Crossing border between Cambodia and Laos: corruption alert!

Travelling through Southeast Asia is very affordable and easy. It’s easy to arrange transport to move between towns, and even between countries. We crossed the border between Vietnam and Cambodia without problems (it was only a bit of a confusing process). But crossing the border between Cambodia and Laos by land was a different story.

We had already heard a lot about the corruption and scam going on here, which will cost you a few extra dollars that will go directly to the policemen pockets. We were really frustrated about this, so we want to spread the word. Read on, and help us stop the corruption of this border point!

The bus trip from Cambodia to the border

In most cases, people will be travelling from Siem Reap (Cambodia) to 4000 islands (Don Det island) (Laos). Some people will go from Phnom Penh or other towns, but the border point will be the same. In our case, we started the journey in a minivan from Siem Reap. We had a stop of one-hour half way before the border and changed to a different van (we were not told about this before, but it wasn’t a big problem for us).

Bus ticket Siemp Reap - Don Det 22$
Bus ticket Siemp Reap – Don Det 22$

During the trip we spoke with the rest of the people in our mini bus. We all had heard about the extra dollars we would have to pay on top of the price of the visa. So, we all agreed to stay strong as a group and refuse to pay those fees. We really recommend you do the same during your trip, make sure everyone knows that you don’t have to pay any extra fees.

Arriving at the border

When we travelled from Vietnam to Cambodia, the bus brought us to the border, and drove us through.  In this case of  crossing the border between Cambodia and Laos it was different. The mini bus dropped us 300 meters before the border, at a local shop. Here they gave us the papers we needed to fill in. Quite strange already, that this was just a local shop and not at the building of the border point. After filling in the papers, we had to walk to the border with all our luggage. We were ready for it…

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Exiting Cambodia

We arrive as a group into the Cambodian side of the border. One by one, we give our passports. They tell us to wait and go to the next window. Everything seems to be fine…. but then it begins.

At the next window, a man yells “TWO DOLLAR FOR STAMP”. We all reply the same “I know that I don’t have to pay this.”. They don’t reply. They literally throw our passports on the rudest way I’ve ever seen, without the exit stamp.  It is necessary to have the exit stamp in order to enter the next country, so we give our passport back and ask for the stamp. They yell again “TWO DOLLAR”.

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We stayed strong and didn’t bother about what they were yelling in Khmer language. Some walk again to the window and ask to have the passport back. It was a matter of time… and a bit of luck. They saw that a new group was coming, so they quickly stamped all our passports and yelled to us to leave fast. It looked like they did not want us to tell the next group that they did not have to pay the two extra dollars. It was easier to kick us out.

Entering Laos

We celebrate our first victory. But we still have two more battles. We continued walking to the building of the Laos border. Here there is a list on the wall with all the prices of the visa for each nationality.

In our case, it was 35$ as we had already checked online. When we head to the window, the policeman asks for 36$. We reply that we know it is 35$. His excuse that day was that on Sunday they charge one extra dollar. Of course, this is not true. On Monday they will tell you a different story.

Again, as a group, we all reject to pay. Seems like we won another battle. But they did not hesitate to take their time in processing the visas. Very slowly, and most of the time just checking Facebook on their phones, they finally finished.

Now we are asked to go to the next window to collect our passport, and the story starts again. A man yells “TWO DOLLAR”. We say that we don’t have to pay that. He insists that we have to pay two dollars for the entry stamp. We tell him that’s not true.

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This was the most complicated part, and the most stubborn man I’ve ever seen. The group behind us already caught up with us, and there was about 30 people in total waiting for the passports to be stamped. Of course, the bus companies are aware and part of this. The bus drivers start to yell that they will leave without you if you don’t rush and pay. Don’t worry, they will not leave.

Don’t be afraid!

Some people were afraid the bus would leave and paid the two dollars. We insisted until the end. Together with our new Finnish friends we agreed on paying two dollars for 4 passports in total. The main reason why we gave up was seeing that other people were stressing about the delay and the bus leaving. We were frustrated that we ended up paying, but at least it was 0,5$ per person instead of 5$ per person in total.

We finally got in the bus and headed to Don Det, happy with our victory and enjoying the loud Laotian music that our new driver played.

Why you should refuse to pay the extra fees

We took a long time for this process, just to save 5$ per person. But in this case, it’s not about saving a bit of money. It’s about not giving it to corrupt policemen that already get more than they should. We know well that Cambodia is a very corrupt country, and positions like the ones of those policemen are basically bought, or they got them because they are friends with someone with power.

If you give them the 2$+1$+2$ that they ask for straight away, you are encouraging corruption. This is very unfair. And illegal. We ask you to at least mention to them once “I don’t have to pay this”. We understand some people may be scared, or in a rush. But just by mentioning this you are letting them know that you are not stupid. Hopefully if we all refuse, one day they will get tired of trying.

Finally crossed the border!
Finally crossed the border!

Some tips to cross the Cambodia – Laos border

  • Stay together as a group with the people you are travelling with. Agree with them that no one will pay the fees (at least the first two fees, those you can skip for sure).
  • Don’t be afraid if the police yells or throws your passport. They do this all the time and nothing bad is going to happen. No one will dare to break or keep your passport. They would be in a bigger trouble than you if you did that.
  • Keep your money in separated places and make sure they don’t see your money. You can use the excuse that you don’t have enough money, and ask for an ATM. There are no ATM’s in the area
  • You can ask for a receipt when they ask for the extra fees. Of course, they don’t have a receipt so that will make them nervous.
  • It’s a matter of time, be patient. If you stay as a group, the bus will not leave without you.
  • Write to the embassy of Laos in your country! The more they hear about this the easier it will be to stop it.

We wish you good luck! Please leave us a comment if you’ve recently been crossing the border between Cambodia and Laos and tell us your experience to keep others updated.  Let’s stop corruption!

If you are travelling to Cambodia, also don’t miss out our guide to visit Angkor Wat!

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