Every so often I’ll write up a trip report focusing on the sorts of practical things I wish I had known BEFORE arriving at my destination. Here’s the first in a series:
Don Dhet & Don Khone (4000 Islands) and how to get from Lao to Cambodia *exchange rate of 8000 kip/USD
Don Dhet & Don Khone are at the southern most islands & are separated by a narrow section of the Mekong. Bungalows on Don Khone all face Don Dhet, so if you fancy a sunset view or a view of something than other bungalows & restaurants, you need to head to Don Dhet. Don Dhet has one road that circumnavigates the island. There is a sunset side & a sunrise side. The best views are on the the sunset side. The sunset side has another advantage, your bungalow won’t be blistering hot by 9 am.
Rent a bike: this is the only way to explore the island. Bikes are 10,000 kip per day.
Bring most everything you need from the mainland. There are no ATM’s, convenience stores or much of anything to buy, except for water, toilet paper, beer, whiskey, & cigarettes.
The food is pretty much the same wherever you go & it’s nothing special. Fried noodles & fruit shakes are the standard fare.
Book your departure ticket close to your guest house, or from your guest house. If you do, they arrange transport for you from your guest house to the boat ramp. (moto or boat pick-up) If you don’t, I hope you enjoy that 3.5 km walk at 730 am, with your gear. The same goes for renting a bike: do it close to home.
Go see the dolphins. It’s really fun & super easy to hire a boat. Ride your bike south on the main road in Don Khone (if you are staying on Don Dhet you will have to pay 20,000 kip to cross the bridge) follow the signs to Long Beach. Once at the beach there are a bunch of food shacks & someone will want to sell you a ticket. Anticipate paying about 30,000 kip per person. There is a 3 person max on each boat.
There is one WiFi place on Don Dhet. Shangri la bungalows. It is at the southern most tip of the island, where sunset & sunrise meet. Cheapest internet at 15,000 kip/hour
The bungalows are rustic. And if they are directly over the river they will not have an attached bathroom. Bring a towel.
Border crossing into Cambodia
This bit of bureaucracy can be a bit nerve jangling, but if you go with the flow & are prepared, it’s not so bad.
Most travelers leaving the islands for Cambodia go to one of 2 destinations: Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. You should have bought a through ticket on the island. A boat will take you to Nakasong on the mainland. No matter what time your bus leaves you will be told to take a boat at 8-830 am.
Bring snacks. This is going to be a long day, with few choices or opportunities to eat.
Once on Nakasong you will be approached by a guy offering visa services, It’s a rip off, and even though you can pay in kip (if you have some leftover), it’s still a rip off. You can also exchange your leftover kip for dollars. It’s a crappy rate, but kip has zero value outside of Lao PDR, so some value is better than none, i suppose. AND you will need approx 26 USD for your visa & “fees”
You will sit in Naksang for anywhere from 30 min to an hour. Then a truck will show up. It will have a capacity for about 15 people but there will be at least 30 of you. It will take you to the main road. You will unload, & wait again. This time a big bus should pick you up. and FYI, just because you have a ticket, does not mean you get a seat. well, unless you count a plastic chair in the aisle a seat.
The border is about 20-30 minutes away. Your first stop will be Lao departure. queue up in front of that window. You will need: your departure card (hopefully you kept it), 2 USD, and a good attitude. Is the 2 dollars above board? no, probably not. Is it extortion? well, it’s extortion-lite. No matter how you argue or ask for a receipt, you will not prevail. Two brits got a bit sassy & they got their passports stamped with an invalid stamp which meant they had to go back through AFTER they got to Cambodia. Lao border guard: 1. Falang: zip. Just pay the 2 dollars, people.
Once you get your departure stamp from Lao PDR you will walk about 500 meters to Cambodia. First stop: quarantine. It’s a tent on the side of the road, where you fill out a form testifying that you are not sick. This will cost you 1 USD. Second stop: visa services shack. fill out your VOA application (it is helpful if you have your own pen during this whole process), hand to the sour puss visa guy your photo, (you will need a passport photo) visa application, 23 USD. Now you have your visa. Not done yet. Now you need to go to the Cambodian arrival shack. Where, you guessed it, you pay another 2 USD. This whole rigamarole takes about an hour or so.
Then get back on your bus, but don’t put your passport away quite yet, as there is one last check. A border guard will come through & look at everyone’s passport before the bus can depart. Now, sit back & relax… for a very long time. Oh, and I hope it goes without saying, do not eat the buffet food when you stop for “lunch”. As a foodie, it kills me to say stick with something nice & safe like pringles and coke. But, man I just wouldn’t do it, no matter how native you think your gut may be.