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Cambodia Overland

Travelers' Reports:
Overland to or from Laos

updated August 19, 2008

If you'd like to share your own experiences, please e-mail them to me.

Kratie to Lao Border and Si Phan Don by bicycle (August 2008):

The first thing to say about this route is don't do it by bicycle if you're unmotivated or unprepared in any way. Although the road is now smooth, the heat and isolation still makes it tough. Bring lots of water, snacks and enough drive to take on the challenge. Start early, especially for the run to Stung Treng. We were on the road at 7:30am from Kratie and it was barely enough time to get into Stung Treng before dark.

There's almost no traffic and the road is very smooth on NH7. That's the good news. The bad news is there are also no accommodation options unless you ask locals for a place to stay and we didn't see any wats as an emergency refuge either. Towns are spread out and drinks aren't always cold. If at all possible, do this ride on an overcast day. You don't want to get heatstroke out in the wilds.

Around 50km out of Kratie you come into two towns close together, one of which is Sre Sbov. You'll find a few houses, shops and a restaurant. Before you know it you're out the other side. Your next restaurant is about 75km later when you get to the town of O Krieng. You can even have a choice of restaurants and fruit sellers here. This is probably your best place to ask around for a bed for the night if you're shattered and don't want to continue to Stung Treng.

About 7km from Stung Treng a sign marks a left turn off the NH7 onto a smaller road that will take you right into town. Do not bother stopping at the Mekong Guesthouse, the first one you see. You might be tired enough to be tempted but it's grubby, overpriced and far from the town centre. Instead follow the traffic downhill, turning left at a major junction onto the main street. We can recommend the Ratana Sambath Guesthouse on the southbound side of the main drag, opposite the market and one block back from the river. It's either brand new or totally renovated. Everything in our room was sparkling clean and for $8 U.S. we got cable TV, a fan and air conditioning. You can park your bicycle downstairs amid the hefty wooden furniture. Bargain!

The ride to the Lao border from Stung Treng is largely the same as Kratie. Hot, boring scenery and no services. For both legs, taking a packed lunch from the market is an excellent idea. Once you get started, the only real cafe is in O Svay Commune, about 13km before the border. They do a nice iced coffee and you can spend your remaining riels on some inspired banana chips.

The first sign of the border is a barrier across the road. There are two huts, one for Cambodian border guards and another about 500 meters down the road for their Lao counterparts. There are plenty of traveller tales about bribes at this border. When we crossed the Cambodians were completely professional and didn't ask for anything but the Lao officers won't get out of their hammock if you don't pay the $1 U.S. per passport they ask for. There is a big sign that says overtime charges apply outside of the 08:00-16:00 working hours and on Saturday and Sunday. It's anyone's guess how much overtime will cost you.

With the formalities over with, it's 18km to the turn off to Nakasang and the ferry to Don Det Island. You and your bike go over on a rickety boat for 20,000 kip. You can pay in baht or dollars if you don't have kip yet. Once on Don Det you can have your pick of a string of riverside bungalows for 20,000 kip each. To carry onto Don Khong, get the local ferry to Don Som (10,000 kip), cycle the length of the island and then get another ferry to Don Khong (7,000 kip). On Don Khong, the cheapest room we found was for 30,000 kip at the Mekong Guesthouse. It looked fine for the price. If you want to be on the river it'll set you back 60,000 kip for a fan room. Overall, we preferred Don Det and its neighbour Don Khon to the bigger Don Khong.

You can see the contributor's website here: www.travellingtwo.com

Comprehensive trip report (October 2007):

Phnom Penh to Stung Treng takes roughly 10 hours, the stretch is serviced by Hua Lian, Sorya and Rith Mony, possibly others that I don't know off. I used Hua Lian, they stopped in Kampong Cham, Snuol (for lunch) and Kratie. Arrived in Stung Treng at 17:00h after starting off in Phnom Penh at 07:30. Ticket cost 7.50USD.

