Thursday, March 24, 2016


This faux 'Tropicana' casino is on the Thai - Cambodian border
I'm in the far east of Thailand, right on the border with Cambodia. I've only left Cambodia an hour ago, on what is known as a 'visa run'. Since my Cambodia visa is running out, I came here only long enough to cross the border to get a new passport stamp. Now that  I have it, I'm free to return to Khmer land. I'm in Thai territory only long enough to get a lunch of tom yam soup.

Finishing lunch, I walk back towards the border post. Passing souvenir shops, I get my Thai exit stamp at immigration, and I'm back on Cambodian land in the northwestern border town of Poipet. And yet, I'm not officially back in Cambodia at all. I'm in a strange 'no man's land', and it's filled with casinos! 

I once saw another Cambodian town dominated by casinos called Bavet,  but the setup  here is different. In Poipet the Cambodians built casinos packed tightly together, pushed almost up to the Thai border post. As I walk out of Thai immigration, the Cambodian immigration post is way out further beyond the casinos, almost a quarter mile down the road. Ingeniously, this allows Thai gamblers to walk onto Cambodian soil, gamble their money away, and then walk back to Thailand without having to get a Cambodian visa or passport stamp! This whole stretch of casinos, is basically a legal no man's land. Since you have no arrival stamp while you gamble in Poipet, you are not officially here!
I'm leaving Thai territory

Long before there were casinos here, there were periods when this was a no man's land due to armed conflict. There has been more than one gun battle fought along this border between the armies of Thailand and the Khmer Rouge. Even before then, there had been a standoff in Poipet between King Sihanouk's army and Thailand, as land dividing the two neighbors was in dispute. 

Some lands remain contested, but at least here in Poipet, both sides are content (at least for now) to let the only invaders be gamblers and tourists. Poipet is so oriented towards Thai gamblers, that the most accepted currency in town is the Thai Baht!

I don't fell like emptying my wallet today, so I pass by all the casinos, and walk into Cambodian immigration to get my visa. 

I pay the required US $20 in cash, and hand over my visa to the border policemen. Once it's processed, they refuse to give it back. I soon realize this is a shakedown; the two corrupt policemen behind the counter are trying to overcharge me for the visa! They are asking for double the price, demanding the extra money in Thai Baht. 
A strange strip of casinos stretches between the Thai and Cambodian border posts

I persistently repeat, again and again, that I don’t have any Thai Baht. After a few minutes of this back and forth argument, and with a growing line of impatient travelers behind me, the two corrupt border agents finally give up. 

They grudgingly return my passport. I walk back into Cambodia, and break into a smile over my small victory. 

I didn’t tell them that my extra money is in US dollars!

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