Prepare to be ripped off in both countries when crossing this Laos/Cambodia (Veun Kham/Dom Kralor) border as all the officials are corrupt and perpetuate the scams.
The only way to stop the corruption is by refusing to travel this way, but then, your only alternative is to fly or by private car.
Read and heard a lot about all the scams at the Veun Kham/Dom Kralor crossing, but thought that somehow perhaps, it wouldn’t apply to us as savvy travellers. How wrong we were…
It all started in Don Khong Island. How could anyone have thought that travelling from this idyllic serene island would be such a pain?
Bought bus tickets for the Paramount Angkor Express Bus Company (140,000K) to Stung Treng (Cambodia) from Pon’s Guest House. Specifically asked (many times) if it was a straight-through bus, so we could eliminate the border scams.
The owner (spoke perfect English) confirmed yes. You would think after travelling seven months in SE Asia, I would have known better. This trip was only about 80 kilometres in total, what could possible go wrong?
Well, for a start, the 80 kilometres took about 8 hours!
The scam went something like this…
After the boat across the river from Don Khong Island, we seemed to be stranded (or it felt like it) on the other side. Waiting almost 2 hours before finally being shoved on a packed tourist bus to Don Det. The first scam.
In Don Det, we waited again. The ‘Agent’ ordered everyone to complete all paper work and demanded our passports, before catching another minivan to the Laos border. I’m forever nervous when handing over my passport to anyone, especially in Asia – panic attacks.
This ride only takes 15 minutes and everyone is charged USD$1 “stamp tax”, which goes straight into the official’s pocket.
At the border
Our minivan’s group walked over a kilometre to the other side in the heat, whilst donning all our backpacks.
On the Cambodian side, everyone paid another USD$1 for a “health check”.
What a pathetic attempt of measuring your body temperature, using some sort of fake bleeping infrared gun! The official pretends to check for Ebola, and provides a yellow paper afterwards to see a doctor if you feel sick.
Waiting more hours at the border for our passports to be stamped, returned, but also for the second minivan to arrive, we are ripped-off by the scams, corruption, and agent.
In total, the visa saga cost USD$40 although a visa is only only supposed to cost USD$30. Not that much more you say? But it’s the stress of how the whole day manifests itself and also the principal. Especially, as you know that corrupt officials are ripping you off just because they can. This is what doesn’t sit well but also the 8 hours to travel 80 kilometres.
Travellers that initially refused the ‘Agent’ had a much harder time by the border police and only paid a few dollars less in the end, but it took these guys longer to go through the crossing.
Final border scam
Don’t change money at this crossing as you’ll be ripped off. The Agent also gets a kickback from the money changer and he pushes you to change money at the changer.
Instead, ask the many travellers passing through, as someone is bound to have left-over Lao or Cambodian currency. I changed money in this way and got the correct exchange rate for the day.
The Agent was very angry with me and tried to hurry me into the minivan, before finishing my exchange with another traveller. But, I stood my ground and he had to wait.
The only way to avoid the scam at this crossing is get the direct bus, which also handles all the border crossing.
I think the Tourism office at Don Khong is the better place from which to book your direct ticket. Alternatively, insist on a ticket with the Phnom Penh Sorya bus company, as this company goes straight through and without hassles (apparently). Or, the other way to avoid this scam is to fly into Cambodia.
After the long wait at the border crossing, the minivan finally arrived to take us to Stung Treng.
The dirt road from the border to this small town in northeastern Cambodia can only be described as appalling and the worse I’d seen in many years!
The massive craters along the way saw our minivan buried almost half-way deep once driving into these ditches – thought we’d need to be towed out at one point. Only the skill of the driver who probably had driven this route a thousand times, saw us safely out of these craters.
Last scam for the day
After an 8-hour day and finally dumped in a small minivan depot outside of town, the driver’s brother then wanted to charge us another USD$5 to take us into town, only 2 or 3 kilometres away. Although this amount doesn’t sound like a lot of money, this is another rip-off.
All I wanted to do was collapse with a cold drink, but this was not to be…
Sick of all the scams and being ripped off today, we set out walking with all our gear to the guest house. Cambodia seems much hotter than Laos and other countries in SE Asia – maybe it’s the lack of trees?
An hour and many bottles of water later, with directions from friendly locals, we finally found the guest house along the river.
Stung Treng is treated by most travellers as a stop-over to get to Laos or passing through to get to Kratie.
Apart from a couple of Wats, there isn’t really much to do here – drink Angkor Beer and watch the sun set over the Mekong…not bad really.
Walking all over town, which feels a little like the last frontier town.
It isn’t uncommon to see a doctor’s surgery open out on to the dusty dirt road, with patients inside attached to drips in makeshift hospital beds.
I would hate to fall ill here…
The middle of town looks like a shamble as there is rubbish everywhere and road works are “in progress” – for years, apparently.
Le Tonle Tourism Training Centre (Prek Village, Stung Treng Commune) is a not-for-profit training guest house, which provides “vocational training to disadvantaged youth from Cambodia’s north-eastern provinces of Kratie, Stung Treng, Ratanakiri, and Mondulkiri.”
The very clean accommodation is in a beautiful old traditional wooden house opposite the Mekong. Sit on the deck whilst watching the sun go down, sipping on a cool refreshing drink, is a welcomed break from the heat. Or, have your breakfast on the deck – it’s a treat.
The owner is lovely and the service is very good.
- Le Tonle Tourism Training Centre – The in-house restaurant here is wonderful! Fantastic service and local food from the students. One of the best local Amok dishes I have ever tried. Although prices are a little high, it’s an excellent cause and you’ll meet many passionate students training throughout the day.
- Noodle shop – Don’t know the name of this noodle shop as this is a word-of-mouth eating place. Try and find it as, exceptional local noodle dishes served up at dirt-cheap prices. Alcohol is also sold at a good price.
After having travelled the short distance from Laos to Stung Treng and just a few days of looking around here, apart from benefiting the corrupt, I’m not sure how over 25 years of foreign aid money has helped this country.
I haven’t seen much evidence of where the aid has been spent. Let’s hope the rest of Cambodia is better.
The last time I travelled to Cambodia was in 2004 – a lot can happen in 10 years and then again, perhaps not!
Stung Treng to Ban Lung
Le Tonle guest house organised the 2.5-hour drive in a very good minibus (USD$6), apparently, on good roads to Ban Lung.