Border Crossing with the Brady Bunch... even Alice
Sep 20, 2005
|Traveling with one person is hard enough (who's writing this entry, anyway?) But traveling with eleven people is a different matter entirely. If you've been to this website before you know that border crossings tend to get a lot coverage. For whatever reason, border crossings bring out the best in us. Moving between Laos and Cambodia proved a new one in the annals of crossings, and like most it starts with a terrible breakfast.
Mr. Mo, the Don Corleon of Don Det, was kind enough to lure us into his graces and promised us unrivaled service from Si Phan Don to Stung Treng - the first major town inside northern Cambodia. Ten dollars, I think, start to finish. Good deal, hassle free, no problem, no problem, no problem. "You come breakfest - 7 a.n. - then we goo."
Wake groggy, say goodbye to our riverside bungalow (and friendly neighbors), and stumble down to Mr. Mo's. Breakfast is a twenty-minute wait for hard bread and runny eggs. One by one our fellow travellers arrive and by the time 7:30 rolls around we are eleven strong. We scramble down the river bank, beneath Mr. Mo's restaurant where two long skinny, motorized canoes await us. Mandy and I end up in (oops- I've betrayed my identity) separate boats. Mandy gets Captain Mo, and I get Captain Very Skinny With Big Smile. We cruise out into the strong current and push for the mainland.
Once there we pile into two waiting vans - so far so good. However, due to an ill-timed bathroom stop, we once again end up in separate vehicles, and either Mandy is trying to ditch me or there is some celestial reason for our temporary separation. Soon enough I'll find out the nature of heaven's sense of humor. In the meantime we go bumping down the roads towards Cambodia.
At the first border checkpoint we all get out and begin the comedy of errors which constitutes eleven foreign nationals haggling over single dollar bills. Now, this Laos checkpoint - very remote and infrequently used - is notorious for taking a few extra dollars of its users. The logic, I suppose, is that the poor border guards feel it righteous for foreign citizens to subsidize their boredom by paying a little 'extra'. They would be happy to get five dollars, but are willing to accept two from us. Some of our "friends", however, have been told by other travellers that they should refuse to pay anything more than a single dollar. And so it goes. The Laos officials want $2. One couple, in particular, claims they have not enough money to get to Phnom Penh and they simply won't pay the extra dollar. Others among us, seasoned travellers, believe that if we all "stick together" we can bargain the $2 down to a more reasonable $1 bribe. The foil, however, is that these Laos guards have all day to wait us out, and they are happy to do so. ...........
Forty minutes later everyone pays their $2 dollars and we can go through.
We continue on towards the "secret Cambodian border corssing". Two of the eleven of us don't have visas for their entry in Cambodia, so Mr. Mo has arranged for a "friend" to see them over the border. This needs to be done at a more rural outpost and so we weave a little of the beaten track to carry out this business. While our two friends are chaperoned to the border headquarters, we the remaining nine are forced to relive the $2 bribe scenario. Needless to say, Mandy and are over it. A bribe's a bribe and we would rather pay the extra buck than spend all day arguing with a border official, who, by the way, has a machine gun and a scar across his face. Is the mafia imagery strong enough?
Forty minutes later we pay the $2 and are on our way - now in Cambodia - horray!
Wait, oops, we forgot to tell you that the road from the border to Stung Treng is 70 miles long, 30 meters wide, and 2 feet deep. Those 2 feet are mud.
Still in separate vans - Mandy's in the lead and ours taking up the rear. After about twenty minutes of losing sight and then catching up with her van we come upon them frozen in place. Stuck. Who pushes? Welll..... I did a little. But Mandy helped, too. Wait, no she didn't. She was "in the backseat" and also "tired."
Ten minutes later - we were stuck.
Ten minutes later - they were stuck.
Twenty minutes after that - we were stuck. And you get the idea.
2 hours later we are both stuck, and after un-stucking the vans for the final time our drivers (Mr. Mo had left us at the Cambodian border) tell us to grab our bags from the back and walk the rest of the way. This is okay, because we can see the river and Stung Treng in the distance. What we don't see right off, though, is that the bridge which extends from the road is only half-built and when we reach the river's edge we realize that there is no boat waiting for us. The vans have now turned around, but we are left with nowhere to go and a might wide river separating us from Stung Treng. Good thing it's 110 degrees outside.
Twenty minutes later a boat does arrive - apparently summoned by our van drivers before they left. The boat driver wants a dollar from each of us for the ride across the river to Stung Treng. Now - becuase Mr. Mo's service was suppose to take us from Don Det to Stung treng for the ten dollars, people are pissed that they now have to pay an extra dollar to get to Stung Treng. The boat driver simply says that he has nothing to do with Mr. Mo and only came over with his boat because he knew we were waiting there and the van drivers had called his friend. Rudeness and a little good ol-fashioned pettines ensues. Our travelling companions, not to make judgement on them nor to bunch them all together, were being assholes. This poor guy was the only one there to get us across the river and even if he was part of a "conspiracy to get one more dollar from us" again Mandy and I considered the dollar a small price to pay to have the journey be over with. But people were really being unreasonable and calling this guy terrible names and using the opportunity to talk about "all the locals who rip us over every &*%$ing chance they get."
Surely we've been ripped off before, and possibly this boat ride was a planned scam, but given the sad look in the guy's eye and his pervasive sincerity, it seemed like a lot of mistrust and anger to place at his feet. After trying to stay out of the squabbling for quite a while, we finally offered our opinion that a dollar was a small price to pay and asked the group to consider that this guy had nothing to with our agreement with Mr. Mo. Not succeeding very well, we told the boat driver (very nice man) that we would take his boat ride across, and in this made the judgement that these people could sleep on the Western bank if they so desired.
Ten minutes later we, and our nine friends, were in Stung Treng. Eleven dollars poorer.