Crossing The Line

09 Feb 2008

I'm not used to negotiating with people in uniform.

They're triple-teaming us, a stern schoolteacher type looking over her thin-rimmed glasses and speaking good English, while two mute bruisers sit behind the desks. We should never have entered the Immigration office. Smart people do their business through the window.

But at least it's a respite from the swarming touts, all of whom want to "help". Inside, there's none of the terrible urgency of keeping track of Lyn, my passport, my possessions, our moto driver, and the dozen people who aren't wilting in the heat like I am.

We have all the time in the world.

There's silence. They've asked us for 1200 Thai baht for an entry visa. That's nearly double the official rate of $US20. We have the money but tell them we don't. They tell us to cross back over the border to a Thai ATM and come back.

I was expecting something like this, so I show them the printout from the Cambodian Embassy's web page, listing the proper rate.

I was also expecting that to make a difference.

I'd cave - I'm not going to rot in a Cambodian jail over twenty bucks - but Lyn's incensed, so we hesitate. Perhaps they sense they've got a problem on their hands, because suddenly the price is 1100. Just as suddenly, I realise that this is negotiation, not extortion. We stonewall. I offer to pay the $US5 "processing fee" in addition to the normal price. No dice. We're holding up business. I'm grinning like an idiot and wishing I spoke Khmer.

We have ID photos ready for the visa - something that they're used to having to take themselves - but they use them to retrospectively justify their price drop. We're still not playing, but everybody knows that we don't have any other options. It's taken us four hours to reach the border by chartered car.

Eventually, I offer 2000 baht for both of us, and they take it. We're on to a couple of motorcycle taxis and heading for the town of Koh Kong in a matter of minutes.

Shattered, in the evening we go straight for the farang restaurant, the Blue Gecko. There we meet an Australian expat who's done this plenty of times. Most recently he arrived at the border and confidently handed over his passport and official visa fee of $20.

"You've been to Cambodia a few times before," the guard said, riffling through his passport, "You should know that it's going to cost you $25."