So far we have been very lucky with getting around, we had hoped the journey from Don Det in Laos to Kratie in Cambodia would be a similar story, after all the journey should only take about 3-4 hours.
This was the worse day of our trip so far. We awoke bright and early so that we could make our 8am boat transfer back to the main land, we had planned on having breakfast before we left however our host had jumped in his boat that morning and was nowhere to be seen. Things went smoothly enough with the boat other than changing to another boat half way, which was not my most elegant moment, it was uneventful. From the boat we did the 5 minute walk to the bus station and waited an hour and a half for our bus, a game of cards helped pass the time and a tube of Pringles dealt with breakfast.
The bus drove us the half an hour journey to the Laos – Cambodian border. Bags on our backs we made our way towards it, we went straight to an official looking window to get our exit stamps from Laos, it would appear there is a “fee” for this service of $2, you are powerless to avoid this and we were expecting there to be a lot of “fees” between now and Cambodia only 400 meters away. With our passports stamped a man approached with the visa forms to fill out, we had happily completed them when he said we should give him our passports and $38 (prior research revealed the visa should only cost $35), he would drive us over to Cambodia and sort out our visas for us. We decided that we would go it alone (much to his disappointment) and started walking across no-mans land to Cambodian Immigration.
As we arrived at the offices we were approached by a number of official looking people telling us we needed a medical check before we would be granted a visa, from our prior research we knew this not to be true so we walked straight past. Although we expected the hustle going in, we didn’t realise how official looking and forceful it would be. After evading more people trying to take our money we managed to get our visas and enter Cambodia.
There was not much at the border on the Cambodia side other than a few restaurants, as we had booked a bus ticket the whole way to Kratie, we expected a bus to be there but there was none. We finally found someone who told us that our bus would arrive at 1pm, only an hours wait. We waited until 2pm when our bus did arrive, however as is the way in Cambodia, the driver had to stop for a full sit down lunch and a chat meaning we didn’t leave until about 3pm.
The bus was old and rickety with a massive crack through the windscreen and of course had to stop several times on the way so that his family (his wife and small daughter were in the front with him) could run a few errands. The bus then arrived in a town called Stung Treng and half the bus transferred to a different bus to go to Siem Reap. A Kiwi called Greg & ourselves were left waiting with no further information. After about an hour we suspected there was no other bus so asked what was going on. We were told that our bus was the 7.30pm sleeper bus. It was about 4pm by this point, so this didn’t go down well.
After complaining, they ferried us into town on a tuk-tuk so we could find some dinner, at which point we discovered the bus didn’t actually leave until 9.30 (ish).With our bags in tow we wandered round Stung Treng. We won’t be rushing back, there is nothing there & it was in no way interesting. We did however manage to find food & drink which kept us entertained until our bus arrived.
The bus was mental. Bright disco lights, 2 levels of reclining chair beds full of locals (mostly military) wasn’t the most comfortable but we’ve had worse. We suspected the journey should only take 2 hours from here, but we hadn’t factored in the 2 dinner stops, additional drinks stop and 3 breakdowns on the way. Midnight came and went but we finally reached Kratie at about 12.30 am and were left outside a random guesthouse. A 20 minute walk later to the one we had actually booked, we found it was locked up for the night. About to lose our tempers, a man finally responded to our banging on the shutters and showed us how to get in.
With nobody there to actually greet us, we found an unlocked door and an empty bed in a room we decided was ours. I have never been so glad the day was over!