Posts Tagged With: Border crossing

Write about Laos

We made it. The border crossing was a bit painful, but we did get across and back up the river in time for the slow boat. Leaving the guesthouse at 8.30, I was sat on top of the bags in the back of a pick up truck, with the hostel owner chatting to me and getting excited about the new border. The two towns we were going to and from are just a couple of hundred metres apart across the river, and yet we had to travel around 15km south, across the bridge and back north.

The brand new border control

The brand new border control

After paying 40 baht for the ride to the bridge (they wanted 50, but the older Dutch couple we were with, and who were doing the trip mainly to write about it on travelfish, were having none of that), we queued up and 3 people took our passport details in order to get the 25 baht bus across the new bridge. Getting stamped out of Thailand was quick and easy, and then we rode the bus through no-mans-land to the new border checkpoint on the Laos side. It was fairly disorganised, with groups piling off the bus, and then mobbing around a small office. There were no signs up, so it took a while to work out which way to go, but we finally got it right; queue for forms, go away and fill out the forms, queue back up to hand them in, wait for everyone’s passports to be passed around the small office with 5 people copying things out, then pay the $35 for the visa. Finally, we just had to deal the “tuk tuk mafia” outside, and haggle down from 80 baht per person to around 40.

How many people does it take to sell a bus ticket...

How many people does it take to sell a bus ticket…

Welcome to Laos

Welcome to Laos

A flat tyre as well... Come on Laos!

A flat tyre as well… Come on Laos!

Eventually though, we made it to the slow boat port in Huay Xai, and were actually among the first people there. The ticket office staff were pretty relaxed about the new border situation, and just laughed when I asked what time the boat would leave. It finally left around 2 hours later than normal, and we were off into Laos down the Mekong.

The slow boats

The slow boats

Home for two days

Home for two days

The slow boats are long, thin, cargo and passenger boats that float down the river at a relaxed speed, hence the name. Around 80 people were on ours, mostly tourists, and it was a mix of independent and group travellers. It seems like car or bus seats have been taken out of their original homes and placed in rows up the boat, and there isn’t a huge amount to do other than sit and watch the spectacular scenery pass by. Law described it as a cross between Lord of the Rings and Jurassic Park – she is awesome.

Jungles, mountains and bamboo villages dot the shore, and the six hours passed quite pleasantly. Just after dark on the first day the boat stops at a small village called Pakbeng, where touts practically jump aboard to get you into their guesthouse – we had a plan though, so while I waited for the bags Law zipped up the hill to get a nice room for a good price. The second day we woke up early and headed off around 9 down the river, and it was more of the same. Amazing countryside, and a good opportunity to read a lot.

Orcs patrol the eastern shore

Orcs patrol the eastern shore

Snug

Snug

We arrived almost at Luang Prabang at about 5.30, but actually stopped about 10km up river from the town. This is a fairly recent thing, where they now drop off all the passengers and then charge an extra 20,000 kip (about £1.50) for a tuk tuk into the city. It’s clearly a scam, but there is an actual ticket office and this is just what happens now. I’d read about it online so we were a bit prepared, but a lot of people were mad and tried to stick it out on the boat until it moved. We saw one couple later who’d waited another 30 mins and still ended up getting the tuk tuk.

Luang Prabang is a very nice city. It’s another odd of mix European cafe style architecture (thanks France) and temples and pagodas. It is a bit pricier here than elsewhere in Laos, but it’s a cool place to just wander round in and the market is full of great cheap street food. Beer Lao is also very cheap, and it might be my favourite beer of Asia so far. As well as visiting the various Wats and temples, we’ve also been to Kuang Si falls, an amazing set of pools and waterfalls outside the city – the water is bright turquoise and even the rain didn’t take away from it’s beauty.

Luang Prabang, a lot of temples

Luang Prabang, a lot of temples

Tiny dumplings on a stick! Night Market

Tiny dumplings on a stick! Night Market

After a couple of days chilling in LP, we made our way to the bus station to spend the day winding around the mountains to get to Phonsavan and the famous and mysterious Plain of Jars.

