How to cross a land border

Two posts in one day, aren’t you lucky people! I feel like I’ve neglected my poor little blog recently; after being so ill and then travelling for a couple of days I’ve fell behind with everything so am trying to catch up with you all now.

I never thought I’d cross a border by land; never mind the dreaded Laos-Cambodia border. I always thought land borders would be such a massive hassle and that flying would always be so much easier (and cheaper), which can be true much of the time. However, there comes a time when you can’t afford a flight and the only way to escape a country is to become an illegal immigrant and overstay your visa, or cross by land. I chose the latter and today walked from Laos to Cambodia and it was absolutely NOTHING like I expected it to be. Blogs talk of scammers hidden around every corner, crowds of people and waiting times which can last a lifetime- I was expecting some kind of Dickensian scene of a Victorian, squalid, London. Needless to say, as usual, it was nothing like my imagination led me to believe. But there are some things to look out for so follow my tips to become a pro at crossing a land border.

1. Don’t be stupid.

Very bluntly, don’t be stupid. Don’t be that backpacker who has absolutely no clue what they’re doing, don’t turn up late for the bus, don’t forget your passport and don’t dick about at border crossings. Always do a little bit of research before you cross, think; what currency do I need? (Dollars, problem solved. It’s always US dollars) How much does it actually cost? You may want to buy a visa whilst you’re at the crossing, so it may come in handy to take enough money with you (Never expect an ATM to be at a border crossing, 9 times out of 10 there’s none in sight).

2. Don’t argue with Passport Control

This should go without saying…but there are some silly people out there. You can be blacklisted from a country; just because you turn up with some money and a passport it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be automatically allowed in. If you’re acting like a dick, don’t be surprised if you’re on a bus back to where you came from. Try and have the same attitude you would at an airport, if you wouldn’t do it there, don’t do it here.

3. Be wary

When there’s money to be made, there will always be someone trying to make it. Be careful who give your passport to and make sure you’re only ever dealing with official staff. Never give your passport to a random guy on a bus, don’t give your passport to your tour agency either. No matter what anybody tells you remember this…you can walk across the border yourself, get a departure stamp yourself and get a visa all by yourself FOR FREE! (other than official charges of course). Don’t let touts scam you into paying them to complete a visa service for you. You have to get off the bus and physically walk through the border anyway, save yourself your hard earned cash.

4. Embrace the corruption

Unfortunately, some land border crossings are a little corrupt. This means that you may have to pay a ‘$2  admission fee’ or a $1 ‘health check’ but unfortunately you’ve got to like it or lump it. No amount of frustration is going to get you past without paying these fees, likewise if you scream and shout at the officials and tell them what they’re doing is illegal. The fact of the matter is that, yes they shouldn’t be charging what they are, but if you want your passport stamped you have no other choice but to pay up, so cough up some dollars and take a deep breath. Let’s think about this in perspective shall we? Nobody likes getting ripped off of course, but many corrupt countries are third world- some of the poorest there is. I am incredibly lucky to come from a rich nation and am not going to let one or two dollars frustrate me, these people obviously need it, so let’s move on.

Please, don’t be that backpacker who screams at officials until they’re blue in the face that they will never part with their precious $2, hold the entire queue up for 45 minutes to only go running back to the desk with their tails (and $2) between their legs. As annoyed at the system you may be, just remember IT’S ONLY TWO DOLLARS, WHO CARES?! We have bigger issues in the world, come on guys!

5. Book a decent transfer

I would highly recommend my transfer company AVT when crossing from Laos to Cambodia. For $20 they picked me up from the border (they waited until everyone was through) and drove us straight to Siem Reap in 6 hours with little faffing about. We were on a comfortable mini bus, everyone had a full seat to themselves. There were no cramming people in a bus like its a clown car, and no stopping every 10 minutes, it was basically the dream.

Do your research before you book, a basic rule to follow is don’t book your transfer through the bus station- that’s usually the worst possible route. Always check the fine print too; whilst in Singapore our bus gave us 20 minutes to go through customs. 45 minutes later everyone was still queued up and the bus was nowhere to be seen. Don’t get left caught out.

Let me know if you have any other handy hints, or tell me your nightmare border crossing stories.

Love from Cambodia

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