Cambodia – Laos Border Crossing Without Paying Bribes and Saving Up to $33

Although most travellers in South East Asia enter Laos from Thailand and Vietnam some, like me, cross Cambodia-Laos border (Voeung Kam – Dom Kralor). It’s not overly hard to do so, but may be stressful or even frustrating for some. Here’s an overview of my journey from Siem Reap (Cambodia) to 4000 Islands (Laos) and few tips on how to do it cheaper.

Waterfalls, 4000 Islands, Laos,

Beautiful waterfalls in 4000 Islands

 

Bus tickets

Firstly, you need to somehow get transported from one country to another. Cycling is obviously the cheapest option and mostly recommended by me. However, most travellers won’t have enough time or will power to push themselves through few hundred kilometres in scorching sun. On this occasion I have also chosen to travel quickly by bus. It doesn’t matter where you are travelling from in Cambodia – the cost will be relatively high. Bus fare from Siem Reap to Si Phan Don (4000 Islands) was $23 for me and the journey took 14 hours. After speaking to some travel agencies and other people I found that the same journey costed some people $50 (sold by not too honest agents) and if I were to split the journey into 2 parts it would cost me around $50 too. Conclusion: don’t travel near the border and then take another bus, and look around for the right price.

On the bus

Ticket price is not the only revenue source for bus operators. They will stop quite often in significantly more expensive shops/ restaurants where they get paid for us – foreigners – naively spending our money. It’s a common practice, probably used by all operators in Cambodia. Another way for them to earn extra cash is by applying for visas on tourists’ behalf. I was quoted $36 for visa + 2 stamps, which means that they get $2 for their fatigue. When I did it myself (me and one girl decided to do it ourselves, out of 50 people on the bus), I paid a total of $32.

Vans in Laos

Visa

Visa to Laos prices vary from country to country. Citizens of Switzerland don’t need one, I paid $30 because I’m from Poland, but Canadian girl I sat with had to pay $35. When she challenged them about the price, saying she checked online before departure and read it was $30, they have shown her a list of countries with an amount next to each entry. Conclusion: expect the worst and hope for the best, because prices can change without prior notice. Do not forget to have a passport sized photo with you. Otherwise you will be charged $1-$2 for the “exception”.

Exit / entry stamp

It is commonly known that border officials are somewhat corrupt both in Cambodia and Laos. There’s one border crossing between these countries, Voeung Kam – Dom Kralor, and by nature is one that can freely ask for bribes (when not presented – no crossing will be possible). Both sides ask for “exit or entry stamp fees”, which are unofficial. Although commonly it is $1 for each side, sometimes they ask for $2. This was the case when I crossed. Having known that it’s likely they will ask for a stamp fee, which really is a bribe, I found a way to waive this, which was 50% successful. Once I reached the hut where border official stationed (yes, it’s really small crossing), I said that I have no problem with paying as long as they can issue a receipt for my employer. Cambodian officials waived the fee (possibly because I was leaving Cambodia and they can’t really stop me), while Laotian officials said “$2 or go back”. I paid it…

Cambodia - Laos Border Crossing

Cambodia – Laos Border Crossing

 

On my way back from Laos to Cambodia, I was hitchhiking and walking whenever I couldn’t get a ride. Therefore, when I arrived at the border, I said that I simply don’t have any money before I access an ATM in Cambodia. The nearest city with an ATM is 60 km away (according to border crossing officials). I had Cambodian visa already in my passport, so didn’t have to pay for this. Therefore, both Laotian and Cambodian border crossing officials let me go through without paying bribes.

One of my rides to the border

One of my rides to the border

 

Arrival in 4000 Islands

As usual we were dropped off 3 km away from the river crossing. This time however there were no tuk tuks but private “free” shuttle bus. You probably realise that nothing is free in life… “Very nice” driver dropped us by “the only place” where we could buy boat tickets and exchange currency. We were assured that there’s no alternative and even if there was something else this is the best place anyway. Then he urged us that everyone (around 20 people) should buy tickets for only 35,000 Rip and exchange money at 7.700 Rip to a dollar.

4000 Islands

The “only” place where boat tickets could be bought

 

I had to exchange money, so changed $10 and received 7000 Rip. Wait, is it right? No, they “forgot” to give me 70,000 Rip… When I challenged them, they gave me money back with a cheeky smile (it was saying “well, worth a try”).