Kuang Si Falls

Kuang Si Falls

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Vietnam to Cambodia – the comedy border crossing

After the Mekong home stay, we decided on going with a little (comparable) luxury in our next place. The lizards / bugs / mice ratio had affected our sleep a bit!

Hopping back on the bikes for the second time, we got to Can Tho bus station, and following the advice of Mr. Hung we bought tickets to Rach Gia on the ’nice bus’, which was a fine 3 hour journey, with the plan to buy tickets from there to Ha Tien. I think we were probably a bit screwed over, but we did managed to get seats on the local bus, which was a bit of an experience. I don’t think capacity was a factor in the driver’s thinking, who just bounced along with his hand on the horn, picking up in random places and filling up completely. At one point, a woman got on with a mattress, and at another they strapped a motorbike to the back. Anyway, we made it to Ha Tien, and with no maps had to go on some more motos to our hotel (we’re getting good at holding on now).

Oasis

Ha Tien is a sleepy little place, with which is usually skipped over by tourists. It was nice to walk around for a couple of days, and we achieved the main aim of having good showers and getting washing done. There is one English bar, the Oasis, where we did enjoy a cooked breakfast and PG tips! The town was a nice final stop in Vietnam, and with the nearest town in Cambodia (Kep) being so close, everything seemed like it would be nice and easy…

Instead of booking some moto drivers to the border, we decided the official looking bus service through our hotel would be a better bet. Paying the extra dollar, we arranged a 7am pick up the next day. The front desk guy later suggested coming down for 6ish, as apparently we’d need to get motos to the tourist office. Not ideal, but okay.

Easy rider

At 5.50am the next morning, our room phone went to tell us the bikes were here. Hopping on the back, we assumed it would be short trip. 6km later, we were at the border, and clearly there would be no bus. Only one guy spoke English, and as we were stamped out of Vietnam into no mans land, we both knew we weren’t getting quite what we paid the hotel for! Despite reading a lot of posts online saying the border crossing should be $20, our ’guide’ insisted on it being $25, and despite our polite protests, it was getting us nowhere. So, we paid the extra for the visas, and then came the fabled medical check.

Basically a shack next to the visa building (a slightly bigger shack), a surgical mask wearing border guard asked us to fill out some forms to show that we weren’t full of disease. He then took Law’s temperature, pointing a thermometer at her forehead, seeming to be happy, and then asked for a dollar. We knew this was just a con, so while I started to get a bit annoyed Law stayed calm and said “no, I don’t think that’s right is it.” Staying polite, asking for a receipt and then showing our vaccine booklets and marriage certificate(!), he was finally satisfied. The highlight was, after Law said no, he turned sheepishly to the side, with the final gamble being “you don’t pay, you don’t go in” – the fact we already had visas at this point seemed a bit too much for him.

Goodbye Nam... Nearly

With a parting shot of “you should get a cancer vaccination next time you come to Cambodia”, we were in. But not far. With our biker guide, we then stood around and waited, while he seemed to haggle with some locals, he handed over some money and then left us, saying “pay no more”. A guy opened his boot, we put our bags in, and we waited another half an hour for him to fill up his car. Finally, with 5 of us crammed in the back, we set off toward Kep…

And of course, didn’t get quite that far. Stopping around 6 or 7km outside the village, the driver gave some money to another couple of moto drivers and off we went. They stopped and flagged down a couple of English speakers at different points, until they finally got us to our ridiculously idyllic hotel.

Kep

It only took just over 2 hours door to door, and was pretty funny, but we still felt a little bit ripped off. For anyone looking at doing this crossing, we booked through Hai Phu’ong Hotel – so be warned! We’re in Cambodia though, in a private bungalow with a pool by the beach, and were there by 8.30am relaxing . Not a bad start to our time here.

Crab

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