Our Bus Adventure from Don Det, Laos to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
If you are patient in a moment of anger, you will spare yourself one hundred days of tears. - Cambodian Proverb
One Big Bus - yeah right! We purchased our tickets the night before for 240,000 kip which included the boat back to Naka Song. The man assured us that we would be riding in "one" big bus the whole time but that is definitely not what happened!
So let me tell you how our 15 hour, three different buses trip went...
GUY: "Make sure you are at the ferry dock for 7:50 am & you will be going on one big bus."
ME: "Are you sure it's a big bus and we don't change?"
Shuffling down to the ferry dock at 7:50 am, we proceeded to join the queue that was going at a snails pace. The queue was to get a new ticket for some odd reason. The loading into the ferry boat was a slow process as they want to fit the max amount of people into a boat and there are a lot of tourists.
After about a 7 minute or so boat ride, we arrived at the boating dock and disembarked by jumping into another boat to get to the shore.
At this point it was around 9 am, and we read on the ticket that the bus leaves at 9:30 am, so with our heads down we marched over to the bus stop instead of getting snacks. First mistake! Once we arrived at the bus stop, a man had everyone line up, show him their bus ticket and then he handed out forms to be completed for the border. This man was an "Agent" and kept saying that it doesn't cost us anything to fill out the form but we needed to hand it back to him - Lie #1. It will cost you $40 USD for him to complete the visa on your behalf, or you can just do it yourself like we did for $35 USD. He will say it is faster - Lie #2, it is the same for everyone since we wait for other people to arrive from different buses before leaving the border. He will say that you need to fill out the forms Lie #3 - yes, technically these forms do need to be filled out, but you can get them at the border all the same.
Remember, you are on Asia time, meaning it won't be on time. The bus didn't arrive until around 10 am, and there was only one big bus that was only taking those with a pink ticket aka not going to Siem Reap or Phnom Pehn. Ushering us into the small mini bus, that fit around 12 people we took off for the border with hot air conditioning and all.
For more facts on the border crossing, please take a look at my blog post titled No Mans Land.
After kicking us out of the small mini bus to walk across No Mans Land, I quickened my pace between the Laos and Cambodian border as to "beat" the rush - my competitive nature coming out! - but there is "no rush" in Asia (I should know better). As I approached the Cambodian border, I watched as the foreigners were ushered to get their "health check" but I also saw a few get a yellow piece of paper without paying, so naturally I followed those people. Basically, all I had to say was my passport was with that guy aka the "Agent" and I didn't have to pay the $2 USD for the bogus health check. Note to other travellers, just say you gave your passport to that guy since they have no idea. The "Ebola" test toy is still pointed at you and this time at my neck - didn't know that your neck temperature determined if you have Ebola or not (eye roll).
Getting the visa is a boring process since they only ever have two people working a booth with an unequal division of tasks for some reason. The government officer ended up being too slow, so the "Agent" started writing on the visa stickers for everyone. Clearly it's a hard job.
After obtaining the visa comes the guess which bus you are on, game. Asking several bus drivers which one is our bus and getting conflicting answers, we all decide to stand next to the second big bus that arrived. Yes, a big bus!! You might think that once everyone has their visa we can get going, but nope, we have to wait for others to fill up the bus. We didn't leave until 1 pm and by that time the air conditioning fluid was leaking onto some of the seats.
Smooth road ahead...bump bump... actually I take that back. Although the road leading out of the border is paved, they have issues with "speed bumps" aka shitty roads. Our bus drivers inform us that in an hour we will be switching buses because ours is broken. Personally, I think they just said that because we were all told we would be on a big bus the whole way, but that wasn't going to be the case.
The bus drivers take us to a bus depot, or a place with a lot of mini buses. We all disembark and then we watch as those waiting climb into our "broken" bus to head back to Laos. I guess honesty isn't a thing here. While waiting for the next bus, we grab some unappetizing sandwiches for around $2 USD. However unappealing the sandwich was, it was the best decision I made on the trip as you will find out. I paid for the sandwich in USD as I exchanged all my kip at the first bus station, also I didn't know at the time you could pay USD for things in Cambodia so it actually worked out.
Logistically, it makes sense as to why we were put into a small mini bus that fit 15 people because only half the group was heading to Phnom Penh and the other half to Siem Reap. However, I would have much rather a big bus, then being sandwiched in the back seat of basically a mini van with my feet on my backpack and probably someone else's.
As the air conditioning sputtered out, we began the endless journey to Phnom Penh in the small mini bus. During past bus trips, the drivers seem to stop constantly, especially when you don't want them to but in our case he didn't plan on stopping at all! He only stopped after the pleading of all the foreigners to use the toilet and to eat something. Most people hadn't eaten anything since the morning. His first attempt to stop for food was at a restaurant that didn't have any food left, so it was merely a pee stop to find a bush. Afterwards we all climbed back into the bus, to be driven a minute down the road to another restaurant.
Tonia and I got what we think is pork wrapped in bread, and a coke to share between us since at that time we didn't know that USD is widely used in Cambodia.
15 hours after first leaving for Cambodia, we finally arrive into Phnom Penh - well the outskirts area so that their tuk tuk driver friends get some money. The bus driver lies to you and says the bus station is closed, but really we never went to it and they do this on purpose. After negotiating with the abrupt tuk tuk drivers, we settle at $5 USD for 5 people to go into town. Note: Don't pay per person, only pay for the drive as a group. They try to charge you $5 USD per person, but even that is way too much for anyone. The tuk tuk drivers also try to take you to the hostel they are trying to promote, so be weary of that.
Overall, don't hold your breathe for the ever elusive "big" bus and always always bring snacks and water as you prepare for an adventure.
Total Cost = $70 USD