Last weekend I had to do a border run to Poipet from Bangkok.  I figured to make it worth it, why not spend a night at a casino and have a bit of fun along the border. Poipet is lined with casinos, and all the gambling addicted Thais head for the border to fulfil their desires.  You may be wondering if it possible to border run to Poipet without getting a Cambodian visa, as I was. There is an area of Poipet where you’re outside Thailand (you’ve exited through immigration), but you haven’t entered Cambodia yet, technically since you don’t have a visa. I’ll tell you my story.

I took a bus from Ekkamai Bus Terminal on Saturday, leaving at 7:00am.  The bus stopped at Suvarnabhumi airport for 5 minutes, and at a petrol station for 10 minutes.  It terminates at Rong Kluea Market right near the border, and takes about 4.5 hours (cost was 193 baht).

I have a multi-entry tourist visa, which means I can re-enter Thailand without a new visa, but every 90 days I need to exit the country and re-enter (which is common for most visas in Thailand). I asked many friends who had done a visa run to Poipet and none had ever tried to do it without a Cambodian visa, nor did they know if it was possible.  So it was up to me to find out.

Plan: Exit Thailand on Saturday, spend the night in Poipet at a casino. On Sunday, re-enter Thailand without getting a Cambodian visa. If I have any issues, then get a Cambodian visa, and re-enter Thailand.

Reality: Things didn’t go as planned. I tried to book a hotel casino in advance online, but had no luck.  I was told to just show up and it would be fine.  Upon arriving, after eating lunch, I checked literally like 6 different casinos and all were full, or required a 25,000 baht minimum buy of chips in order to stay.  As a last resort, I found a guesthouse near the Grand Diamond casino, which ended up working fine.  In the evening, I gambled a bit, playing at the only craps table in Poipet, 50 baht minimum ($2 USD).

On Sunday, I went to re-enter Thailand in the morning.  There was a line of about 80 people, and after an hour wait, I got to the counter. The woman stamped my passport and arrival card, was about to hand it back to me, and said “where’s your Cambodian visa?”.  She said I HAD to have one.  So I left and walked to the Cambodian border, past the casinos where the actual entry into Cambodia is.  There I was told to go back toward the Thai immigration to obtain a Cambodian visa at the official Cambodian visa office.

Once there, they looked and said I had to pay $30 USD (or 1,200 baht) for the tourist visa into Cambodia, plus I had to pay 200 baht extra for overstaying my visa 1 day.  It was surprising to be charged a 200 baht overstay fee. When I was about to leave I saw a woman asking if they had to get the Cambodian visa if they weren’t going to Cambodia and just doing a border run.  I told her that the woman at Thai immigration told me that I had to.

Next to her was an older man, perhaps from the same bus, who said that he had done 4 or so border runs here, and never had to get a Cambodian visa.  Not sure if it depends on the immigration officer or what, but he said he had done it.

After getting my visa, I walked back to the Cambodian border, waited 15 minutes in line, got to the front, and they looked at my visa and said “you’ve overstayed, you have to pay 200 baht extra”.  I told them I had already paid but they insisted, so I paid another 200 baht.  Once they did that, I literally crossed over the road, and queued for 10 minutes to re-enter Cambodia, giving me some stamp that shows I re-entered.

I then walked back to the main Cambodian office and told them about having to pay another 200 baht, and I asked them for a receipt or money back.  They acknowledged that I paid, but refused to give a receipt or the money back.  I shouted at the guy and he clearly knew what he was doing was wrong, but the older men there were laughing.  Complete low lifes really.  The world would be better without them.

After that, I headed back to the Thai border to re-enter Thailand. While there I ran into the woman I had previously seen at Cambodian immigration asking about the visa, and she said she went to the store nearby the office, bought a case of beer and cigarettes, brought them back to the Cambodian office, and had them stamp her in and out of Cambodia so she didn’t need to go the border.  I watched her re-enter Thailand fine.

The older man (from earlier), however, was a bit in front of her.  He ended up going to the same woman who denied me, and she denied him.  I saw him arguing with her, then he grabbed his passport and just pushed his way outside.  All the guards rushed to grab his passport.  It was kind of funny, but nonetheless he got denied.  I told him not to go to that woman, and I’m still curious if he had gone to another officer if they would have let him in (as he had done 4 times prior).

When I got to the front of the line, I ended up at a different immigration officer and she got confused since my visa had been stamped (earlier by the other woman).  I told her that the other woman said I needed a visa, so I went over to her and she let me in.  This time she was very friendly.

It’s odd though, I’m unsure why Thai immigration would care if you have a Cambodian visa or not, what difference does it make to them? Unless they are getting money from it, I don’t know why they would care.

From Thailand’s perspective: You’re out of Thailand, I got my exit stamp and all.
From Cambodia’s perspective: You’re overstaying time there even though you never entered or got a visa. There are no signs saying you have to do this at all, and Thais don’t need Cambodian visas, and they don’t even have to enter into Cambodia.  This tells me it has something to do with money, and I think Thailand is just as guilty as Cambodia.

Nonetheless, this area is super sketchy and confusing, and mostly lawless. A couple years ago when I went I had issues with my passport and they had me pay a $20 bribe. I also had an issue entering into Cambodia from Laos a couple years back and had to pay a fee.  It is frustrasting as they can literally charge you whatever they want and you have to pay.  I’m lucky it was only 400 baht this time.

If I was to do it again, I’d try again to re-enter Thailand without a Cambodian visa and see if it works, and if not, get a Cambodia visa at the main office there, and bring a beer or two to get all the stamping sorted there so I didn’t have to go to the actual border.

Hope that helps answer any confusion to anyone looking to do a border run to Poipet from Bangkok. Any questions, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer.

A few observations of Poipet:
– There are lots of big casinos, but very poorly run.  Everyone working the area is Cambodian, and most don’t speak much Thai or English.
– People were staring at me everywhere.  I didn’t see any other white people at the casinos.
– The way craps was played was similar to Vegas, but whenever the dice rolled they wouldn’t shout out the number and it was hard to see.  I had to ask many times.
– Most of the people working at the casinos were young Cambodian women, even running all the table games.  That is much different than in Vegas where it is often older men.
– There were young dressed up Cambodian girls playing at a table to no one but staring at a camera.  It was creepy.  Apparently they are playing against players online.  A bit bizarre to see.
– Minimums for roulette was 5 baht/bet, and for craps was 50 baht.
– Like in Macau and Singapore, most of the casino table games were baccarat.
– While playing roulette, they waited for you can get all your bets on, then said no more bets, and finally spun the wheel. After a number was hit, they pushed all the lost chips to a corner and manually sorted them.  This made each wheel spin take ages, which meant the casino makes much less money.  In Vegas that wheel is spinning as much and as quickly as possible such that more bets can be played faster, which means casinos make more money.
– Almost no one was drinking alcohol.  They had a beverage area for players, but you had to go get your drinks yourself.  I paid a woman $1 to go get me a drink.  In Vegas it’s free drinks (plus tip), and it works well since when you’re drunk, you make stupid bets.  It surprises me Macau, Singapore, and Poipet don’t try to get more people to drink.
– The casinos were a bit run down.  The outsides weren’t clean, there weren’t any nice restaurants, etc.  For how much money is made there, you’d think they would invest a bit. It wouldn’t be hard to beat the best that is there.