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Jungle Border Crossing

LAOS | Sunday, 24 June 2007 | Views [1327]

There's not a huge travel or tourism infrastructure running from southern Laos through Cambodia.  The border crossing at Voen Kham to Cambodia, from what we've been told, has been an unofficial crossing up until just recently, and there's very little traffic going too or from this border.  Many books we've read suggest to take a bus to the last town in Laos, and then try to hitch a ride in a truck or walk the remaining distance through the woods/jungle, to the remote outpost crossing.  To our pleasant surprise, many guesthouses on Don Det had fixed transportation packages, which you could take all the way through to Siem Reap, Cambodia... or just to the border, or you could select a stop off and pay for the passage to one of the towns in between.  With the limited information I had gathered online from others, along with guidebooks, the ride just across the border to Stung Treng could cost as much as $70 per person.  Apparently there's limited supply, coupled with price fixing from the Laos border down to Stung Treng, subsequently they're able to command a high fare.  So the $30 per person transportation package from Don Det through to Siem Reap looked quite appealing, and the idea of not having to hitch rides and sort our way through an inefficient infrastructure that's still in it's infancy was also appealing- especially given our experience with public transport in South East Asia over the past 5 months.  So we set out from sweaty Don Det at 8:00 a.m. with a boat ride transfer to Ban Na Kasang, where we hauled our packs through the morning market frenzy to the bus station to get our mini-van transfer to the border crossing at Voen Kham.  We waited an hour past our scheduled departure time so that the bus company could pack the vehicle over-capacity.  We thought 11 people in the van, and packing on-top of the van 15 people's luggage (along with some strapped under the pack door hatch), was pretty packed - little did we know what was in store for us later on.  This amount of passengers and luggage was nothing!  So our packed van drove the 30 minute drive in an hour and a half, going ever so slowly so we didn't lose the load on the top of the van.  Half way to the border we pull off the main road onto a very poor, pothole filled dirt road, with nothing but tropical forest.  It had down-poured all night and so there were huge pools of water and thick red mud to pass through, and at one point we didn't clear the gap in the road, and the spare tire fell off - our driver stopped to stash it in the bush for a later pickup.  We finally reach the Lao immigration office to clear ourselves through their clearance checks.  It was a little wood hut in the forest, and the process took all of 5 minutes, plus $2 in bribes to pay for the officer's "overtime" fee... they prominently point to a sign on the wall stating they required overtime pay on Sundays - no amount was listed, and you're just expected to cough up what ever they request, there and then, or you're stuck in the middle of the forest, with no transport and one hell of a long walk back through the malaria infested wet jungly road.  We pay our border bribes, and haul our packs back to the bus that's waiting down the road for us.  Not sure why the bags needed to be unpacked only to be repacked 20 meters later - and no one from the jungle hut wanted to see them.  So off we walked through the quiet forest to the Cambodian border (why the van guy didn't drive us, I'm not quite sure... they were up ahead, at the border, having cigarettes).  We reach wood hut number two, armed with Cambodian immigration police.  We were the few that already had our visas, and not more than 5 minutes more, and another $2 bribe payment each, we were free to enter and enjoy Cambodia for the next 30 days.  The Cambodian Adventure has now begun!

Tags: On the Road


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