two days traveling the area and seeing ancient inscriptions above waterfalls, trekking through jungles to see what remains of a long-lost civilization and being humbled by thousand year-old temples. We saved the best for last, however, and tomorrow we get to see Angkor Wat itself, Ankgor Thom and Ta Phrom (which was the filming location for Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider). A post about them, the city of Siem Reap, and some local nuances will be up soon.
Hopefully our cross back into Thailand won't prove as troublesome. I hope all is well back home! Check Facebook for new pictures which should be up very soon.