Ride day 52: Stung Treng to Don Det (including Cambodia to Laos border crossing)
29 August 2016
So, it’s our last day in Cambodia and we’re up at the crack of dawn. After partially packing our bags we head to a local craft charity – Mekong Blue, where we spend half an hour watching the amazing skills of the weavers as they produce the most amazingly intricate pieces of woven silk artwork.
After buying a scarf from the shop, we head back in to town in search for a mechanic to get the spark plugs and oil changed and a general check up before crossing in to Laos. As luck would have it, we found a mechanic who spoke English and was able to do all the bits and pieces on the spot.
Off to Laos!
After a quick breakfast (at the same cafe again!) we head back to the guest house to pack up and ride out of town.
We were intending to get some shopping and petrol, but miss our chance for both and instead head over the bridge and north towards the border crossing.
As we reach the halfway point on the bridge a rogue grasshopper somehow finds its way to hit Eddie in the face and then get caught under his sunglasses. After screeching to a halt and throwing said grasshopper over the edge of the bridge, we’re safe to continue! We ride on up the dirt road sections past the turning to the Mekong Bird resort and then continue on towards the border, hoping that the weather holds and the sections of dirt become less frequent.
With the heat building and the sections of dirt road getting more frequent and rougher in nature, we were glad to spot a petrol station and grab a short rest, a petrol fill up and some cold water. The road is ok in the dry but would be a nightmare in the wet!
It’s safe to say the road from Stung Treng north to the border (c.55km) is not in the best shape. Major potholes and considerable sections of muddy gravel – we were lucky to do it in the dry, as wet it would be a nightmare.
Exiting Cambodia – Customs
At the border itself, we found the customs booth initially unmanned. When we went to the Cambodia immigration exit point, they sent us back to customs, which was still unmanned, and we had to find a very unwilling official who advised it was $10 per bike for the form and a stamp. A few minutes quibbling and he waved us on agreeing that it wasn’t required for Vietnamese bikes – so we then went across to the immigration booth without needing to pay.
Exiting Cambodia – Immigration
Without any issues Immigration then stamped us out of Cambodia with no queues so it just took us minutes – our bikes parked in front of their booth in plane sight. We then rode through the gateway into ‘no-mans land’ towards the Laos entry.
On to the Laos immigration entry point we parked under one of the arches and approach building on the right. There are 3 Windows:
- visa on arrival
- vehicle check in/out
There were a load of officials hanging around outside, but inside it appears only 3.
Visa on arrival was again unmanned, so we went to visa window. Completed forms and duly handed forms, one passport sized photo each, and $72 ($35 each for visa on Australian passport and a $1 admin fee marked on window of the booth).
It’s then the fun started. No other visas had been granted that day from peering into their book, and this was 1.00 pm. Yesterday appeared to have less than a dozen.
The older of the two officials behind the obscured glass insisted on an additional $2 each “for the stamp”. We declined and pointed out we had paid all the fees listed both on immigration website and the window of booth. So, with that he shut the window and he and his younger work mate began to watch cartoons on their phone.
This stand off continued for half an hour on and off with us aporoaching window and chatting. Soon we realised that the officials were not going to budge, had our passports and nothing else better to do all day, so we paid and exchanged a few choice words before riding on in to Laos. Our first bribe in SE Asia after 4 months on the road.
The vehicle check in window was unmanned so we skipped it and rode through.
Whilst the charge was not much, it was a frustrating experience. I would however in this instance suggest other riders pay it and save themselves a long long wait!
After the shenanigans at the border checkpoints, we are finally in to Laos! The weather seems to be closing in fast, so we are happy to find better Tarmac on the Laos side. We ride about 5km up the red Tarmac road before stopping at a cafe at the roadside near a sign for waterfalls. We enjoy a delicious but very spicy lunch whilst the rain passed us by. I spoke with a guide from Luang Prabang who was there with a German family, who gave us a few pointers for good sites to see on our route.
As we get back on the bikes, we start off towards 4,000 islands after a friends recommendation, a left hand turn off the main road towards the Don Det ferry.
We reach a small town at the end of road, but not obvious sign of a bike / car ferry. The man in the ticket booth waves us up a narrow track along the rivers edge lined with huts. We get to the “ferry” which turns out to be two very narrow boats held together by a few planks. One was getting ready to go as we got there, but for some unknown reason he leaves without us, with an empty boat.
A local girl invites us to sit in her house out of the sun, where spend about 30 minutes playing with their little kitten and chatting. Then another boat arrives and it’s time to board. A very dodgy rickety plank is lain between the boat and the shore, and it’s time to ride the bike down the steep bank and over the plank, stopping before we fall off the other side of the tiny boat. Both bikes loaded successfully, but scarily!
The ferry crossing to Don Det involves weaving between a series of small islands and semi submerged islands due to being the wet season. The river is very very fast flowing in places, and feels precarious on such a small boat. Once at the other side, the disembarkation is equally as treacherous as the boarding!
Once off the ferry we take a ride up the narrow streets and past the small shops and cafes to try and find somewhere to stay on the western side of the island to catch the amazing sunsets. We settle on a small riverside establishment for a beer and some food, and whilst there enquire about their rooms. Whilst basic, the rooms were more than adequate and only 50,000 kip! So we unload the bags in to the room and return to the riverside bar for sunset beers.
We’re joined at our table by a very drunken Kiwi called Robert (who we had spotted on the streets of Kratie a few weeks earlier), who shared a few wild and elaborate stories with us, before heading off on a drunken ramble somewhere else.
We spend the rest of the evening drinking, chatting and playing with the owners dog and cat before heading to bed. No sooner were we in the room than both the Internet and then electricity cut out. Time for bed!
Full days route here: