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Greasing palms at the Laos/Cambodia border

CAMBODIA | Monday, 22 March 2010 | Views [606]

If it weren’t for the heat, I would close the window of my hotel room. There seems to be some kind of musical performance nearby that sounds like a combination of large drums and improvised xylophone music. I am in Kratie, Cambodia about 200km northeast of Phnom Penh as the crow flies. My family will be thrilled to discover that I crossed the border successfully and that I did not detonate any old explosive devices on the trip south. I did exhibit the behavior of a true novice traveler at the Laos/Cambodian border. The crooked border officials who demanded a dollar at every checkpoint irritated me to no end, and I showed it. I had to pay a dollar to get the exit stamp out of Laos, the quarantine check….another dollar. “What for?” One of them actually smiled at me and said, “for luck,” but the man had my passport, so I had to fork over the greenback. I had to get a visa on arrival, and I had forgotten to get a photo out of my big bag. I thought that you had to have one. I went back to the bus to get into my bag, but it had been buried under a mountain of backpacks. Still I tried. The tight cargo hold on the bus thwarted my attempt, and so I went back to the visa-on-arrival checkpoint to take the heat. I discovered that they don’t care if you don’t have a photo, they just charge you an extra two dollars. The visa fee was USD23 plus an extra two for the missing photo. I handed over $30. He gave me back seven. I didn’t say a word, didn’t even blink. It’s not my fault the man can’t subtract. Next checkpoint…the stamp to enter Cambodia…another dollar. “What do you do with all of that money?” He didn’t answer. The fellow behind me was also irritated, but he just coolly asked for a receipt. This set the border official on a well-rehearsed speech about how he had to live in the forest, and the government charges him for forms. I wasn’t moved. I know it is only a dollar, but it’s like they are holding your passport ransom. He told us that we were fortunate to make the crossing on a weekday because on the weekends the amounts double.

So to sum up, to cross from Laos to Cambodia at the Voen Kham/Dom Kralor border on a weekday it cost me:

$1----exit stamp out of Laos

$1----quarantine check into Cambodia

$23---visa on arrival for Cambodia ($25 without a picture, but I didn’t correct them)

$1-----entry stamp to Cambodia

Total $26--my advice to those crossing to Cambodia--go on a weekday, get US dollars in smaller denominations (they wouldn’t take a fifty) It would be wise to change most of your Kip before you get to the border because the money changers there give lousy rates.

Someone told me that Thailand is Asia for beginners, and I am starting to believe it. The border crossing from Thailand to Laos spoiled me so that I was unprepared for what happened today. I knew that there were crooked border officials, but I thought it was just on the border between Thailand and Cambodia on the way to Siem Reap. Another place where I have been spoiled is communication. Most Thais have a basic knowledge of English, especially if they sell something at market. I tried to purchase some fruit at the open market today in Kratie and I hit a language barrier that left me seeing stars. I need to do a crash course in Khmer, or I am going to starve.

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