The boat ticket costed 35,000 Rip. Somewhat high price for a short boat journey. I decided that it’s not worth it and was more than willing to take the risk and stay on this side of the river until I could find a cheaper boat. There were two more people who shared my view. Everyone else bought the tickets there and were squeezed onto long motor boat.

Long motor boat in Laos

The three of us, who parted from the group, found a ride for 20,000 Rip per person just 50 metres away. We had the same boat just to ourselves and were much quicker on the other side than the rest. Overall, I spent less than any other person on the bus by:

[box type=”note” style=”rounded” border=”full”]

  • up to $27 on the bus ticket
  • $2 on the commission for the visa application to the bus operator
  • $2 on the exit stamp
  • $2 on the boat

[/box]

If you crossed the border from Cambodia to Laos, what was your experience?

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{ 47 comments… add one }
  • Sonja @ The {Happy} Travel Bug April 15, 2013, 1:08 pm

    What an experience! I’m just chillin on the beach and you are doing all this craziness…so many different types of travel. I love reading about your adventures!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 16, 2013, 2:10 am

      Thanks Sonja. I must admit I’m kinda jealous of you chilling on the beach right!!!! However, the weather’s been so awesome here in China…!!

      Reply
  • Noelfy April 16, 2013, 1:25 am

    Ughhh, I hate corrupt people! I am lucky I never met any when crossing the border, when so, I would make a big deal!!! :(

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 16, 2013, 2:22 am

      I’m not good at bribing people either. I would feel scared of being arrested or something. I’m just way too honest I guess :)

      Reply
      • pete November 22, 2015, 8:52 am

        Too stingy more like. I love how Westerners come here to Asia and spend more time arguing over a single dollar than they do actually enjoying life.

        A dollar is NOTHING to you, but is a lot to these people. Just suck it up , Princess. Pay the money. They time it takes to argue just isn’t worth it in the long run.

        Unless you are earning a dollar per hour.

      • Moody May 21, 2016, 2:30 pm

        Pete – you are right that people should not argue about a dollar when for example buying something in a shop, but they absolutely should argue about a dollar when it funds corruption. Lack of governance (corruption) is a major contributor to keeping the poor poor.
        Be generous with money in poor countries, but do not fund corruption. The time it takes to argue is absolutely worth it is the long run, not for you, but for the poor in a country.

  • Jennifer April 16, 2013, 8:49 am

    Great article, I crossed the same border last year although in reverse (lao – cambodia) and I almost got arrested because I flatly refused to pay any of their bribes and got a little worked up! I’ve written an article about my experience on my website if you want to take a look. I’d encourage all travelers maybe not to argue as much as I did but at least question what these $2 extra payments are for and have a go at refusing payment. If everyone going through that border questioned the extra payments it may eventually stop the border officials from asking.

    Reply
    • Cez Krol April 16, 2013, 10:18 am

      The girl I was crossing with also started arguing. I know from previous experiences that in Asia there’s no way to win such argument, unless you show them that you are at their mercy. I calmed her down and we managed to cross the border paying the bribe only to Laotian officers. When we crossed, one of the guys said that one week before us, one girl had her passport tore up. You should have seen the face expression of the girl I was crossing with.

      Reply
      • Florian September 1, 2014, 3:07 pm

        hey i was wondering where you guys are now, and what your top 3 trips are to be able to travel longer by not overspending on unnessary things. thanks :)

  • Mike April 16, 2013, 1:57 pm

    Another great post. Loved the pic from ur ride on the tractor. Memories like that are forever! And good job avoiding the scams. I know it’s just a few bucks…but by not paying the rip off ferry, for example, you helped out a boat driver who was honest and reasonable…and you won out in the long run anyway. Kudos. I will pay stupid money for somethings, but I won’t part with an extra dollar if I’m being ripped off because they think I’m a stupid farang, bule, gringo, etc.

    As for exchanges, my first day in Bali a few years ago I just wanted a small hand towel for sweat wiping…I bartered her down to about a dollar for 2…and when I got to the restaurant later and got a calculator I realized I’d paid about $17. Doh! (I so suck at math). So again, nicely done catching the exchange rip off! Happy trails! And 4000 islands looks awesome!

