After an amazing few relaxed filled days on the island of Don Det, one of the 4,000 islands in Si Phan Don, our Lao visas were about to expire and it was time to head to Cambodia. I had gotten mixed information on the border crossing route and heard a few things about corrupt border crossing agents. The easiest solution was to book a bus through one of the travel agents on the island ahead of time. They are everywhere and after asking around we determined that the prices were almost universally the same. We choose to head to the Strung Treng, which put us back $18, but there were other options of Phnom Penh (10 hrs) and even Siem Reap although those would be long days of traveling indeed. We did see a lower price right as we were leaving but only by one dollar.
After being ferried from the island to the mainland, we waited at the bus station while one Lao man gave us a pitch on getting our Cambodian Visas through him, for an all inclusive price of $29. I opted to do the Visa without help as I had heard it would save me a few dollars, but I would regret this decision later. Others went in debt to the man as they were broke from days on the ATM-less Don Det and the nearby ATM was not working. I pretended to be interested and got some forms to fill out so that I wouldn’t have to do it at the border. Also, be sure to have passport photos ahead of time as I was not aware of any way to obtain them the day of.
At the border, myself along with the others opting to cross on their own unloaded from the bus and went to obtain our Lao exit stamp, $2 “bribe.” After $3 more of “brides” on the Cambodian side for necessary forms along with a check of your fever (comical medical clearance to enter Cambodia), it was time to get my Visa on arrival, which would’ve cost me $23, but I only had Lao Kip on hand. The price in Kip was 250,000, the equivalent of $31, a substantial increase. This brought my total to $36 for the entire affair. If I had just paid the man the $29 to start, It would’ve been much cheaper. There were money exchangers back at the bus station which I could have changed my Kip with, but I suppose hindsight is 20/20.
After the border there were no more issues until our arrival in Stung Treng, besides the usual construction/bumps in the road.
Advice for future travelers:
- Bring enough money to Don Dhet or Don Khon for the entirety of your stay as there are no ATMs on the islands. Even more, to be safe, if you are crossing the border afterwards. Some of the kayaking and boat tours actually stop by an ATM as part of the trip, but the ATMs in Lao are still not 100% reliable.
- Make sure you have US dollars at the border crossing. If you pay in Kip, it will cost you a substantial amount more.
- As always, prepare ahead of time with 3×5 passport photos
- I would recommend going through a travel agent on the islands. The bus station in Nakasong (the mainland) is very primitive along with the crossing in general (it was under some new construction). It may not be impossible, but booking to the border with the intention of catching a bus there looked like it could lead to an unwanted headache and you landing on the same bus regardless.