Border crossings can be interesting to say the least. They are basically the wild west of immigration offices. Where anything goes. Here we have our experience of going from Vietnam to Laos, and how we got majorly scammed. But it also works the other way, as a Laos to Vietnam border crossing. Either way, be warned and on the lookout for scam artists posing as immigration officers. Unfortunately, they know you have no choice!
Vietnam to Laos Border Crossing
We left Sapa on an overnight sleeper bus heading to Dien Bien Phu. Luckily we had bumped into an Aussie couple at a hotel. We were both exchanging money the same time so we stuck together. After a few cheeky lies from our hotel guy (He first claimed he was 18. Had three children and was looking for a second wife in Sapa. Then admitted he was playing with us for fun and then had the nerve to ask us to recommend the hotel to others!), we set off at 6.30pm.
The bus was very different to other sleeper buses. It had two “beds” together on either side of the bus. Plus a top and bottom bunk. The beds are basically a 1.5 mattress for two people. Great for those traveling together but sucky for individuals as you had to share a blanket and squish up.
We were so comfortable, or as comfortable as you can be on a sleeper bus as it chugs along a dirt, windy road. So we ended up taking the tablet out and watching an episode of Game of Thrones. What a luxury! Then we slept for a bit before being woken up for a pee break/bus driver’s dinner break.
It was a tolerable 10 hr bus ride. I slept for a bit but most of the time I hung onto the railing in fear of falling out of the top bunk. The road from Sapa to Dien Bien Phu is notoriously windy and pot-hole ridden and we were all thrown about in our “beds.”
So It Begins
About 5am we suddenly stopped by the side of the road where the usher woke us up and started kicking us off. They were trying to get tourists off in a bid to get them onto another bus that had stopped ahead of us. Three men tried to hustle me onto the other bus but I yelled out when they grabbed my arm. They seriously don’t understand personal space here! But I was waiting for Lionel so I refused to get onto the other bus. Then the other bus left. We, the remaining tourists thought we had missed the only bus into Laos for that day.
Our original bus took us a bit further to the actual bus station. That’s where we found the other tourists and the other bus that was heading into Laos. Turns out the men wanted to force us into buying a ticket for that particular bus. This was before we got to the bus station where we would then we presented with other official options for getting into Laos. Smart. Anyway, we ended up taking that bus after seeing a punch on between this bus’s usher and the other bus’s usher who was trying to pick a fight with him.
Good start to the morning…
A spot of Pho for breakfast then we took the 7.30am bus with all of the other tourists from the original sleeper bus.
After a bit of karaoke and The Hangover 2 on the bus we got to the Vietnam checkpoint and got our passports stamped out. I asked if there was a toilet and two officials pointed to a bush.
After another 6kms we got to the Laos checkpoint. And this is where it began.
Border Crossing Mayhem
First a man with an electronic thermometer zapped everyone’s forehead to “check for H1N1.” Annoying as we had read about this scam but he was so quick and just zapped us without us realizing.
Then the official took our passports and tapped at a sign in the window saying “10,000 kip for service fee,” after we had already paid $30 USD for our visa. He then slid the passport to another official behind the window who tapped at two signs “10,000 kip for stamp checking,” and “3,000 kip for the H1N1 test.”
When I questioned the additional 13,000 kip, the guy looked at me. He tapped the photo in my passport. I nodded. Then he promptly threw my passport under the table and proceeded to check the next passport.
I was incredibly mad but a little bit scared that I wouldn’t get my passport back. We were in the middle of nowhere at the mercy of corrupt, rude, mean “officials” and their fake signs printed on A4 paper.
I know it’s only a few dollars that I was mad about. But it’s the principle! Plus, they are just so mean about it, and basically held my passport as ransom.
So we paid, borrowing some kip from the Aussie couple and I got my passport back. I bitch-eyed the “official” though when I walked past him. It made me feel better.
Then we got back on the bus and a few hours later we got into Muong Khua. A tiny town where there were no touts to greet us when we got off the bus in the blistering heat. Welcome to Laos, and beware of that Laos to Vietnam border crossing!