Backpacking in Laos: Cambodia-Laos Border Crossing Ripoffs.
Above Photo: Voen Kham, Laos – A wonderful, modern border post building – still unopened, when I wrote this.
Today we headed from Pakse in Laos, to Banlung, the capital of Ratanakiri Province in eastern Cambodia. Given we had to cross the border at the notoriously corrupt Voen Kham/Dom Kralor border post, this was a tough day’s travel.
The reason I was heading to Banlung was because I wanted to re-explore this remote area of Cambodia, as Ratanakiri Province, part of the tri-border area, plays an important part in my novel BACK, both during the Vietnam War and in modern day, and it was also the former heartland of the Khmer Rouge.
The tri-border area is also relevant to proceedings in our forthcoming film, MIA: A Greater Evil (see trailer below).
I’d done the border crossing a couple of times before, so I knew what to expect, but still, it was a difficult day’s travel, starting with a backpacker revolt when the idiots running the 10-passenger minibus from Pakse wanted to pack in three more, BIG backpackers, and everyone refused to accommodate them on account of comfort, overloading and evident danger.
The Laotians didn’t know what to do at first, believing repeating the request over and over again would be enough to win the argument, but eventually they ran two minibuses, as they should have done in the first place. I think it’s the first time in Asia I’ve seen Backpackers triumph in a battle of wills with wily locals.
Our trip to the border involved changing buses at the 4,000 Islands in Laos, before we were dumped at the remote, dusty and quiet border at Voen Kham.
The border ordeal involved the usual small but constant ripoffs on both sides – how do these fuckers get away with it, hour after hour, day after day, a dollar here, two dollars there, from tens of thousands of border crossers a year; it all adds up, thank you very much.
In Laos, on the way out, I asked for an explanation of one pathetic $2 scam, then demanded a receipt and was promptly ignored, but I felt good for having tried.
Then it was a long wait in the hot sun on the Cambodian side, having cleared their scam controls, before a seriously knackered bus was ready to depart for Phnom Penh.
Some dickhead British backpackers faffed around so much at the border, that when they finally got on the overcrowded bus to Phnom Pehn, 12 hours away, they discovered they had to stand or sit in the aisle – not even on plastic stools – for the whole journey. I smiled at this and thought about the British backpackers in BACK.
A few people have asked me where I drew my seemingly larger-than-life backpacker characters from in the novel and the honest answer is from meeting real ones while travelling.
And then we were off, heading south on the pot-holed Cambodian roads, travelling past “Danger. Mines” warning signs on the way – a sobering reminder of the continuing legacy of the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam War, when most of them were sown.
For a modern-day take on the Vietnam War and backpackers in trouble in the war-ravaged jungles of Asia, see our trailer for M.I.A. A Greater Evil:
For POWs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
BACK Parts 1 and 2:
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