Stung Treng has lots of accommodation on offer, directly opposite the ferry dock on the riverfront are a couple of guest houses with not- so- nice tiny rooms at low prices (3- 5USD). Around the market and the 'plaza' are several new GHes, e.g. Ly Ly, Stung Treng, Sok San, all built within the past year with clean, decently sized rooms with fan, TV, air- con and hot water (except Ly Ly, but coming soon), 8- 15USD. The LP guidebook is woefully outdated BTW, the hotels mentioned there that are a bit further out don't have cavernous, atmospheric rooms, they're actually grotty, dirty holes. Don't even bother going there.

Restaurants attached to the GHes on the riverfront are geared towards the budget tourists staying there, all the old favourites available, e.g. spaghetti, pancakes, fried rice, cheap beer. There's one restaurant in town, the Sorya Restaurant, which I wouldn't recommend. It offers lousy, overpriced food. We ordered tom yam, fried veggies and river fish, the tom yam was insipid, the veggies were sweet and sour bell peppers and onions and only half a fish arrived at the table. A much better local restaurant is located on the opposite side of the 'plaza' a bit further down. It's got a menu in English, Khmer and Chinese and prices are posted on the walls. Alternatively you can buy your meals at the market stalls.

From Stung Treng to the border you'll have to get the ferry crossing over to 'Cowtail Island' (don't know why the locals call it island, it isn't). Lots of ferries do the trip in about 10 minutes, don't make the mistake of getting onto the only ferry that carries vehicles (only if you don't have one of course). It'll wait until enough cars have got on in spite of what the captain might say about leaving in three minutes. We waited for an hour going, and half an hour coming back. Transport between the ferry dock and Dong Kralor is irregular. The distance is about 56km. Exiting Cambodia and entering Laos seem to be straightforward. The distance between the border posts is around 2km, lots of people were walking it as it's in the shade and not too muddy.

No visa- on- arrival available for Laos!

At the Voen Kham/ Khao river crossing no visas are available at all. So if you're coming by boat you will have to get off it and find transport to Dong Kralor to get your Cambodian VOA then return to it to carry on southward. The whole setup is a bit confusing, so here are more details:
If arriving by boat you can get stamped out of Laos at Voen Kham but you won't get your VOA at the Cambodian post at Voen Khao (both basically the same settlement, just the Lao and Khmer names). To get the Cambo VOA you have to get to Dong Kralor and back again if you want to carry on the trip by boat. It is possible to overnight at a GH at Voen Khao, 7USD, very basic but also very quiet with a beautiful view across the Mekong. In the rainy season the track between Voen Khao and Dong Kralor is unusable so you'll have to cross over to Voen Kham after getting your 'proof of entry' at Voen Khao to get the VOA at Dong Kralor. Some restaurants on the Lao side, I had khao niao, beef laab, chicken tom yam and fried morning glory. The first Lao food I've had since 2005! No need to mention it was excellent! After checking out some boat prices returned to Stung Treng.

Boat prices:
As there's no regular river transport between the Lao border and PP the only way to do it by boat is to charter one. The guy at Voen Khao (Mr. Kha) charges 440+ USD for the whole trip. He says it takes just six hours on one of his speed boats, which look exactly like the ones that run between Huay Xai and Luang Pabang (he buys them in Vientiane, so no surprise). He supplies a life jacket but no helmet. Bring ear plugs. Mr. T from the Riverside GH in Stung Treng also offers a boat to PP. It's a bigger, slower boat with a roof, 550+ USD, 10 hours.
Return to Stung Treng from the border takes about 1 1/2 hours.
BTW, the road to Stung Treng and up to the border is excellent!

Laos to Phnom Penh (February 2006):

We just crossed the Lao Cambodian border yesterday, coming from Don Khong going to Phnom Penh. As we got ripped of a little bit, I want to share my new information with other people.

Don`t buy the ticket for the whole trip at Si Phan Don.

Don Khong - Phnom Penh:

It is possible to buy a ticket from Don Khong to Stung Treng, Kratie and Phnom Penh. The prices will be a little bit higher as on Don Det and Don Khon, but as you don`t have any choices we had to buy a ticket to Phnom Penh for 30 US$. This price and the prices on Don Det and Don Khon (25 US$) are highly overrated. This is because a ticket from Stung Treng to Phnom Penh will cost 9 US$ and the ticket from Si Phan Don to Stung Treng will cost 6 to 10 US$ (depending on your "luck" and bargaining skills). So you can get the whole trip for 15 US$, you just have to buy the onward tickets in Stung Treng (which should be no problem).