    Reply
    • Cez Krol April 19, 2013, 4:14 am

      Thanks Mike. I agree with every single sentence you have written and always try to stick to that. Miscalculations happen, so don’t worry. The worst feeling is when you know you’re getting ripped off and there’s literally no alternative.

      Good luck on your travels !

      Reply
  • [email protected] April 16, 2013, 2:14 pm

    Well, I guess that’s the sad reality in traveling in a lot of developing countries. A lot of underpaid government and private employees alike try to squeeze out as much cash as they can from any human ATM’s they see – the tourists. But it’s good you know how to handle the situation.

    Reply
    • Cez Krol April 19, 2013, 4:23 am

      I hope that many people will learn from my experience and put up some resistance every time they are asked for bribes. Only in this way that can end. Of course I understand the officials want to earn extra cash, but I’m sure they do anyway, from more illegal transports. To try every single opportunity is just greedy.

      Reply
  • memographer April 17, 2013, 12:03 pm

    Good info. Thanks for sharing.
    You’ve mentioned “Cycling” as an option… Would I need to buy a bicycle? If yes, for how much? Or would I need to rent one? If yes, for how much? And, is it possible to return a rented bike in Laos?

    Reply
  • Leigh April 17, 2013, 8:31 pm

    I find border crossings so stressful especially when you don’t speak the language. I’ve had a few winners in Africa and a tense one going into Turkey from Greece years ago. The money changers on the other side are always there to take advantage of confusion with new currencies too. Sounds like you did quite alright at this crossing Agness.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 19, 2013, 4:56 am

      It was actually Cez, not me. I was travelling in Europe at that time. I totally agree with language barrier and being charged more when you don’t speak the local language. Not only border crossing is troublesome, but your travels might be much more challenging and difficult when locals don’t speak English and you don’t know their mother tongue.

      Reply
  • Sam D May 1, 2013, 9:20 am

    I have heard some horror stories about crossing the boarder! Great advice! thanks

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 2, 2013, 5:52 am

      What horror stories? We want to hear them!

      Reply
  • Becky Padmore May 1, 2013, 6:56 pm

    I wish I knew about this when I was there, I did find the crossing pretty stressful!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 2, 2013, 5:29 am

      I would find it stressful as well, believe me. So glad I wasn’t there :).

      Reply
  • Justin May 2, 2013, 4:22 am

    I crossed the Cambodia and Thai border, at their southern most crossing, and there was a ”quarantine” scam going there. didn’t get me though!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder May 2, 2013, 5:18 am

      Hey Justin. Too bad :(!

      Reply
  • Cimek February 3, 2014, 1:08 pm

    Hi
    I had another bad experience at this border recently.

    Me and my girlfriend were traveling by motorbike around this part of Asia, a few weeks earlier we entered to Laos from Thailand via Friendship Bridge. We handed passports to the officer at the border, paid the fee he asked for, was given passports back with plastic chip cards. Then we did the custom for motorbike, officers said all good, opened the gate for us and wished a nice trip.

    When we arrived at the border crossing between Laos and Cambodia. The officer at the check point told us, that we don’t have entry stamp in the passports, but one way pass for the bridge only, so we are illegally in the country. We explained him we gave passports to authorities, paid, have customs done and were allowed to enter legally, if stamp is missing it must be that officials mistake not our, so please ring Vientiane and clear it out. He didn’t wish to ring but called someone in charge from tent behind, who said it’s common mistake and now we have to pay penalty 500$. We were prepared to pay something around visa fee, if at all, asked for receipt, but they insisted for penalty and didn’t want to give any receipt. When I said I report it to appropriate department and requested them to give me their names they refused, even officer in charge didn’t want to identify himself neither had identifier. They said they not gonna let me out of Laos but I didn’t care, I was so crossed that quickly picked up our passports from the table and told them I am going back to Vientiane to sort it out and report everything. We came back to the bike, I started the engine and rod close to the tent behind the barracks where they were seating, then my girlfriend started to take pictures of them by our camera, they were running away and hiding faces like cockroaches, pathetic.

