Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
First published 18th January, 2007
Of all the border crossings in the region, the overland crossing between Cambodia and Laos has been one of the most changeable. In some ways, Dom Kralor has all the ingredients of a pain in the posterior crossing -- corrupt border officials, inconsistent travel advice and of course wildly varying traveller tales. Read on to find out the best way to cross this ever-changing border.
Note: This story has been updated following our research in the region in the first half of 2009 -- the boat crossing between Laos and Cambodia is now CLOSED. read on for further details
For a long time the border between Cambodia and Laos could only be travelled by boat -- from Veun Kham in Laos to the Khmer town of Stung Treng. Now, the only crossing is by land, at Dom Kralor. Occassionally, boats still go to Veun Kham, but because the immigration office has closed there, if you travel to this crossing by boat, you must then transfer to a minibus to take you, while still in Cambodia, the 10-minute drive to the Dom Kralor crossing. Hence, it makes sense to save your boat travel until you're in Laos. A bridge just east of Stung Treng completed in 2008 means the entire trip can be done by land.
There are two ways to cross this border -- as an organised package (Don Dhet or Don Khon to Stung Treng / Kratie / Kompong Cham / Phnom Penh -- and the reverse) or to do it independently. It is FAR easier and less expensive to do the actual border leg as an organised trip. While we're almost always in favour of travelling independently, in this isolated case, it makes a lot more sense to organise your trip through a travel agent.
Lao visa-on-arrival is now available. It is NO LONGER NECESSARY to get a Lao visa in advance. Cambodian visa-on-arrival is available.
You may be expected to pay a small "handling fee" (bribe) to the immigration authorities -- normally $1 to $2 per person at both the Laos and Cambodia checkpoints. A tourist visa into Cambodia costs $23 or 250,000 kip (about $30), so pay in dollars if possible.
There used to be two crossings -- one by boat and one by land. Now there is only one. The boat crossing at Veun Kham (also spelt Veunkham and Veung Kham) is now closed, although you can still take a boat up to the border there, than travel to the minibus crossing at Dom Kralor (also spelt Dongkralaw).
An important note
Both Cambodian and Lao visa-on-arrival is available at this crossing. If you are planning on heading south to Stung Treng by boat using the Veun Kham crossing you'll have to cross at Dom Kralor, then return to Veun Kham, and either book a boat ahead or risk that none will be waiting there to catch the occasional tourist when you arrive.
By travel agent
Any travel agent in Pakse, Don Khong, Don Dhet and Don Khon will be able to sell you a through ticket to the Cambodian town of your choice. Prices may seem a little high, but when compared to what it will cost you to cross the border independently, the rates for the border crossing segment are a bargain. Note travel further afield is cheaper if done by booking a ticket to one of these locations -- Stung Treng in particular -- then booking separately from there. Sample tour prices include: Stung Treng $11, Ban Lung $21, Kratie $18 , Kompong Cham $21 , Phnom Penh $23 and Siem Reap $28.
If you're travelling to Siem Reap, it makes sense to book independently, since through tickets usually stop overnight in Phnom Penh first, and the price of a guesthouse is not included. If you book a through ticket to Siem Reap, make sure it stops and transfers that day to a minibus in Kampong Cham. If you want to get to Siem Reap from Laos within a day, a better idea is to buy a ticket to Stung Treng, then find the share taxi station next to the market, and barter a ride to Kampong Cham (about $10 per person), then from there, barter another ride to Siem Reap (about $15 per person).
All the buses from various locales in Cambodia heading to and from the border stop in Stung Treng and usually transfer passengers to a different bus. This often includes a few-hour wait for the bus to show up. Starting in 2010, sources in Stung Treng say, there will be a bus that goes directly from Phnom Penh through to Pakse, without transfers.
Getting to the borders
Transport can be arranged from Nakasang to Dom Kralor for $4. The crossing is about a dozen kilometres from Nakasang. If you book a ticket to the border, you'll be on a minibus with people who booked through tickets. Don't expect to find motorbikes waiting in Nakasang to take people to the border, though by asking around you can probably find someone to take you for about the same price. This is a good option if you go in the afternoon, since you can only get the $4 price for a minibus by booking with a travel agent at least the night before and by leaving the following morning. Travellers trying to get to the border in mid-morning or the afternoon should expect to pay $15.
Crossing the borders
From Veun Kham to Stung Treng by boat, Mr. Thea at Riverside is your only option, and even he says he goes there by boat very rarely now.
A longtail takes two and a half hours and costs $50 for the boat or $5 per person (if you have a group of ten or more).
The speedboat takes just an hour, but costs $140 for a maximum of six people.
There are rumours of a slow boat, but they're just rumours as far as we were able to divine.
Bear in mind that you still have to cross at Dom Kralor then get a ride to the river at Veun Kham. Since this route is now so inconvenient, if you're planning to do it, you'll have to book ahead.
Just about all the boats running from Veun Kham are run by Mr. Thea (T: (012) 447 775) in Stung Treng. If you've got a bunch of people together it may be worthwhile calling him directly to organise a boat trip south to Stung Treng. If you don't have a telephone ask a travel agent to assist.
From Dom Kralor to Stung Treng, minibuses leave the Cambodian side of the border when full (around 12 people qualifies it as full) and costs $5 per person. When you arrive in Stung Treng, try and transfer to a big bus and not another minibus if possible. Minibuses along this route are impossibly crowded (it's unlikely you'll have your own seat) and for such a long journey, you'll be acutely aware that you've left the smooth, paved roads and efficient transport of Laos.
See it's easy!
It's a short crossing -- just a few hours from Si Phan Don to Stung Treng, yet this crossing between Cambodia and Laos has generated more than its fair share of heartache and confusion. Pop into a travel agent, take the minibus and save yourself the frustrations (and cost) of doing it solo.
Related readingExploring Laos' Bolaven Plateau
Southern Laos by scooter
The Death Highway
Kompong Cham escape
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