Ah, land borders are always an adventure. And the fact that neither the Laos nor Cambodia guide books mentioned much about the only border between the two countries should have been our first clue that this was not going to be easy. But we knew it was possible and had met people who had done it so we stuck to our plan.
At 8:30 in the morning we took the dollar boat across the Mekong to the mainland. From there we walked the 1km to the main road where we knew we could pick up some transport. After waiting an hour in the hot morning sun we were growing skeptical. One private NGO truck stopped but said he wasn't going to the border. A Beer Lao truck stopped and almost offered us a beer. A bus passed but also said he wasn't going that far. Mind you, it isn't far! We were less than 30km to the border. Finally one of those pick-up truck buses stopped for us. Before we knew it we were on our way and it was only 10:15, we were still making good time.
Then the bus turned down one long dusty road and our hopes were dashed by the clouds of dust engulfing us. We must have travelled every last dirt path in Laos picking up and dropping people and all their possesions off. It was hot and dusty and as we watched the clock tick by we were getting restless. We had heard it costs extra to cross the border at lunchtime.
As the bus got emptier and emptier we knew we must be nearing the end of Laos. And then a private car heading the other direction stopped our bus and yelled "Cambodia - Kampuchea." A young Lao or Cambodian couple (not sure which) hopped out eagerly and threw all their bags in the trunk of this car and the car sped off in the other direction. The bus driver assured us it was going to take us to the border so we hoped for the best.
Sure enough we reached the end of the dirt road and there were some wooden huts housing the Laos immigration office. They tried to charge me extra for not having my Departure Card (remember the China/Laos border incident?) but I fended them off and paid only the required fees.
No sooner had we left Laos then we were walking down another dirt road with no Cambodia Immigration Office in sight. Finally a couple of motorbikes pulled up alongside us and offered us the ride to the border to get our stamp.
When we drove into this small tiny dusty village we looked around but found no Immigration Office. There did happen to be one villager who spoke English, but he was a slicky boy type. He explained that this was as far as we would go on the motorbikes, the Immigration Office was actually across the Mekong on a little island. Brad dug his heels in and insisted that the motorbike guys take us to the island, they had promised us our "stamp", a word everyone seemed to understand.
Reluctantly one of the drivers took us over in a boat. We walked up the dirt hill to the office and roused the officials from their sleep. Before handing over our passports they had to put their uniform shirts back on to look official. Twenty minutes later (not sure why the stamp took that long, we already had our visa?) we were on our way back to the mainland.
Once back in the village we were now faced with the question as to how to actually get out of the village. There were no vehicles coming through, certainly no other foreigners, and slicky boy wanted to offer us a minivan for $50US to take us 50km to the nearest town, Stung Treng. We laughed at his offer and sat ourselves down in the shade to sit it out.
Two hours later I was getting a bit worried so Brad walked back to the Laos border to see if he could find anything out. No information but he did find two Germans, Kevin and Tilo, who were also making our journey. Now with power in numbers we were able to find a willing villager who would take the four of us to Stung Treng for $30. He would also stop at the border so the Germans could pick up their visas.
Stop at the border? Weren't we at the border? As it happens, there are two borders both on the Laos and Cambodian sides. We drove thru the worst roads ever in the middle of a deforested forest before we drove up on the other Cambodian border. We could see a straight road leading to Laos. Surely we had gone to the more out of the way border where no public transport would ever pass by us while the private car that had passed us was heading to this border.
The drive to Stung Treng was a bit of a mess. They are paving the road but it looks like they might not finish until 2007. I felt bad for our driver as many a time the road scraped the bottom of the car and the doors rattled so that I felt like they were going to fall off.
When our driver finally stopped the car he pointed to the barge that we would have to take to cross the river over to Stung Treng. This was surprising because we thought he was going to take us straight there. But we could see the town just across the way so the thought of a shower made us pick up our packs and trek down to the barge. One hot long hour later the barge finally left the pier to traverse the 0.2 mile stretch of river.
All in all it took us 8 hours to go less than 80km and we travelled by boat, foot, bus, foot, motorbike, boat, car, and barge. Next time I think I'll fly.