the thai-cambodia border at poipet is well-known in travel circles as a difficult border to cross. it is difficult because it is unlikely that you will get across without having to bribe at least one person. well...we did! we did our research. we stuck to the plan. we met a forceful couple on the train to the border with the same mindset. we made it across with paying only the posted fee of 20USD while people in front and behind us paid at least 5USD more.
the cambodia-vietnam border was a breeze in comparison. we took a minibus from kampot to the border and the driver arranged a moto driver to drive us and our bags across to the vietnam town of ha tien. (ok ok...a little aside here...yes we took a moto aka scooter after we said we never would again. however, there was NO other option AND it wasn't like we were driving the scooter...we had a driver, a helmut and a scooter each.) we got to the cambodian border guard station and saw an officer asleep on a table in the back room. eventually another officer came to the window to stamp our exit from cambodia and we were waved on to vietnam. at the vietnam border we met 3 guards. the first looked at our passports and visas and waved us onto the next guy, who stamped our passports. the final guy looked at our stamped passports and let us through the gate into vietnam. all the while our moto drivers walked their scooters through the borders with our large backpacks perched behind the handle bars.
our plan once we reached ha tien, vietnam was to try to get a ferry to the island of phu quoc. phu quoc has become a big tourist destination for vietnamese people both local and those living abroad, as well as, foreigners. the border at ha tien has only recently become passable for foreigners. because of this opening the town of ha tien has seen huge growth in hospitality businesses and an addition of a hydrofoil ferry to the island was created. the other option is to get a ferry from rach gia which is a two hour bus ride further into vietnam only to add one hour to the ferry ride. we were keen on catching the ferry from ha tien figuring it to be the cheaper and faster option.
our moto drivers were khmer with cambodian licences on their bikes so they were not allowed to go much further than the town center of ha tien. jason had told them we wanted to go to phu quoc so they brought us to a tourist information center. a guy met us out front right on the sidewalk while another moto driver was also trying to get us on his bike to our next destination. we explained to the guy claiming to be with the tourism center that we wanted to catch the ferry to the island either that day or the next. he told us that the ferry was broken and would not be fixed until the following week. he said we may still be able to catch the ferry from rach gia if we caught a minibus right away. he went to ask his boss if he could take us on his moto with the other driver to the bus station. he saw us pay our other drivers with american money so he asked if we had vietnam dong because you cannot use USD in vietnam like you can in cambodia. so far we are thinking this guy is so nice, so helpful and making really great suggestions. they drove us to an atm and this was the first red flag that i felt. i said to jason, "do you think this is really smart of us to be taking out money in front of these guys?"
on the drive to the bus station my driver is making small talk like "where you from?", "are you married?", "how old are you?", "do you have children?"...all the questions we've grown accustom to in the last few weeks. they pull the bikes into a roadside shack that sells drinks and snacks and my driver announces to me, "bus stop". i am expecting to have to buy a bus ticket from the shop owner but they just tell us to have a seat and the bus will be by in about 10 minutes. aren't we lucky! the bus had to stop for gas so we will catch it! a few minibuses with rach gia written across their windshields drive by on the highway and jay and i look at each other. our helpful guy notices and mentions that those are tour buses and we are waiting for a local bus. as we wait we are quizzed about our life and we reciprocate and learn that our helpful guy learned english three years ago, has a wife and child and thinks vietnam is superior to cambodia. he taught us how to say, "i'm vegetarian" in vietnamese, which is "on chay". still thinking...nice guy...but...
finally after about half an hour the bus pulls up. a man hurries over and puts his hand on my bag to take it to the minibus. we ask how much the fare is and he says, "600, 000 dong each". well, jay only withdrew a million dong at the atm and we had to pay our moto drivers so we don't have enough. in my head i'm trying to figure out what 1,200,000 dong is in canadian dollars. jay tells the guy we don't have that much so he then says, "how much you have?". well, jay opens his wallet and he has 900,000 dong, a 20 and a 10 dollar bill, forgetting the change in his pocket from the moto drivers' pay. the guy says, "ok. 900,000 dong plus $20 will be ok". by this time jay has realized that 900,000 dong is $54 cdn which is way more than we have ever paid for a 2 hour bus ride anywhere else in southeast asia. he tells me this and i'm saying, "too much, too much". the moto driver butts in and says "ok $10". both jay and i are shaking our heads and the bus guy is trying to rush us onto the bus. in the end we didn't give them any american money but they did get all 900,000 dong.
after an hour of stewing on the bus we asked the vietnamese guy beside us how much the ride should have been and he said 100,000 dong. jay started taking pictures of the driver and steward (or is it more p.c. to say bus attendant?). but really what are pictures going to do. we have no idea what company they work for or how to find out. the guy that took our 900,000 dong didn't get on the bus. he stayed behind to split the profits of our stupidity with his new best buddies...our helpful guy and the moto driver.
the moral of this story for all you current or future travelers out there is...keep your wallet in your pants until you have agreed upon a price. another tip that we hope to remember from now on is to speak to people behind desks when asking travel advice and preferably a representative from a reputable company...not a guy in front of tourist office. still...after all this newly gained wisdom...we almost got ripped off by our guesthouse owner when we were in can tho...but that's another town...another post.