The Ride:

The drive from Si Phan Don to Phnom Penh itself was very horrible and I wouldn`t recommend it, but I also think that we only had bad luck. We started at 8:00 AM in Don Khong and got easily to Stung Treng (Visa was no problem, just don`t forget the photo). There we had lunch and we had to change minibuses. Unfortunately our bus was not ready and we had to wait till 2:00 PM. The drive to Kratie was pretty ok, the road was in bad to good condition and we arrived in Kratie at 5:00 PM (our driver was going very fast). Then in Kratie they wanted to put six of us (including our backpacks) into a normal car. We refused to drive on with this means of transport since it was way too small. We insisted on a minibus and about 2 hours later a nearly full minibus arrived. Altogether we were 14 people and since we all did not fit into the bus, some had to sit on the roof. Nevertheless it was also very crowded inside the bus and the next 6 hours to Phnom Penh were a horrible trip. We arrived in Phnom Penh at 1:00 AM the next day and it was hard to find a guesthouse at this time. So the trip took us 17 hours in total and was very exhausting.

Visa on arrival now available if entering Cambodia (November 2005):

Travelling from Laos to Cambodia by road is no longer a problem as NH7 is in pretty good shape (compared  to NH6). And the border post on the Cambodian side offers now Visa-on-arrival.

Si Phan Don - Border:
On Don Det and Don Khon you can book minibus tickets to Stung Treng and forward to Phnom Penh, which is the most feasible way to do the trip (to Phnom Penh it will be about 25 US$). Staying on Don Khong it`s a little bit more complicated as I haven`t seen any option to get such a ticket. So if you want to do the crossing preferrable stay on the other islands. From Don Khong you can take a minibus to the border (15US$ for the whole bus) but there is NO regular onward transport on the cambodian side so it`s really essential to plan ahead (... and take the minibus).

Yeah, another place for the scam-mafia. If you`ve got your visa already, the border posts on both sides will charge 1-2US$ each for "stamps". If you`re on the minibus the "stamps" seem to be "included" in the price (details for this will come soon ...). If you want a visa on arrival, you will first meet a guy who waits at a checkpoint on the Laos side several km before the real border. He not only controls the checkpoint but also operates a "travel agency" on the other side of the road which is involved in the minibus biz. There he will try to convince you that you have to arrange the visa with him for 35US$. Asked, why he charges 15US$ more than the offical price and 10US$ more than the price they charge normally at this crossing, he said it`s for the "stamps". As always, there is NO need to hassle with this guy as you can get the visa at the Cambodian immigration. The border itself is about 8km away (ugly road). After getting the stamps on the Lao side you can go to the Cambodian immigration. It`s impossible to miss as there is NOTHING else in the area. The Cambodian immigration has a small hand-written sign saying "visa on arrival". Fill out the paperwork and pay 25 US$ and you will be the lucky owner of a visa.

Border - Stung Treng - Kratie
If you aren`t on a minibus and don`t have your own transport you have a problem now. There is no scheduled transport nor moto/ tuk tuk or anything else on wheels going in the direction of Stung Treng. The NH7 to Stung Treng (1-1,5h) and further on to Kratie (4,5h) was in pretty good shape for most parts and road works are still going on. I took the bus up to Phnom Penh and arrived there after 10h.

Lao ways of doing things (October 2004):

I travelled from Stung Treng up to 4000 Islands in Southern Laos. It was relatively hassle-free, but the route is still pretty undeveloped. Contrary to what the latest Lonely Planet Cambodia says, there is no need to get a police permit in Stung Treng – a valid Laos visa is all you need. Also the Lao consul in Ho Chi Minh City (who was a very charming and friendly man) had assured me that it was impossible to enter Laos from Cambodia, and had insisted that I state Vientiane as the point of entry on the visa application form. However this caused no problems at all.

