As travel sometimes goes in the developing world, our travel from Siem Reap to the Cambodia-Laos border didn’t work out as we had expected. The man who sold us the bus tickets told us we’d be on an air-conditioned ‘VIP’ bus to the Laotian border, about 10 hours away. We thought we’d be travelling in style!
Well, the bus we got onto was air-conditioned but other than that it was a fairly humble vehicle. About an hour into the trip, black water started to drip from the AC ducts above our heads. As those passengers who were being dripped on began to move to empty seats, the options to sit in seats that didn’t have the water problem diminished kilometre by kilometre as more and more of the AC vents began dripping the sooty liquid. To remedy the problem, the driver turned off the AC and the ‘steward’ wiped up the dark water as it dripped and pooled. Soon, to provide dry seats to all passengers, boards were placed in the aisle between the seats. We continued this way until we stopped for a washroom and snack break. There, the driver threw buckets of water on the engine to cool it down.
Back on the road, it was somewhat merciful that the bus blew a rear tire an hour or two down the road. The bus rumbled to the side of the road. As the crew worked on the tire, the passengers all hung out in what shade we could find. Even before the repair was completed, another bus stopped to pick us up. It too was heading towards the Laos border. Thankfully, we continued with this one without incident to the city we were to change to a mini-bus.
We squished into the mini-bus together with a few other foreigners and six energetic middle-age Cambodian women. They talked and laughed, passed food around to everyone in the vehicle and made the hours go by quickly for everyone. They were on their way to a friend’s place in northern Cambodia. It was a ‘girls weekend away’. They were so much fun to be with!
The mini-van’s final stop was the northern city of Stung Treng, about 90 minutes from the Laotian border. It was here we were to change buses to one that would go to the border. Unfortunately, were told we had missed the only bus going to the border that evening. At that point, all we could do was find a hotel and wait until morning.
The morning bus was to leave Stung Treng at 8:30. While we waited, we were first told the bus was broken down and would be 30 minutes late. A little while later, we were told the repairs would take an additional half hour. So, other than sitting and waiting, we walked to a nearby shop run by the young women (and her daughter) in the picture below, to the Mekong River nearby (see pics), to a gas station where petrol is sold in pop bottles or pumped from barrels instead of using the new pumps (see pic), and around the surrounding streets.
Finally, the bus arrived so we made our way to the border. There, our passports were processed and we bought our Laos visas. For some reason, Canadians pay more for Laotian visas than any other country. The picture below shows the Cambodian checkpoint on the left (blue and white building) and the as-of-yet unused Laotian checkpoint building in the distance. The space in between the two buildings is the no man’s land.
After the paperwork was complete, we walked from Cambodian and entered Laos. We boarded a waiting bus and drove to the village of Nakasong, the jumping off point for the 4000 Island region of southern Laos.
A bit of an adventure but we made it!