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Trip Report Corrupt Cambodian Officials

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We have just returned from Vietnam and Cambodia, entering Siem Reap from Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), and leaving the same way for Sydney, Australia.

On both entering and leaving, my partner, who is Vietnamese born, was asked for “tips” by the immigration officers. I am Malaysian born and the immigration officer who “served” me mumbled something that I could not hear. I asked him to repeat himself and he said something about being Malaysian. I told him that I was Malaysian born but am now Australian. He was also in possession of my passport so he would have known that. He then asked me to look into the camera for the photo and my passport was stamped and returned.

My partner, on the other hand, was not so lucky. He could not believe his ears so the officer kept repeating “tips” whilst rubbing his thumb and fingertips together. He told the officer that he did not have any money left except for Vietnamese dong and he did not want to produce his US dollars. He ended up giving the officer 20,000 dong, an equivalent of about US$1.00. Hopefully, all the zeroes had confused him. My partner’s passport was returned. The worry was that if he didn't give any money, he would not be allowed into the country.

We were travelling with a Caucasian American friend of ours and he had no trouble going in or out of Cambodia.

On departure, the same thing happened again. This time, however, my partner was adamant that he was not going to pay them a single cent. We had to pay a departure tax of US$25 and the receipt was stapled onto our boarding passes. When my partner was asked for a “tip” again, he told the officer that he had already paid and showed him the boarding pass. The officer said that that was not it and asked my partner for a “tip” repeatedly. Each time, my partner said that he had already paid. I had been staring at that officer and my partner, watching all that was happening. The immigration officer that was “serving” me, together with his supervisor, then told me to take my hat off and to look into camera so that I could not witness what was happening.

Meanwhile, our friend was already processed and stood in front of the counters where we both were. Once he stood there and watched the proceedings, my partner’s passport was stamped and returned.

We went in and we watched the immigration counter for the next 30 minutes. Almost every Asian going through had to pay the officers a “tip”, including a group of about 15 Korean tourists. The immigration officer that "served" my partner took their passports and walked off with them whilst the group stood there in bewilderment. Their tour guide got them into a huddle in a corner and then the wallets came out.

However, Caucasians had no problems at all. So, anyone who is Asian born, no matter where you live, beware of going to Cambodia. We have both been living in Australia for almost 32 years and have been Australian citizens for almost as long.

We have friends who are Asian born and Australian citizens, and their children are Australian born, who went to Cambodia two years ago. They ended up paying US$40 each for their entry visa at a port entry.

Apply for the visa online rather than when you arrive. They will still get you at the passport control but make a stand. Make them repeat themselves loudly in front of everyone or repeat loudly what they said - you are deaf and/or that you do not understand what they want. You have already paid your US$20 (entry visa cost on arrival, US$25 online) to enter the country and US$25 to leave. You should not have to pay any more to line the pockets of corrupt officials.

There is a complaints box at the Siem Reap airport on departure and that was completely full. Take note of the officer’s badge number and name and report him. As the whole lot of them appear to be corrupt, from the supervisor down, chances are that the complaints box might just be emptied and thrown away.

We have written to the Cambodian ambassador in Australia and to the Cambodian Foreign Minister, who also happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister, as well as to our Foreign Affairs Minister, to voice our disgust at our treatment at the hands of the Cambodian immigration officers.

This kind of corruption will eventually hurt the tourist industry of Cambodia, particularly that of Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are located. Tourism is all they have in Siem Reap. There will not be any repeat tourists from Asians if this kind of corruption continues.

The only way to eliminate corruption like this is to make it public in all forms of media and to write to the Cambodian embassy. If enough people stand up to these officials, hopefully, this kind of disgraceful and disgusting behaviour will cease, as it has in Vietnam.

We have only seen Siem Reap but we will never return to Cambodia again after this. This is a pity as the people that we have met in Siem Reap are gentle and rely on the tourist trade for their livelihood, and Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, as well as Preah Khan, Ta Prom, Banteay Kdei and Banteay Srei are nothing short of spectacular.

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