In Stung Treng there are one or two traveller orientated cafes near the river. Just sitting there, you will be quizzed about your travel plans, and I was told there was a boat leaving for the border at 7 am the next day. Price was 5 dollars, which was very reasonable as I was the only passenger. It turned out that they had arranged to meet a party coming south from Cambodia, so the boat had to travel up anyway. The journey was about two hours, going against the current when the Mekong was in full flood. It was a pretty awesome experience, winding through the drowned forest. Worth noting – it was a VERY small boat – if you have any qualms about sitting in the bottom of a tiny wooden boat on a rush mat, then this route is probably not for you.

At the border the experience became very Lao. I cleared Cambodian emigration on one bank of the river, and then the guide took me by boat to the other side. He then looked confused – there was no sign of any immigration office. There were some guys on motorbikes, who told him that it wasn’t far, and that they would take us there, but then showed no signs of doing so any time soon (being used to the bustle and impatience of Vietnam, this was quite alien to me). After a while I asked if it was far, and the guide said maybe 1 km, so we walked.

At the immigration office I was processed fairly quickly, though there was an extra two dollars “overtime” charge as it was Sunday. (This was advertised on a poster on the wall, so no way out of it). The next problem was moving on. There were two or three empty trucks parked up, waiting for passengers to take up the road, but obviously not intending to leave until full. They quoted me ten dollars to rent the whole truck, which I balked at. Again, being used to Vietnam, I asked around for a motorbike to take me. One of the customs officers mulled it over, and then agreed, saying “ten dollars.” When I pointed out that I could get a truck for the same price, he thought it over and suggested eight dollars. I mooted three dollars, at which he shrugged, and got back in his hammock. In Vietnam there would have been a scrum jostling for the business, but that’s not the Lao way of doing things, and in the end I had to fork out ten dollars.

Additional information about the writer's travels through Laos and Vietnam may be read here: http://talesofasia.com/rs-49-clv.htm

Another take (February 2004):

Just another take on this border... We travelled overland from Laos at the Don Kralaw border, on our motorbike, apparently motorbikes are not taken on the boats. No problems taking your own transport, we didn't squabble about the $3 asked on both sides for each passport just in case. These border posts are very quiet.The guards make an effort by waking up and pulling on their uniforms, one does the work while the others sloth about in hammocks, no menace, no mafia, all smiles.

Unless you can get a ride in a truck going through here, I'd imagine transport options are pretty slim, we passed only one vehicle, which we had to help push start, God knows how long they had been waiting for some help. The road from the border to the town over the river from Stung Treng is pretty bad, dry weather only, but NOTHING compares to the road from Stung Treng to Kratie further south. This is THE WORST ROAD IN THE WORLD! Locals, expats and Khmers alike, have agreed on this fact. Best you take the boat if you have a choice.

Slow boat (January 2004):

Having taken a fast boat up a portion of the Mekong (Kratie - Stung Treng), which had its own joys, (I won't even get into the safety issues of these tubes on water), I wanted something a little slower and more scenic. So from Stung Treng in Northern Cambodia, I went down to the "port" (the piece of mud next to town where the boats stop) and looked for a slow boat up the river. I had read and heard of people finding them. I especially wanted to avoid the speed boat cartel that has been complained about by other people in these pages. The end result is that you might be able to find a slow boat if you wait long enough. It all depends if there are other passengers on the route. In the mean time you can hang out in Stung Treng, maybe go up to Ratnakiri while you wait.

Anyway I found the one woman running a boat that wasn't a high powered speed boat on the dock. What she had was a large, old, rotting, wooden hulk of a boat. It was anything but fast and probably even more unsafe than those tube-on-water fast boats from Kratie. The boat owner apparently lived upriver near the border and was trying to get together some paying passengers and cargo to go upriver to cover her petrol costs etc. Depsite aiming to leave at 8 am, we seemed to operate on Asian time and didn't set out until 11:45. Given that we thought the trip was 4 hours all seemed fine as we would still get in by the time the border was closing.

There was a skeleton crew of the woman and her husband, a handful of villagers from upstream, two chickens, boxes of medical supplies, baskets of produce and a repaired hulk of an engine of some kind which got loaded into the boat just before we pushed off. Maybe she doesn't normally make this trip but was just in town getting her engine (maybe some kind of water pump engine) repaired. Anyway I am guessing the weight of a giant engine in the bottom of the boat slowed us down a bit. I can't remember what we ended up negotiating for the price. It was in the range of $2-$3 per person (there were three of us).