    The one who asked for bribe first was speaking descent English and said he was working in Vientiane at Friendship Bridge border control before. He was fully aware of the problem with crossing there and told us they have many problems like this. When I asked him, “so, if it’s happening every day, why don’t you call and tell guys in Vientiane not to let tourists go in without stamps then?” He didn’t answer, just said it’s happen over and over again, but it’s our fault. It was like organized crime, their friends in Vientiane were letting tourists in without stamp, then this guys were picking them up and charging bribes for no visa on the other side. We were lucky we had motorbike and returning to City was no problem.

    We rod back to Pakse strait away, next day walked to immigration office there and explained the problem we approached but, didn’t mention we tried cross border day before. After a few telephone calls to Vientiane, talks to higher rank officer, explanations, arguments and strongly opposing any extra payment because it’s not our mistake but theirs,someone in charge finally decided to give us a letter written in Laotian to the border officer, explaining how it’s happen we don’t have stamps, and requesting him to let us leave the country . We crossed a few hours later to Thailand with no problems and got to Cambodia from other side same day. Then we contacted our consulate and reported everything, gave them all details, they promised to report it to appropriate authority.

    Maybe we lost one day, but didn’t get ripped off by some cocky crooks. Only because most people doesn’t oppose they exist. So if you don’t care about time take your challenge, it’s worth it and you’ll feel so much better.

    Reply
    • Belinda February 10, 2014, 3:37 am

      Hi,

      What are the stamps that you are talking about? Am about to go to Laos and plan to cross from Laos to Cambodia

      Tks

      Reply
      • Cimek February 14, 2014, 11:17 pm

        Entry stamps. They didn’t stamp our entry in the passports.

  • Raphael April 25, 2014, 6:24 am

    Thanks for the info Cez, your post helped me a lot!
    I wrote about my experience in order to help others to. Here is a link:
    http://www.facebook.com/AmateurWorldBackpackers/posts/650754668293642

    By the way there is an ATM in the town of Nakasang (the pier for the 4,000 islands): it is right next to the bus station, so easy to get Kips).

    Happy travels, cheers!
    Raphael

    Reply
    • Cez Krol April 25, 2014, 8:35 am

      Your post describes it all too well. I think it’s not just one of the companies – it’s all of them.

      On the upside, I found that hitchhiking is much more pleasant and way cheaper experience. People you meet then are happy to help for no hidden (or visible) fees. I encourage everyone brave enough to try!

      Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your travels

      Reply
  • Stefano August 15, 2014, 3:22 pm

    I would like to share my experience about crossing the laos/Cambodia border on the road from pakse to phnom penh.

    I left at 7am from pakse (laos) then 3 hour later we arrived at a old and tiny bus station where we jumped into a minibus that took us at the border.

    Then the same old story, a guy arrived, and forced us to give him passport and 30usd (10 more than the visa cost, no chance to argue). Then 40 minutes later this guy came back with our passport with visa and correctly stamped.

    Then a bus took us to strung treng, the bus was filled with 40 person, 25 going to siem reap, 15 directed to phnom penh. Apparently there were two or three minivans waiting for us but……….

    As soon as we dropped off from this bus (in the middle of nowhere) the guy said that the road from there to phnom penh was closed and so we would have been taken to siem reap, and also we would have to pay 5usd more… Then 45 minutes of quarrels and finally we had to take a little and super scary/dirty ferry to go to the other side of the river, waited one hour, and then the minivan came, and took us almost safely in siem reap.

    Guys, an advice, don’t feed this mafia, take the plane…

    Reply
  • Jenn September 17, 2014, 6:18 am

    We had just recently done the same border crossing. We paid only $16 each for the whole bus ride there (supposedly with the boat ride included), which took us only about 5 hours. But it was super unorganized, they kinda just left us a few meters from the gate before the border crossing and just drove off and apparently no one could speak English at this time! Anyways, after an hour of scrambling back and forth, I had to pay $42 for a Canadian visa (prices had JUST changed…) and my boyfriend who is Aussie had to pay $30. On top of it there were $2 exit and entry stamp fees, but one old guy got out of it because “he reminded them of their grandfather”. So maybe being old is a tip to not have to pay for stamps! We finally got some sketchy van to pick us up to take us to load the boat in Don Det. When we got to the boat dock, we only had to pay $2 each per person to get onto the boat so at least we saved there The border crossing was definitely an expensive day and I wish there were cheaper ways!! I did love Laos though!

