Bribing your way to a Laos visa

Trip Start May 20, 2010
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Trip End Sep 05, 2011


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Flag of Lao Peoples Dem Rep  , Champasak,
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

DOMINIQUE HERE:

Day : 165
Temperature : 32 degrees
Weather : Hot and humid and thundery evenings

It's official.  It is now possible to get a Laos visa on arrival from Cambodia…yay!

We were picked up from our hotel along with Helen and Nick (an English / Australian couple who are travelling to Oz) at about 7am, and piled into a teeny minibus packed full of locals. The four of us sat in the back three seats, as you do. Our journey to Stung Treng took just over 2 hours. Well, I say Stung Treng, but in fact our minibus pulled over to the side of the road, at what appeared to be the middle of no-where, and we were asked to get out. In front of us was a large bus with a few other westerners on board. This bus, apparently, was going to take us to the border. We loaded ourselves and our bags onto the bus which then left immediately. We were given Laos immigration forms and visa-on-arrival forms whilst we were on the bus. We arrived at the "border" 40 minutes later. I say border, but this was in reality a couple of shacks at the side of a long straight road with a road barrier blocking traffic from passing through. One hundred metres further up were another couple of shacks by the side of the road for the Laos side. Our “guide” on the bus then proceeded to ask for our passports and a whopping 48 US $ each…..eh?! Erm, no thanks, we will go through immigration ourselves. He was NOT a happy chappy. He then proceeded to hound us for the forms he had given us, telling us that they were the wrong forms, that they were his forms, that he would get into trouble, then insulting us telling us that we were “stupid king tourists” and that we would not be getting on the bus at the other side. We of course, paid no attention.

We passed through the Cambodia side within 30 seconds, after paying our 1 US $ bribe each for our stamp of course! We then walked the 100 metres to the Laos side and under the barrier. There was a shack for “health checks” but we all promptly ignored this shack and walked straight passed it. Nobody seemed to care. Our man from the bus was still hounding us, the insults were getting grander. In actual fact, he was pissed that we didn’t pay him 48 dollars and wanted to get the forms back so we would have to go to the effort of filling them out again. We were not stupid. We were directed to the first window of the shack, handed in our forms, one photograph and our passports. We were asked for a 2 US $ bribe and 35  US $ visa fee. We were then directed to the second window. Our passports had been issued with a visa and we were given a stamp. Thank you very much.  Job done.  Total 15 – 20 minutes crossing time and 38 dollars.

Our greedy bus man was still hounding us. If we had paid him $48 to get us through the border he would have pocketed $10 each…that’s $40 from the four of us. When you think that the wage of a school teacher here is less than $30 per month….this was crazy!

There were only two minibuses waiting at the Laos side, both going to the Four Thousand Islands, so we threw on our bags and jumped on. We did have to wait for a group of 5 or 6 French travellers who were refusing to pay the two dollar bribe. Eventually, they relented after about 40 minutes when it became clear that they would simply be refused to enter Laos if they did not cough up the money.

Our minibus journey to the ferry point for the Four Thousand Islands took about another 40 minutes. We waited 10 minutes for a boat. The Four Thousand Islands is the name for an area in the Mekong where the river splits and becomes much wider as it flows around literally thousands of islands, some large, some tiny. On one side of the river are the hills of Cambodia and on the other is Laos. It is quite stunning. The boat ride to Don Det took around 10 minutes. We put our rucksacks on and took a wander around but we really couldn’t find anything we liked. The accommodation on Don Det all seemed to be packed on top of each other.  It seemed quite oppressive and very crowded….not with people, but with cafes and bungalows. There was a strange atmosphere with the locals. It would appear that most tourists lazed around all day and drank all night. None of us really got a good vibe. We were all hot and bothered by this point so we stopped at a café for lunch where we received some good advice from the Australian owner.

After lunch we chartered a small, and I mean small, boat to take us to Don Khon which took another 10 minutes or so. As soon as we arrived the atmosphere felt much better. The dirt track road was wider, the accommodation more spread out and not on top of each other, and you could also get a glimpse of local life as you walked around the area. We found some nice little bungalows right on the riverfront next to the bridge for 9 dollars per night with fan, private bathroom (cold shower) and balcony over the river. We had left our hotel in Kratie just after 7am and by 1pm we were sitting on our balcony. Nice.

In the evening we watched a spectacular sunset from the bridge. The four of us then ate together in a little restaurant on the river and then we headed back to our balcony just in time to see fireworks being set off from the shore and candles floating down the Mekong. It was a festival day in Laos and people were celebrating.  Unfortunately for the locals, an approaching thunderstorm put a premature end to the candles and fireworks celebrations, but for us the thunderstorm was fantastic. We stood on our balcony and watched the entire area being lit up over and over again with flashes of lightening. It seemed to be right overhead. We set our camera up on the balcony and by luck we managed to get some shots. Unfortunately, by this time the rain was lashing down and the lens got covered in raindrops….but you get the idea from the photos. We were pretty chuffed since these are our first ever lightening strike photos…pretty cool. What a great way to end our first day in Laos……
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