...is long, dirty and corrupt.
19.10.2013 - 20.10.2013 28 °C
We knew that from Siem Reap we wanted to head up into Laos, but were struggling to find reliable information about buses. The journey times seemed to vary depending on who you spoke to. We Googled, Lonely Planet’d, and Trip Advisor’d as much as we could but were not having much success again with conflicting information.
The crux of it was a long journey either way, but that some bus companies try and screw you over demanding more money at the border, or in some cases conveniently not even making it to the border in time to cross, being dumped at an expensive guesthouse in the middle of nowhere so you have no option but to pay and be picked up again the next morning. Hmmm, this was going to be interesting!
Deciding to break the journey up after reading the horror stories we stopped in Kratie, roughly 60km south of the boarder, for one night. Our bus here set off from Siem Reap at an unreasonable 05:00 with the aim to be at Kratie for 13:00. Yet again another bumpy bus ride we were happy with our VIP air con bus, until after 5 hours it randomly stopped at an unknown town and everyone was told to get off and told to get on the bus behind and older VIP bus which was packed and for some reason had the heating on! Eventually, feeling very travel sick and hot, we arrived at Kratie only two and a half hours late! We brought our bus tickets for the next day and then needed to find accommodation. Normally we book at least a day in advance but everything in Kratie had bad reviews so decided to wing and pay as little as possible. As with all bus journeys this one ended with people trying to sell their hotel. Normally we stay clear but today decided we would trust one, he told us his hotel was close and only $5 a night and if we didn’t like it we didn’t have to stay. Looking round it seemed ok and it was only for one night...
... However on closer inspection Morhaoutdom Hotel wasn’t great, the bathroom was home to a few ant colonies, the window sills were filthy covered with what looked like rat poo and sheets had lots of holes in them (slightly resembling teeth marks). Again thinking it’s only for one night we decided to suck it up and stay, wedging the chair in front of the door to make it feel safer.
We’re glad we did after reading fellow travellers reviews http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g729351-d2051626-Reviews-Morhaoutdom_Hotel-Kratie_Kratie_Province.html#REVIEWS. Kratie is a small unremarkable town and as such the only thing to say about it is, nice sunset.
The next day we walked to the bus stop which is actually just a random shop on a side street and waited for our bus (our tickets were for the 13:30 bus which promised to cross the boarder before 18:00 when it closes) after ten mins a couple we saw on the bus yesterday turned up. They should have been in Laos already as they were doing the crazy long journey from Siem Reap?? Unfortunately for them after the bus dropped us off, the day before, they were told they wouldn't make the boarder before it closes and had to go tomorrow with us instead. This is why we chose to break up the journey. Now even more worried the bus wouldn't make it we waited together until well after the time it was due, when a tuk-tuk turned up to take us to “the junction”? So all four of us got on with no choice but to trust them and were dropped off 10 minutes later at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. We then had to wait a further 20 minutes for our bus to turn up and finally we were on our way. Well for 5 minutes when it stopped for a break! Back on the bus and a bumpy ride to the boarder, imagine riding in a 4wd drive off road on one of those adventure course for 5 hour drive and your close to our journey to the boarder.
A few hours in and we are asked to fill in three forms and hand over the cash for the Laos visa, $36 which we’re sure is more then it should be, a stamp fee of $2, a leaving fee of $2 and $1 fee for the bus operator helping us. Luckily we had brought passport photos with us or that would have been even more. So we attempt to fill out our forms on the bumpy ride and became $82 lighter. According to Lonely Planet (our bible) the boarder closes at 18:00 so when it started getting dark and then went past 18:00 we started to panic a little, thinking we were going to have to stay another night in a random place. Then when we stopped again for some people to get off and a shipment of fruit to get on (the buses are used as cargo and animal transport as well) we panicked some more. However just before19:00 the guy tells us it's fine and we'll soon be in Laos getting our passports back. Surprisingly in only 20 minutes we had crossed both boarders and had a new visa in our passports! We had made it to Laos! Now for another 4ish hours of driving and thank goodness on actual road.