    Reply
  • Alissa Loxton November 3, 2014, 10:32 pm

    Hey there! I’m going to be doing this border crossing on my trip in march next year, and I’m just wondering if you remember the bus company you went with? I’ve done a whole lotta research and there seems to be a lot of scams where people have lost hundreds of dollars as well as passports / belongings. Would rather make sure my bus company was not a scam!
    Thanks for the super helpful post!

    —————-
    21 year old travel blogger
    http://the-living-spree.blogspot.co.nz/

    Reply
  • maria November 27, 2014, 8:00 pm

    I will be traveling to Cambodia with a friend and from there I’m planning to go to Laos alone. You think it would be unsafe for me to do that? I really want to go to Laos but my friend will need to leave for Canada after our Cambodian trip. From our government site, it mentions that we are exempted of a visa (loas and Cambodia), since I’m also from an asean country. Appreciate additional info you can share to me.:)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder November 29, 2014, 2:46 pm

      No, Laos’s a very friendly and safe place.

      Reply
  • toniJ December 18, 2014, 9:38 am

    Hi, I’ll try to cross from Cambodia to Laos on a Vietnamese motorbike in two days. A guy working at a guesthouse I’m staying in told me it’s not possible but also said ‘you can try’. I’ve been searching for info but it seems nobody has attempted this from this side. Wish me luck guys!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder December 18, 2014, 8:56 pm

      Awesome, bon voyage!!!! x

      Reply
    • Cimek December 19, 2014, 10:39 am

      Hi
      I was crossing this border on my friend’s motorbike, UK registered with his name on docs, my name on Polish passport and no insurance whatsoever.
      I wouldn’t worry much about where the bike is registered, both countries don’t have much idea how to deal with private vehicles so leaving that papers alone. They were much more picky about passports and visa, so make sure all this things are in order and valid.
      If you want to go to Thailand be careful, they have computerized system on border and chasing through all docs and frame numbers.
      Good Luck

      Reply
      • officialtravelnews February 4, 2016, 5:35 pm

        Hello, you can cross with a bike or car from Cambodia to Laos ? Thanks.

    • officialtravelnews February 4, 2016, 5:36 pm

      Any update ? Did you manage to cross ? Thank you.

      Reply
      • Agness Walewinder February 6, 2016, 5:56 pm

        Hey! No updates on that, but we believe you can easily cross the bother with your bike. It’s never been a big problem.

  • Wouter January 2, 2015, 8:47 pm

    Great blog and stories about Cambodia! Since Cambodia is corrupted, you can always try to buy your way through customs.

    Reply
  • officialtravelnews February 4, 2016, 5:34 pm

    Hello, how much it would cost with private taxi if I do not want to take a bus ? Thank you.

    Reply
  • Stan March 18, 2016, 1:09 pm

    Hey Cez,
    thats a great article! Thank you for sharing! :)
    Next week I also plan to go to Laos from Cambodia and already preparing myself for the “boarder-crossing-adventure”. I already had a similar situation entering Cambodia from Vietnam.
    Anyway, once I get there, I can let you know how it went.. :)
    By the way, where are you travelling at the moment?
    Greetings
    Stan

    Reply
  • Juanin April 19, 2016, 7:07 am

    Hello!! I want to cross from Cambodia to Laos by motorbike in 3 weeks… Has anybody new information about it?

    Reply
  • officialtravelnews May 22, 2016, 5:05 pm

    How ridiculous it is to think that you are going to change anything in this world by refusing few $$$ to an officer who gets $100 a month…

    You should better waster your time helping kids, but first it seems that you need to learn how to make money, because you are not going to help anyone if few $$$ are important for you (and don’t repeat the usual BS that it’s not for the money, you are just cheap backpackers and that’s all !).

    Reply
  • Chedric Angeles June 11, 2016, 3:13 am

    Hi great blog post here! I’ll be traveling the Indochina countries next week and I would just like to confirm if I got right that the fare from Voeung Kam/Dom Kralor border is 35,000LAK and you found a cheaper one which is 20,000LAK? Or does that amount correspond to the boat ride to 4000 islands? Thank you for your response!

    Reply

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