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 is your alternative – 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 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 and waited 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 takes 15 minutes and everyone is charged USD$1 “stamp tax” – this goes straight into the officials pocket.
At the border
Our minivan 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 kind of fake bleeping infrared gun! The official pretends to check for Ebola, and provides you with 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, and the second minivan to arrive, we were 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. As you know too well that corrupt officials are ripping you off just because they can, and this is what doesn’t sit well – 8 hours to travel 80 kilometres?
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.
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 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 this way and got the correct exchange rate for the day. 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 deep 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 safely out of these ditches.
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.
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 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’d hate to fall really 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 so you can sit on the deck whilst watching the sun go down, sipping on a cool refreshing drink. 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 students here training throughout the day.
- Noodle shop – Don’t know the name as this is a word-of-mouth eating place, but served up exceptional local noodle dishes 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 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 (USD$6) on good roads to Ban Lung. The mini bus still stops a couple of times to pick up passengers as it wasn’t full.