Left 10km From the Border: Traveling Overland from Laos to Cambodia

The following post details my experience crossing the border overland from Laos into Cambodia in October 2018.

We were picked up from our hotel in Pakse for our buses to Cambodia (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh respectively), and loaded into a random white van with strong AC, other travelers and no explanation. Unsure if we were being taken to a bus station or the border, we rode along. Two bathroom stops later we decided we were being taken to the border – that is until the driver stopped abruptly on the side of the road 10km from the border, opened the door, said “Cambodia,” and motioned us to get out. “10 minutes,” he added while driving off with everyone else (they were going to 4,000 Islands, the last stop in Laos).  So we stood on the side of the deserted road alone.

“10 minutes” turned to 30, and still no van in sight. Eventually a random tuk tuk driver approached, asked where we were going, took our ticket and looked highly confused. After yelling into a walkie talkie slash phone he said, “OK I take you. Free” and loaded our bags onto the wooden platform before we could think it through. Hesitantly we followed as we saw few options; we were already worried we’d miss our connecting buses. We headed toward the border in said sketchy tuk tuk, the engine struggling and puttering along. People and buildings disappeared as we drove further down the small, potholed road towards the border. No turning back.

At one point, the driver suddenly pulled over in a deserted wooded area, stopped the car, and yelled angrily into his phone. This is it, I thought. Robbery time. Someone will come from the woods any second now, while we’re alone in the middle of nowhere! Casual abject fear set in, and we prepared to get out (and then…I don’t know what) when he shook his head while looking at his phone and said, “My friend, so annoying.” He laughed, put his foot on the throttle, and continued: “6km more.” Eventually we made it to the border, still on edge awaiting a swindle, or a robbery, or for something weird to happen. To our relief, it didn’t.

Approaching the Laos/Cambodia border on foot. Both customs offices are in the same building.

We started walking toward the border. It was eerie and literally deserted – not a single person was in sight. Suddenly, a random well-dressed man on a motorcycle came up to us, “We’re waiting for you on the other side!” he yelled from several meters away. He offered to take our bags (we declined) and zipped off. The confusion mounted. Once at the border, we were beckoned to the health stand we tried to avoid and paid a $1, technically non-mandatory fee. Inside, they asked for $5 extra each, which we tried to argue. But, the agents were on the aggressive side and given we were the only people in sight for miles and thoroughly sketched out, we let it be and paid. We proceeded to get our visas and stamps and exited into Cambodia. 

💲Budget Tip | The total cost of the visa proceedings should be $32 USD. Avoid the window at the center, to the right of the customs entry door or they will charge you a $1 “health fee” which technically you are not obliged to pay. The visa should cost $30, plus some $2 “fee” for the stamp.

Cambodia Arrival

The border was equally deserted on the other side. We started walking, and before long glimpsed a white van and the well-dressed man. Inside the van, all the tourists! We were supposed to cross with them…30 minutes before. Turns out, the van left us behind. Literally forgot us on the side of the road. One lady said she saw us, but assumed we were going to the islands because the driver didn’t stop. Thank goodness we went with the unknown tuk tuk man after all!

Entering Cambodia on foot. White van that left us behind is to the left.

At this point I’d missed my bus to Phnom Penh and had to change plans and head to Siem Reap with my sister, too. On the 5-hour van ride the filthy curtain touched my open mouth while I slept, and the air conditioner dripped “Freon” (actually condensation but Freon is funnier) onto Sarah’s body for hours. Another exciting border crossing complete!

Related | Crossing the Border Between China and Laos

Leave a Reply