The Laos bound bus I boarded in Kratie had only about 10 people on it. Everyone was kind of minding their own business while on the bus, but we struck a conversation during mandatory snack breaks. I’ve heard Lao visa on arrival was available on the Voeung Kam side as of February 2010, but I’ve never actually met anyone who could confirm they got one while crossing the border so I was a bit apprehensive about it. The fact that everyone else on the bus aside from myself already had Lao visa (they applied for in advance at the Lao embassy in Phnom Penh) didn’t make it any easier on me.
Two more backpackers, an Aussie couple boarded the bus in Stung Treng and took a seat right across the aisle from me. They had just finished exploring Ratanakiri, the province I decided not to go to so I asked a bit about how they liked it and what they thought of it. While the guy said he enjoyed the scenery, the girl didn’t like the province at all.
Stung Treng was our last stop before reaching the border crossing at Dong Kralor. There was nothing but a barrier across the road and a small shed on both Cambodian and Lao sides. A true middle of nowhere, with no signs of civilization or any humans involving activity other than the border check huts. The bus dropped us off at Dong Kralor, all of us got off along with our luggage and went to go through the exiting procedure on the Cambodian side.
Bribes on Cambodian Side of the Border
There was one Cambodian inside the border crossing hut and one outside of it. They both worked as a team with demands for bribes. The guy inside would show his palm and say: “One Dolla” while the man standing outside would follow in commanding voice: “Pay one dolla”.
We were all coming from Cambodia so we were all already used to being scammed on every step which resulted in an obedient shell out by the most of us. There was one Dutch fellow who was the most vocal of us all and resisted the scam to the last minute but he was eventually forced into opening his wallet the same way as the rest of us.
I thought that perhaps we should have discussed this beforehand and made a pact that we would all stand up for ourselves as one and then they’d have little leverage to work with. After everyone but me and the Dutch guy were past the immigration and headed towards the Lao checkpoint, we both knew that if we remained adamant, we would get through without paying the bribe, but that wouldn’t go over well with the guys already in the bus whom we’d force into waiting. As I expected the bus driver to be a part of the scamming mafia, he would probably decide to leave if we were to “hinder” the bus by demanding the passage without bribes. But if all of us united against this abuse, the driver would have no option but to wait and the immigration dudes would also have to give in to the group that outnumbered them.
Bribes on Lao Side of the Border
There is a bit of a walk to do after the Cambodian booth to the Lao booth which would constitute actual border crossing. The bus was already waiting for us at the Lao side as it got across while we were dealing with the scammers on the Cambodian side of the border. Bribe demands on Lao side were even worse than on Cambodian side, though.
Luckily for me, the Australian couple that boarded the bus at Stung Treng didn’t have Lao visa either so I wasn’t the only one applying for it. Lao immigration booth had two windows on it. First window was for visa on arrival, the second was to stamp our passports and allow us an entry to the country.
The guy stamping passports demanded two dollars per person for a stamp. That made his bribe 200% higher than the Cambodian one. While I was waiting to get my visa on arrival, I’ve heard the people who already had their visa express their displeasure with unusually high bribe demand.
When asked why he’s demanding so much, the man behind the small, low laid window said that it was the mandatory weekend charge (it was Sunday). He bitched that he had to be at the border crossing on the weekend so he demanded a $2 bribe instead of a more common $1 one.
When my turn came to get a stamp, I already knew what awaited me, but I was still surprised by the way the bribe was demanded. The pocketbook sized window was located where normal sized man’s waist is and all I saw was a hand come out of there, tap the wall and a commanding voice from inside said nothing more but: “Two dolla!” It was said in a voice of an order, not a request. The tone of his voice literally translated into: “Don’t mess with me boy. I’m not gonna ask twice. Hand over two bucks or else!”
Aside from annoying demands for bribes, crossing the Cambodia Laos Border at Voeung Kam/Dong Kralor is an easy and pain free matter. There is no heavy traffic (at least not on Sundays) that goes through this border crossing and if I were to guess, other than the regular bus service between Cambodia and Laos, there are not many days during which this border crossing sees independent travellers with their own means of transportation.
Cambodia has been offering visa on arrival on the Dong Kralor side for a few years but to go to Laos, one needed to apply for visa beforehand. This has changed recently and visa on arrival is now available on the Voeung Kam side for travellers heading to Laos.