I had planned to spend a couple days in Phnom Penh to get my life together (laundry, ATM, Internet cafe, the usual) before making my way up to Laos. But first, I would have a cocktail. Welp. One cocktail turned into three which turned into beers (I don’t even like beer) which turned into me drunk purchasing a bus ticket at 12am. So much for “getting my life together”…
It’s all a bit fuzzy, but I recall asking to go to the Four Thousand Islands (they gave me a ticket to Pakse), asking how long the journey was (no one could say) and paying $35 for the ticket (the price list said $27). I was off to a good start.
I made my way up to bed (the bus left at 6am), only to find there were no free electrical outlets (one needs a fully charged iPad for journeys of unknown length) so I slept on the floor in the hall next to the one outlet I could find. Again, I was off to a good start.
Morning came and I hopped on the bus to Pakse (wherever that is…I had no idea. Lonely Planet’s chapter on Laos was supposed to be part of “getting my life together”). A couple hours in it occurred to me that I didn’t know how Laos visas work, I didn’t know how much they cost and I didn’t know how much money I had.
Turns out, I had $41 American dollars. I bought a noodle cup. I now had $40 American dollars. I waited patiently for us to stop near an ATM…
The journey was 12 hours with only 2 toilet stops, both at shack-like structures on the side of the road. No ATM. Then we arrived at the border…which was bullshit. I was expecting a few air conditioned buildings with men in uniform milling about and tourists galore. There was one lone decrepit building, the 8 people on our bus were the only ones there, there was no toilet and definitely no ATM.
Read below to experience the joy that is the Laos-Cambodia border crossing.
I hand my passport to the Cambodian official. He asks for $2. Random British Girl says this is a scam. I tell him I don’t have $2. He refuses to give my passport back. I insist he give it back. He ignores me for 10 minutes. We have a stand off. I win.
I walk the hundred meters to the Laos official to buy my visa. He asks for $42 (I only have 40…). Generous Stranger gifts me $2. I give the Laos official my passport. He sits on his phone for 5 minutes. I ask for my passport back. He ignores me.
Meanwhile, half of our group have realized the Cambodian official “forgot” to stamp their passport. They make their way back to the Cambodian official. He asks for another $2. They make their way back to the Laos official. Their visas are now $1 more because in the 10 minutes it took to walk back to Cambodia there has been a price increase (um, really?).
I am still waiting for my passport. I am pawned off to a second Laos official. He asks for $1. I tell him I don’t have $1. He refuses to give me my passport. We argue (by argue I mean I argued and he rotated between ignoring me and saying “1 dolla” repeatedly). We settle on the 40 cents worth of Cambodian money I find in my change purse.
Back to the others…
After being ignored for yet another 10 minutes, they pay for their visas (including an additional bogus after hours fee) and wait for the return of their passports. The second Laos official’s $1 fee has now increased to $2 (of course it has). They have a stand off. 45 minutes in, they compromise and pay him $1.
This story itself is getting exhausting so let me summarize: spotted an ATM on the side of the road (thank god…or buddha), motioned for the driver to stop, tried to withdraw money but was declined, tried 5 more times, managed to withdraw $100, then the machine ran out of money, then the pickup driver tried to scam us, then the ferry driver tried to scam us, then the ferry driver ignored us and refused to sell us tickets (seriously, what are we? twelve?), and it went on. and on. and on.
I did eventually make it to the islands but it was a seriously long, seriously exhausting, and just all around ridiculous day that could have been avoided if I’d just had time to get my life together which would have happened if I’d just stayed away from the cocktails. Bah.
Welcome to Laos.