I usually grow fond of people who teach me their specialities for this column. Yet there is another personality type with whom anyone who has spent time in Cambodia is well acquainted: the successful con-artist.
During a recent journey to Siem Reap from the Thai border, I received a crash course in how to start up an excellent sham of a transportation company, courtesy of a Siem Reap-based company – a new career option should I ever tire of writing.
Unlike most of my Khmer lessons, however, this one was not free. For those readers with criminal minds and an entrepreneurial bent, here are a few pointers.
Location, location, location
Just as in real estate, consider where to locate your scam. Anchoring yourself in Siem Reap, the country’s biggest tourist town, is a good start. If you can, through force or finagling, obliterate all competing bus companies along the busiest route, you’re halfway there.
It’s the details that matter
Don’t lose sight of the small things. You can hire people to sweet-talk tourists into foregoing the money exchange booth at the border in order to rip them off at the bus station. Any day when you can convince a naïve Chinese teenager that he should change $50-worth of Thai baht into riel for an abysmal rate is a small victory.
Fun with mental torture
Once customers have purchased their exorbitantly priced tickets and gotten on your decrepit bus, it’s time to let the good times roll. What, in theory, would be a three-hour ride should be lengthened, with a minimum of four stops at shabby restaurants so your fares can purchase plates of oily fried rice for two dollars a pop. “We stop for 40 minutes!” you should announce before they get off the bus, and watch them try to stifle tears. If someone complains, citing an approaching flight time or a desire to see the temples before they die of food poisoning, pretend not to understand English then penalise them with an extra 20 minutes of roadside purgatory.
For those who choose to arrive with sanity intact, I have one piece of advice: take a taxi.
The importance of inflexibility
Never, ever let tourists forget who’s boss. If they request to be dropped off along the route at a more convenient location, you should resolutely refuse and resort to violent threats involving the Khmer Rouge if they complain.
Instead, take them far beyond the centre of Siem Reap, to a dismal empty lot that in no way resembles a bus station. There you should have a group of thuggish tuk-tuk drivers waiting, ready to intimidate the loudmouthed ones and offer the timid ones four-dollar rides back to the town they just passed.
Leave a lasting impression
The experience will not be complete unless you can leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Those you corral into tuk-tuks can be strong-armed into choosing a guesthouse that will give you a kickback and continue providing miserable service. As for the few troublemakers who shoulder their luggage and stumble away from you, have a few employees on hand to scream expletives.
These tips should serve well anyone who wishes to wade in the treacherous waters of the local transportation business, but for those who choose to remain a customer and arrive with sanity intact, I have only one piece of advice: take a taxi.