As mentioned previously, there is very little information on the Internet about getting from Cambodia to Laos via the route we are going. What information exists is conflicting and though we hope all the good things we read are true, we really hope all the bad things we read are false.
In Kratie, we hoped we’d find more information on getting to Laos, but really not much exists! There are no tourist offices with set trips to choose from (yet) and there is vague mention of “VIP” minibuses that are best avoided. Phnom Penh PP Sorya 168 has an office in Kratie, and even they don’t mention anything about Pakse on any adverts or posters they have. The guy there will sell you tickets to either 4000 islands in Laos or Pakse in Laos, but beyond that he (appears) to know nothing else.
We bought a ticket from Kratie to Pakse for $17 each. It is scheduled at 13:30 but told to arrive at 12:00, and it should arrive at the border at 16:00. Worryingly the guy didn’t know any information about the border crossing, visas or bus changes or anything else! To the border, the bus is the same if you are going to 4000 islands. The bus is due to arrive in Pakse at 20:00.
In the morning I had another Asia instant-weight-loss bug which isn’t ideal on for a good 8 hour journey. Fortunately we were able to change the tickets to the following day and found a slightly better hotel for another night just to stay in bed. My body did a good job of ridding itself of nasties quite rapidly from both ends. Valentines day in bed sounds like fun, but not like this.
So the following day we arrived at the office at 12:00 for the 13:30 bus, which arrived and left about 13:15. Surprisingly the bus was a large and comfortable with a toilet (unchecked!) – and after a 20 minute lunch stop it arrived at the border about 17:15. The guy on the bus gives all the necessary visa and immigration forms, and for a small fee will deal with it all for you – including filling in and signing the forms…! UK visa on arrival = $35; Cambodian exit bribe $2, Laos immigration bribe $2 and guy on bus fee $1 or $2. The guy on the bus does not force his service and some did it themselves, but we couldn’t be bothered and let him deal with it. So don’t forget your USD in cash and a passport photo.
This actually meant we stayed on the bus (bar getting supplies from the market) and didn’t need to do anything at all or show our face to any official. The same bus continues into Laos dropping the people off for 4,000 islands, and continued through to Pakse stopping at a bus station 2km east of town about 20:15. You need a tuk tuk to get into town ($2 probably), and we paid in USD as we didn’t have any KIP and he was happy with that.
Clearly the journey and crossing with Visa on Arrival (VOA) is now trivially easy and you can ignore any blog or forum question/answer from 6+ months ago (thanks to Lonely Planet forum for telling us this route was possible, we may not have tried it without their input.). Probably going to get easier too as the Cambodians seem to be constructing a large immigration building to replace their current shed.
We didn’t reserve a hotel, so when we arrived at our first choice we were a bit annoyed to find all the normal rooms full, and after quickly checking the nearby hotels and rejecting them, we had to pay for a posher/pricier room – though changed to a cheaper room for the second night. Plenty of ATMs on “13 South Road” in Pakse, so getting KIP is trivial.
Pakse itself isn’t a must-see destination, just convenient, though it is a good base to explore the nearby countryside which we intend to do. Walking around the entire town is easy, and there are a few temples to see as well as a large new market selling everything from clothes to hardware, and even food so fresh it was still breathing. Including frogs.
The walk along the river is nice with plentiful bars, and we found out quite quickly Lao beer is both nice, and cheap! No doubt this has contributed to a nice initial view of Laos, as being chilled and rather pleasant, so we need to get into the Laos swing of just being chilled and watching time go by….
See next installment here