Posts tagged: Laos

Laos To Cambodia: Border Virgins

By , July 1, 2010 6:00 am

“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.

Laos: Slow Boat Along the Mekong

By , May 20, 2010 7:13 am

To go from northern Thailand to Laos, one of the favorite backpacker routes is to go on a slow-boat down the Mekong river. While it is scenic, it is also a safer option than travelling on the roads. The trip lasts 2 days on a wooden boat with Luang Prabang as the destination.

Our excursion first began from northern Thailand. We got our exit stamps from Chiang Khong and then we took a water taxi across the Mekong to the Laos border. We were able to save a few bucks by using US dollars to pay for our Laos visas. Of course, we missed the daily boat, which leaves by 11am or earlier, so we had to stay one night at the border before boarding. This was not a total disappointment after all since we got to experience some delicious Lao food.

A temple in Huay Xai the day before we boarded

The next day, we took a tuk tuk and headed straight to the dock where we purchased our tickets directly for 200,000 kips ($24.23) each. We finally boarded the boat, which had about 50 tourists and a few locals all smooching together on a boat that was 6 feet wide and 65 feet long. They call it a slow-boat, but even that was an inappropriate name. When we were lucky to get current, we never went above 20 miles an hour.

The river was kind of narrow and not very impressive compared to our past Mekong experience in Vietnam. However, the landscapes were very nice and you see many villages with children swimming, woman doing laundry, and men fishing all in the river.

After six hours on the boat, we arrived at Pakbeng, the biggest village along our route on the Mekong. We had read that there was nothing to do here and the guesthouses were pretty filthy. To our surprise, a lot has changed in just a short period of time. Many of the houses in the village became guesthouses or restaurants all awaiting for the daily slow-boat traffic. We found a decent room with a mosquito net, private bath, and fan for 15,000 kips ($1.82).

We slept well and went back on the boat the next morning at 8am for a long 9-hour trip to Luang Prabang. While the first day on the slow-boat on was tolerable, the second day was agonizing. We made numerous pick-up and drop-off stops for the locals who sometimes brought onboard live exotic animals.

Kids jumping on the boat to sell drinks and snacks

Finally we arrived at our destination of Luang Prabang. Overall, we liked the slow-boat experience and made many friends onboard. If you choose this slow-boat excursion, don’t forget your seat pillows, reading book, snacks and maybe ipod. Without a seat pillow, you will have painful regrets.

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