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Published: February 1st 2013
On Don Det, the prices to get into Cambodia are absolutely ridiculous and they know it. Last year you could buy a ticket to Stung Treng for $7, this year it costs $18 and there was absolutely no way we were going to pay that much. We decided to make it up as we went along. After catching a boat from Don Det to the mainland we grabbed a bowl of noodle soup and then decided we would try get to route 13 (the main highway in Laos) then flag down any vehicle going south, hoping they could at least drive us to the border (only about 10 km away). As we walked towards route 13 a motorbike came up beside us with a small family on it. The man asked where we wanted to go and said he would drive us to the border after dropping off his family. We walked for maybe 15 more minutes before he returned. While we thought he would take us one at a time since we both had our backpacks, he was prepared to load both of us on his bike plus our heavy packs. He honked his horn every time we drove past some locals and they all got a kick out of our falang loaded motorbike. It certainly was a tight squeeze but bareable for only 20 minutes and 20,000 Kip/person ($2.50).
At the border we prepared ourselves for scam central. The border between southern Laos and northern Cambodia is known for its over-charging. As we approached the Laos “office” - which is a wooden shack with a couple border officials and just as many wickets – we saw a Chinese woman arguing with the officials about being over charged. They wouldn't give her an exit stamp unless she paid them so she reached in and grabbed their notebook with everyone's visa/passport information and threatened to call the cops for their illegal activity. She got her stamp free of charge and continued on into Cambodia. Even with the crowd of other foreigners the officials continued to charge $2 for exit stamps. When we came to the window we asked why we had to pay and all the official said was “you no pay, no stamp” as he handed us our passports back. So we paid the $2 and continued on to the next scam.
Scam number two is known as “Quarantine”. We tried to walk past the bench and right to the Cambodian “office” but one of the people working at Quarantine said we were breaking the law if we didn't fill out the health form and get our temperature taken. We explained to them that we had heard such horrible things about the border that we weren't sure who was telling the truth, they assured us that it was a legal requirement (even though we have been to Cambodia already and did not need any such thing) so we paid another $1 each to fill out a piece of paper, have our temperatures checked and get an orange slip for approval.
At the Cambodia “office” (another shack) they threw the orange slip aside as soon as they saw it. We paid $25 for the Cambodian visa which should only be $20, got our Cambodian stamp without needing to pay extra (although we were asked for 2$ but we protested we didn't need to pay that) and were finally in Cambodia.
All in all we paid about $8 too much for each of us, but the Quarantine was the only fee we perhaps could have got away with, without causing a huge scene. The border officials will not give you what you need unless you pay and unfortunately there is nothing we could have done. Most travellers going through don't even realize they are being ripped off so it's not like we could have banded together and not paid. Even if we did, the next group of people would likely be as naive so it's easier to pay and not start a fight. The last thing we want is to get into trouble with foreign police.
However, on both sides of the border there are two brand new buildings that appear to be for border use. Hopefully the new buildings will make things much more formal and while the border officials are likely to still stuff extra money in their pockets maybe the new buildings will stop more scams from popping up.
Once we were across the border we exchanged what we had left of our Kip into US Dollars. Kip is basically worthless outside of Laos and it is next to impossible to exchange anywhere else. A man on a motorbike saw us wandering around and asked where we wanted to go. We told him we needed to get to Stung Treng and he said he could sell us a minibus ticket for $5 each. That was perfect so we bought the tickets and waited in the shade while he found other people needing a ride. About an hour later we were on the road and a short hour and a half after that we were in Stung Treng. We ended up paying just under $10 for a trip that Don Det tour companies wanted to charge $18 for and the satisfaction of doing it that way was worth any extra hassle.
Thank goodness that is our last land border crossing! However, we are back in Cambodia, we have 32 days here and then we fly home (our visa is only good for 30 days so that should make things interesting at the airport). Last time we were in Cambodia we stuck to the south but this time we are really looking forward to exploring the northern minority villages and do another jungle trek.
Xoxo Ty + Becs
travellers tip: If you are making the same journey from Don Det into Cambodia, we would suggest paying $6 to get to the border through the tour offices on the island. We did it on our own (basically hitch-hiked) and it was just under $5. Save yourself the hassle and arrange transport to the border. There are minibuses on the other side that can help you with transport to Stung Treng, possibly Ban Lung or Kratie, not to mention you could probably find a bus with an extra seat and pay them to get you to your next destination for much less than what you would pay on Don Det. If you are going as far as Phnom Penh or Siem Reap it might be convenient to buy your ticket on Don Det just keep in mind that any ticket you buy in Cambodia (for example from Stung Treng) will be half the price. Secondly, exchange as much leftover Kip as possible on the island, the border gives a rate of 9,000Kip to buy US Dollars.
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