A dispute between rival taxi and bus companies operating at the Poipet border crossing with Thailand escalated last week with dozens of employees from five competing firms shouting and manhandling foreign tourists into their vehicles, officials said.
Five of the eight travel companies based in Poipet town, which is already internationally renowned for its poor receptions of foreigners crossing into Cambodia, began to compete aggressively Wednesday at the border gate.
Foreigners had their bags grabbed off their shoulders and were forcefully placed in vehicles of the competing firms, said Chorng Lem, director of the Banteay Meanchey provincial tourism department.
“[Tourists] were just scared at first because there were many [travel company] staff blocking their vehicles’ departure,” Chorng Lem said, adding there were no injuries.
The hostilities, which played out between Wednesday and Friday, began as a result of the perceived unfair divvying up of arriving tourists by the Udom Rithy Tourist Association, Chorng Lem said.
Prior to the dispute, all visitors crossing the Poipet border without prior travel arrangements were taken to a collection point in Poipet town where the association divided them up among the different bus and taxi operators.
Approximately 700 to 800 tourists cross from Thailand at the Poipet border each day.
Since Saturday, the firms have ended their face-to-face confrontation at the Poipet crossing and taken to meeting tourists across the Thai border.
Ministry of Tourism, Interior and the provincial governor are scheduled to meet sometime this week to try and end the firms’ confrontation.
Sao Bunarith, the newly appointed Poipet immigration police chief who replaced the former chief Pich Saran on Friday, said the free-for-all typically delayed the departure of tourists from the border by 20 minutes during the three-day ordeal.
“It could have affected tourism if it had lasted longer,” he said.
Soun Chankea, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the reception foreign visitors receive in Poipet by the companies is “anarchy” and has become customary.
“It’s the most difficult thing to look at,” Soun Chankea said. “They sometimes think the guest is their meat,” he added.
Neither the travel companies nor the association could be contacted for comment.