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 in on all the scams. The only way to stop the corruption is by refusing to travel this way but then, what are your alternatives – fly?
Read and heard 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 and 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’d think after travelling 7 months in SE Asia I would have known better. This trip was only about 80 kms in total, what could possible go wrong? Well, for a start, the 80 kms 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 and had to wait almost 2 hours until shoved on a packed tourist bus to Don Det….the first scam. Here we waited again and ordered by the ‘Agent’ to complete all paper work (he demanded our passports) before catching another minivan to the Laos border. This ride only took 15 minutes and where everyone was charged US$1 “stamp tax” – this goes straight into the officials pocket.
At the border:
Our minivan group had to walk over a kilometre to the other side in the heat whilst donning all our backpacks. On the Cambodian side, everyone paid another US$1 for a “health check”. What a pathetic attempt of measuring your body temperature with some kind of fake bleeping infrared gun! The official pretended to check for Ebola, and provided a yellow paper afterwards to see a doctor if we felt sick.
We then waited more hours there for our passports to be stamped, returned, and the 2nd minivan to arrive. We were ripped-off by the scams/corruption/agent, as all up, the visa saga cost US$40 (only supposed to cost US$30). Travellers that initially refused the ‘Agent’ had a 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.
Avoiding the scams:
The only way to avoid the scam at this crossing is get the direct bus, which also handles 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.
Tip: 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 here. Instead, ask the many travellers passing through, as someone is bound to have left-over Lao or Cambodian currency. I changed money this way and got the correct exchange rate. The Agent was angry with me and tried to hurry me into the minivan without finishing the exchange but I stood my ground and he had to wait!
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 up once driving into these ditches; thought we’d need to be towed out at one stage. Only the skill of the driver who probably had driven this route a thousand times, saw us out of these ditches safely.
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 US$5 to take us into town only 2 or 3 kms away! All I wanted to do was collapse with a cold drink (Cambodia seems much hotter than Laos and other countries in SE Asia), 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. An hour and many bottles of water later, with directions from friendly locals, we finally found the guest house!
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, you get the feeling that it’s a little like a last frontier town. It wasn’t uncommon to see a doctor’s surgery open to the dusty dirt road, with patients inside attached to drips in makeshift hospital beds…I’d hate to fall really ill here!
The middle of town looked like a shamble as there was rubbish everywhere and road works were “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 so you can sit on the deck whilst watching the sun go down, sipping on a cool refreshing drink. Or, have your breakfast our 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’d ever tried. Although price are a little high, it’s an excellent cause and you’ll meet many students here training throughout the day.
- Noodle shop – Don’t know the name as this was a word-of-mouth eating place but served up exceptional local noodle dishes at dirt-cheap prices (alcohol is sold at a good price also).
After having travelled the short distance from Laos to Stung Treng and just a few days of looking around in Stung Treng, apart from benefiting the corrupt here, I’m not sure how over 25 years of foreign aid money has helped this country. I haven’t seen any evidence…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 (US$6) on good roads to Ban Lung. The mini bus still stopped a couple of times to pick up passengers as it wasn’t full.