Anyway this was a superior way to travel upriver because of the slow pace and beautiful scenery. We lounged on the boat, reading, napping, eating and enjoying the fantastic scenery for hours. Note you should buy some sticky coconut rice packed in bamboo before you leave Stung Treng. The sun shone, the birds chirped, the water and wind washed by, and the sky looked as expansive as is possible. I haven't seen seemingly-never-ending blue strecthes like that since I was driving through the Himalayas, but 5 pm rolled around and we were not at the border. We saw an amazing sunset as the knowledge that the border would become a problem sunk in. We arrived at 6:15, 6.5 hours after we left, and found that the Cambodia side of the border had closed at 6.

Of course there was a guesthouse back across the river and another boat would take us for $3 (an outrageous price considering that a simple river crossing should cost 500 riel). The original boat had left as it was getting dark and the boat owner wanted to go home. Plus the "hotel" would charge us $10 when a normal room cost like $3 in any other place. We politely declined this offer and "discussed" in broken English with the Cambodia border guards what we could do. They offered to work overtime and get us stamped out for a fee, but of course we would have to pay overtime on the Lao side as well and then still be hard up for transportation and/or a place to sleep. Instead they offered to let us stay the night on the border, so we occupied a porch of a closed up border control hut. They even offered the female in our group her own little reed hut to sleep in (though in the night she changed her mind and decided to join us on the porch because of safety fears with the drunken border officers roaming about). Before passing a pleasant night outside in our hammocks, we drank and ate a little with the border officers and chatted with them for a few hours.

We awoke at 6 in the morning, freshened up and then waited for the head officer to arrive on the scene. He stamped our passports for a $1 fee each. Then we crossed the river to the Lao side by 8 am, again can't remember the fee but I think we paid $1 or $2 for all of us. Don't get caught by a tout there on the beach, walk up the river bank and about one block through town to find the Lao border control hut. Despite negotiation we couldn't get them below a $2 commission each for the entry stamp. Transport does seem to be a function of demand up the road. We didn't want to shell out to rent the whole songtaew from the border up the highway, and waiting was boring. So we decided on another option.

If you go down to the river bank you can convince one of the boat operators who take tourists out to see the dolphins to drop you off afterward on the South side of Don Khon where the old railway terminus on the river is located. We went over in the morning and lounged on the island. From there you can catch a moto for a few dollars up to the northside of Don Khon or Don Det. If you show up and are in a rush and looking frantic for transport the villagers will raise the prices on the moto trip. We decided to help the local economy first and had a local villager take us out to see the dolphins in his boat (instead of one of the bigger tourist operators who go from the bank next to border control). He was cheaper, nicer and better about trying not to scare the dolphins with loud motors. We played with some of the village kids in the day, negotiated a good price for a moto trip up to the north side of the island in the afternoon, and waited for the afternoon to see the dolphins (when they are more active).

This was a fun way to go up river. All in all we got a beautiful slow trip up from Stung Treng. Avoided the songtaew and highway in Laos. Got to see the dolphins with a local villager as a guide, were able to view the railway terminus ruins, and had a cool moto trip through the interior of Don Khon. It will save you a trip up the highway and a ferry crossing later and was a lot more fun.

It's a mafia scam... (October 2003):

Last week (Oct 24th) I did the overland route from Don Det/Don Kong (4000 islands) in Laos to Stung Treng in Cambodia. The whole thing is a scam and run by the Cambodian mafia, but seeing as how they are paying the Laotian government and the Cambodian government and any other enterprising local is scared of them, they run the show here.

