“You pay. You pay $5. Or no Cambodia”

13 Feb

We decided to spend the following day doing what we do best, going for a walk. You can walk between the island we were on to Don Khon as the French left behind a failed attempt at a railway there and the bridge is pretty much all that is left. So off we went down the most peaceful roads

and over the bridge

to find the waterfalls on Don Khon. It was 40 degrees and ended up being a 7km walk to them so we were fairly knackered by the time we got there, but they were worth it

There were waterfalls as far as the eye could see. It was very beautiful but the funniest thing was that there were signs by the edge telling people it was dangerous and the rocks were slippy. This must mean it is lethal when wet as nothing is classed as dangerous in Laos!

We then headed off to the beach to see if we could spot some dolphins.

As you had to get a boat and the dolphins are apparently quite shy, we thought we’d go for a swim instead. I went in in my clothes to try and cool off before walking all the way back, but unlike when I did this in the blue lagoon further North, my clothes were dry after the first 2km :(

We went for a meal and found Elina again, who was a bit surprised to see us seeing as we were going to go to Savannahkhet first…it was really nice to see her as we didn’t meet many interesting people on our island, so it was great to have someone to talk to. We explained that we hadn’t really planned this too well as it said in our guidebook that the islands had no ATM but as our guidebook is 10 years old, and we only realised we had a small amount of cash on us just before the tuktuk left, we thought things must have changed or we could get some cash out at the port. Nope, no cash until you get back to Pakse. So we had to take out money on my card as a cash advance and got charged 6%…ouch.

As everything was quite expensive on the islands and we’d seen most of what there was to do, we booked a bus ticket to Cambodia for the next day. This meant that we had enough left to pay the hotel, get some drinks for the journey and buy some dollars for the border (obviously this included the $1 or $2 “fee” the guards charge you on top of the official price of the visa) so we managed to get ourselves out of that problem but without any kip left.

We got the ferry across to the port and walked up to the bus station the next day. Where we sat, waiting for the bus that would take us 20 minutes to the border, for over an hour. Finally it turned up and we all got on for the short trip. We’d done some research on this border and you were practically guaranteed to have problems with the border or the bus as there were stories about paying to go to Siem Reap and ending up in Phonm Penh, or being dropped off in the middle of nowhere, or being told “your hotel rang and said you still owed them $15” and being asked for cash etc. So we booked to the shortest point over the border, Stung Treng, and then thought we’d get the next bus to Phonm Penh from there.

As predicted, the problems began immediately. Our bus left us at the border (having being assured one bus was taking us all the way so bye bye water and travel pillow) and we went to get our passports stamped to leave Laos. Two German girls were in front of us and they got charged 20,000 kip ($2.50), but the guards looked at our UK passports and said $5. We tried to argue but were up against stony stares so gave him $10…which he kept. Oh, so $5 each then. Great.

We moved to the “Quarantine section” where you had to fill in a form to say you hadn’t got any illnesses. Honesty was definitely not the best policy here so we lied through our teeth and said we were 100% healthy. So another $1 each to get the form stamped.

Off to the visa on arrival section – $1 for most people but again, UK passports, so $2 each. And the visas were $23 each (not the official $20) so all in all, it cost us to $10 just to leave Laos and get across the border. Welcome to Cambodia! That left us with exactly $2 between us so we bought some water as we hadn’t eaten or drank anything since the morning.

And then…we waited. And waited. The driver said the guards were doing “more checks” so we couldn’t leave. The “extra checks” were waiting for an hour for more people to come through the border and cram them on our bus in the aisles.

Eventually we set off, stuffed full of travellers, bags, random extra Laos people we’d picked along the way. We left the border 2 hours after we were meant to get to Stung Treng. Whilst we on there, the driver’s assistant told us there was nothing in Stung Treng (which is true according to the guide book, it is literally a place to stop before going straight on again) and would we like to go to Banlung for $7.50? Banlung sounded great so we decided to go for it, along with an American guy, Chris, who we met on the bus. He paid for our bus tickets for us, having been assured that there were cashpoints in Banlung.

The driver asked us for our original tickets and just crossed out Stung Treng and wrote Banlung on them. We were a little bit worried about that but he said that the bus to Banlung was run by the same company and he had already rung ahead and told them to pick us, along with the other eight people who had chosen to do the same thing. He then said the bus would probably be along in about 45 mintues and we should just wait in the cafe and have some food (with our non-existent money).

This was either going to end very badly or work exactly as he said…so we put our faith in him and got our bags off the bus, sat at the cafe and looked longingly at the water and the Pringles and waited. The group of nine had about $4 between us. But the second bus did turn up after an hour so we all piled on…except this time it was us sitting on little plastic stools in the aisle! We settled down for the 2.5 hour journey, instantly sweating…and then broke down. For half an hour. As we couldn’t move, we guessed it was a flat tyre, but the bus finally got going again so we assumed it was ok.

Two kilometres down the road, we stopped again. Most of the bus got off so we knew it was serious. Turns out it was something underneath the bus that had gone wrong (not surprising considering it was overloaded so much the back was about 30 cm off the floor) so we sat and waited in the middle of nowhere

for an hour. Got going again and then stopped about 5km at a garage for it to be fixed some more. So after crawling along for four and a half hours in the boiling heat, we made it to Banlung! Someone put a flyer up for their guesthouse on the window – all we saw was “$4” “free wifi” “clean rooms” and most importantly, “free pickup from the bus station”. Sold. The free pickup arrived – a motorbike. Amazing. But by this time, I didn’t care. So the guy put my rucksag in between his legs, I got on and then another girl got on behind me. I said to her that he’d got my bag between his legs and she said that that was nothing, the guy who had her boyfriend on the back had his guitar in his face.

We got to the guesthouse and it was lovely. There was cold beer, a bathroom, amazing food and the guy arranged for us to go trekking to waterfalls and villages. Even though we were tired, it was a great evening as we all so glad to get off the bus. Euphoric!

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