“There is no change of bus, it’s direct”, we were told by the man who sold us our bus ticket from Don Det, Laos to Siem Reap, Cambodia. While the 2009 Lonely Planet told us differently, we were hoping some changes occurred since the last edition. So early morning, we left the island with candid smiles and in hopes the bad border crossing stories only happened to the unlucky ones.
The bus dropped us off right at the Laos border. We all piled in line to get our exit stamps. As we approached the officer at the window, he said $2 each person. When did you have to pay to get an exit stamp? Then because I lost Boris’ departure card, the officer said we had to pay an additional $5 for a new departure card. Everyone in front us paid, but Boris and I agreed not to pay. When we refused, the officer instantly threw our passports back to us.
We read about this scam so many times but as naive travelers, it took us a few seconds to process it. We decided to approach another officer by the gate. He gave us a free departure card but could not help us with the stamp.
We looked around for some locals to follow behind. Even the locals were surprised by the fee, but paid. One local told us sometimes you have to pay. We automatically caved in and paid too. Looking back, it was better not to have paid. There was no way they had a working system to track that you did not exit since it was all a loose paper trail with corruption written all over it.
A few steps further, we were at the Cambodia border. The officer said $1 for the health inspection. He took out a thermometer and placed it on our foreheads and said, “Ok, no fever”, and handed us a piece of paper. If there is a nurse or doctor reading this, can you really take someone’s temperature this way?
Onto the next booth where we had to get our visa and entrance stamp. The visa costs us $23 each and $1 for the stamp. It just doesn’t stop!
Once all that was complete, we ended up switching buses twice and waited hours each time. With every bad experience, there is a silver lining, which we had two of.
The first being that the experience could have been worse. We met a guy on our bus who had to pay a $200 fine at the Laos border. The reason was because when he first entered Laos, it was really late and no one was there to stamp his passport. Later when we tried to exit Laos, they require your entrance stamp to make sure you did not over extend your stay. Since he didn’t have the stamp, he had to pay a huge fine.
The second silver lining was that the bus attendant on the last bus hop was very fond of Boris. He hung out with us and even invited us for free drinks at the rest stop. He referred us to a cheap hotel, which we crashed at for the night and was pretty decent.