The way it works (ideally) from Laos is you go to immigration on one side of the Mekong, get your passport stamped, take a boat to the other side, get it stamped in Cambodia and get a boat down the river to Stung Treng. What actually happens is you pay commission of $2 on the Lao side, walk 20 meters where you are told to talk to the mafia guys. They try to ignore you for some reason then after a while they tell you it will cost you $50 to cross and get to Stung Treng. If you talk to the boat drivers, they say you have to talk to the mafia. If you talk to the Laotian police 20m back in immigration, they will come out and you can get the price down a bit. If you are alone, they will go as low as $30. I have also heard that if you agree on a price BEFORE you are stamped out of Laos, they will go a little lower (but never below $30/boat). When I was there, there were 4 of us and they charged us $10 each= $40 for the speed boat. You then go across the river to the Cambodian side, the boat waits for you and the Cambodian immigration charges $2 commission. Then you get in the boat again and they take you all the way (about 1 hour) to Stung Treng. Everyone I talked to has had the exact same experience although it seems a little better going the other way (Cambodia to Laos) as there are many competing boats going upstream. Locals pay $2-$5 each.

Prefaced by an appropriate editorial (September 2003):

Three’s been much written this year about the rip offs at the [Voeung Kam] Cambodian Laos Border crossing at Dong Crolor [Cambodian side] and Wernkham [Lao side,] between Stung Treng and Si Phan Don in Laos. (Not sure about some of these spellings..., but we know the crossing...)

Many travellers have reported that having left Laos immigration they are at the mercy of unscrupulous speedboat drivers, who have been known to charge up to $50 for the 1½ hr trip to Stung Treng. The charge should be about $25 for the boat for up to 6 passengers or no more than $5 per person.

When compared to the cost of flying direct from Pakse to Siem Reap, the uncertainty of this crossing and the added overland journey onward to Phnom Penh, it is no wonder that many who would love to cross this way are deterred from doing so. The result is that because of making a “quick buck", the speed boat drivers are in effect shooting themselves in the foot. The area around Stung Treng is full of beautiful and interesting areas of tourist potential, seen by the few more adventurous travellers and backpackers who are prepared to cross the border at this point.

Eventually this crossing will be opened up as an International crossing, by shear demand. However, the sooner travellers feel confident that they will not be ripped off for excessive sums by overzealous speedboat drivers, the sooner they will all regularly benefit from the massive influx of tourists that opening this border will bring. Benefiting not just themselves but the whole of the local economy. The sooner that happens the better for all concerned travellers and locals.

Here is my own personal experience from September this year, which should reflect a reasonable example of costs either way. Till then, those coming from Laos should not have their passports' exit stamped until they have actually made a deal with the speedboat driver present. Meanwhile see the dolphins on the Cambodian side, 2000 kip boat from here, 1 hr trip.

Cambodia/Laos Border Crossing Stung Treng/Si Phan Don September 2, 2003

I reached Stung Treng from Siem Reap. You take the bus to Phnom Penh and after Skuon, 1km there is a cafe where all the buses stop, and you can change here for Kompong Cham. The boat leaves from Kompong Cham for Kratie and Stung Treng at 7am.

Mr T at the Riverside Guesthouse, cheap & cheerful, with good food [directly opposite landing] arranged for me to go to Laos Border 4/5 $US by speedboat. Note: You no longer need to register at the police station for exit permit. [as per LP guide]

At the Cambodian side they ask $5 US to stamp Exit on passport. I gave them $2 in riels. I met others who had given $1 each, which was accepted. They do the exit permit here now. The boat now goes over to the Lao side and again I gave $2 but others gave $1.

From here they wanted to charge $5 for a taxi to Don Det [5,000Kip by songtaew]. Before you go anywhere though; after immigration go back to the river and take the 2,000kip boat ride to see the dolphins [at the next Cambodian border post up river]. Usually there will be other tourists here to see the dolphins as well.. Take the songtaew to the pier. Head for Don Det [San Nakasan dock] on the way you pass the Large Rapids [Khon Phaseng falls] and I saw these as well [fantastic]. So ask to stop there for a while if only tourists on board [may save doing separate trip later.]. Going from the Cambodian side to Laos I have met some who paid for the whole speedboat $25/30 but he comes from Stung Treng so maybe don’t exit Laos until he needs you more than you need him? “A bird in the hand” so to speak. Again $1 or $2 each at the border post [on opposite side of river.] There is the road crossing also, but rough and isolated. Mr T may help from Lao side he has his flyers up on Don Det Guest Houses. Maybe with so many crossing now it may soon be an official crossing with regular boat service.


Thanks. Keep 'em coming.


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