We were warned. Plenty of guidebooks and websites tell us various stories about the border in the South of Laos (Voeung Kham), crossing to Dom Kralor in Cambodia overland.
Starting on Don Det – 4000 Islands, Laos, 7:30am.
I decide to play it safe, booking a busticket only to Stung Treng. There’s lots of tickets for sale to Phnom Penh and even all the way to Siem Reap in Cambodia, but I read that that’s where people get ripped off. Getting charged extra along the way, threatened to get off the bus if you don’t agree. After consideration, I decided to go to Stung Treng, instead of just the border. Stung Treng is the first town in Cambodia, so there’s not much threat in that, not much can go wrong and the cost wasn’t much higher (just three dollars more). I paid $13 / 108,000kip for the ticket, which seemed like a lot to me as the journey would only take 3 hours or so. The bus ended up breaking down right before the border.
Getting the visa for Cambodia
The morning of leaving, I cross the river (this is included in the ticket) and there I have to wait for the bus. The people tell us that we’d better do all the applications for the visas via them, as it will be slow at the border. Besides they only charge an extra dollar for the service. I paid $30. The only person who decided against getting their visa with the company, got charged less at the actual border, but when a border guard came to check the bus, he was also the only one taken out of the bus because his visa was not “complete”. He ended up paying slightly more than the rest of us!
Good thing to point out here is that it’s important to bring your own money. I didn’t have any cash money left to get the visa. I assumed there would be a cash point at the border, which there wasn’t. So, the organizing guy of the company lend me the money, at an extra charge and he made the bus stop at an ATM so I could pay him back.
We made it across the border!
After arriving and walking across the border, another bus waited for us there. I don’t know how it happened, but it was full (maybe two buses from Laos getting in only one bus on the Cambodian side), in any case, some people were put in a minivan to get to their destination. How lucky were they, we were saying to each other.
After that there was a lunch stop and we kept going. It was very slow, I don’t know why. The roads weren’t very good, but they weren’t that bad either. Feeling safe on the other side of the border, I decided to extend my stay on the bus all the way down to Phnom Penh. That ended up being a good move, I only paid $27 for the whole journey, instead of the $35 quoted on Don Det. I was very happy that there wasn’t any karaoke blasting through the bus. Most of the busride went quite smooth after that. I sat in the front and even joined in with the Khmer guys in the front, eating some fried snake!
It was already dark, and as we turned around a corner, we stopped. There were the people that got in the minivan at the border! They were just about to board another minivan and went crazy when they saw our bus (that was a little emptier after a stop, although still almost full). They tried to get in, but the bus driver and his friends tried to stop them. They had been put in a minivan and after that didn’t stop for food or toilets once. They got put in different minivans four times and drove over smaller roads, that were more bumpy and full with holes. They were exhausted, hungry and angry because they had paid for the same tickets as us in the bus. It took some shouting, some calming down and some serious talking to the bus driver, including everyone on the bus telling them that there was enough room for these five or six people.
In the end – after calling his boss – the bus driver gave in and the people got on the bus. After that, one of the guys became the spokesperson and talked to the big boss several times. It seemed that, as soon as they got on the minivan, they were no longer the responsibility of the buscompany, but of the subcontracted minivan company which is run by others. In the end the six people had to pay an extra $3 each, to be allowed to stay on the bus until their destination, Siem Reap. That’s the destination that they already paid $30 dollars for at Don Det, just like most of the others on the bus! But they were too tired to fight it and they all paid. In the end, they wouldn’t arrive in Siem Reap until 1:30 am (the bus was due there hours and hours earlier, more like 8pm).
In the end
I arrived in Phnom Penh at 11:30pm, after we dropped the people for Siem Reap at Skun to board another bus (they all got on, as far as I know) and there were no curious incidents after that. It was a hell of a ride, but we got there in the end.
The choice is yours, really. I got to my destination without much of a hassle, except a big delay. But I also saw people that were messed around. The minivans might have gotten them to their destination in the end, but they were definitely happier on the bus.