Meandering around the world, experiencing the most that this little blue planet has to offer.

Border Crossing: Cambodia to Laos and Laos to Cambodia with a Motorbike

Update - May 26th 2018

Crossing from Cambodia to Laos and Laos to Cambodia by motorcycle is currently NOT POSSIBLE.

Tactics Used by Both Sides

  • Claim you need paperwork from the embassy or customs office in the country you are attempting to cross from. 
  • Claim that it is a new rule so they don't have the documentation or information to prove it. 
  • Claim they don't have a problem with the motorcycle but the other side does.
  • The side you left from will offer to keep your bike safe for you until you return for a negotiable fee.

This border situation changes on the daily, but it sounds like it has been deteriorating for foreigners on motorcycles since I crossed last year. If you want to attempt to cross, continue reading below for other intimidation tactics and various extortion strategies.

Also, please get in touch with me. I have more official government information available for you that will be extremely helpful to have. 

Short Explanation

I crossed from Cambodia to Laos (at the only international border crossing) on Sunday August 27th, 2017 at approximately 10:30AM with a Vietnamese plated Honda Win and a blue ownership card. It took me around 4 hours to get from Cambodia to Laos, with 3 hours of that being interrogated on the Cambodian side while trying to leave the country in a room of 6 male customs and immigrations "officials".

I spent nearly 5 months in Cambodia and met and spoke with dozens people who have crossed/attempted to cross from Cambodia to Laos or Laos to Cambodia with and without a motorbike, at varying times of the year. Below is the current situation of the border, what could impact your crossing, crossing from Laos to Cambodia, crossing from Cambodia to Laos, and some examples of intimidation tactics that were used.

General Border Situation

High military tension and threat of war between Cambodia and Laos occurred on August 11th, 2017. This was reported in the Cambodia Daily and NY Post. It has since been resolved. When I crossed 2 weeks later, customs and immigrations officials (you can't tell the difference between them) on both sides appeared to be very bored sitting around or sleeping in chairs in their offices. 

The border is not large, with about a 5 minute walk of no-man's land. There is no one around and no nearby towns or cities. 20km into Laos (Nakasang) or 60km into Cambodia (Stung Treng) are the closest towns that accommodate foreigners. 

There are official buildings on both sides, each has a separate counter/window for immigration (stamping your passport) and customs (importing a vehicle.) Even though there are separate windows, they use these interchangeably, where suddenly your immigration window can become the customs window. Both sides claim they do not know the activity on the other side and will deny either side using extortion and say things like "oh, I know nothing about that side, but you owe $$$ now.'

What Will Affect Your Border Crossing

As always with borders, it depends on the time of day, which day, who is working, and a variety of other factors. I have heard of people with or without a bike having no problems from Cambodia to Laos earlier in the year (before the military tension), but have never heard a successful Laos to Cambodia crossing with a bike:

  • Solo traveler or with a group - With a group, you can work together to stick to not paying and choose your most confident yet respectful speaker. I was solo. Probably being female factors in as well.
  • Tone of voice - Neither Cambodians or Laotians like yelling, crying, or signs of weakness, so getting heated/emotional does not work in your favour. Remain calm, speak with confidence, yet be respectful. Do not indicate any doubt in what you say. Listen for verbal cues such as 'let's find a solution together' and 'we can help each other in this situation' for when they're giving up trying to get the most money out of you and are willing to negotiate or give up completely.
  • Country & Language - The officials think they are perfectly fluent in English and you asking questions or not understanding them (even if English is your first language) ends up with them thinking you are an incompetent idiot. They will also belittle your country of origin saying that current affairs show that you are not capable of understanding Cambodian/Laotian law. 
  • Visa type - I had a Cambodian business visa, of which frequently came up in my interrogation. A tourist visa will be easier. For Laos visas, expect the same interrogation for explaining your business. 

Laos to Cambodia with a Motorbike

As of August 2017, it is NOT POSSIBLE to cross from Laos to Cambodia with a motorbike. It's not just a scam or extortion, it's robbery and seizure of your bike. I have confirmed this with 3 separate friends/acquaintances. 

Before leaving Laos, I asked the Laotian customs official if I could bring my bike back that direction after visiting Laos. He confirmed that it is possible to leave Laos with the bike, but that I would have problems with the bike on the Cambodian side. With some more questions, eventually he said:

Yes, it is impossible. But you can sell your bike in Laos, we give you good price.

That is an exact quote from a Laotian customs official.

If you want to try your luck anyways, there are 2 confirmed and 1 unconfirmed ways to cross from Laos to Cambodia:

  1. Land crossing - Through the usual border land crossing, you will exit Laos for a $2USD processing fee for your stamp and then not be allowed into Cambodia. They will claim you do not own the bike, do not have the correct papers for either country, and will seize your bike, keys, and papers. I have not directly spoken with anyone who was offered any money for the sale of their bike. 
  2. Mekong crossing - Putting your bike on a boat down the Mekong, paying a fisherman, while you cross the border on foot, then finding your bike further down. Police will appear along the Mekong and seize your bike, keys, and papers.
  3. Dirt road - I have heard from an expat living in Cambodia for 10 years that a road does exist. I do not know where it is. You drive illegally across the border, park your bike, walk back to the land border crossing, cross, then find your bike again. If you get caught illegally crossing the border, I can't even imagine where you will end up. But no doubt, your bike will be gone, if this road even exists.

Just don't do it. You will need to sell your bike in Laos, or drive to Vietnam and cross from Vietnam into Cambodia instead. 

Cambodia to Laos with a Motorbike

I personally went through this with my Vietnamese Honda Win with blue ownership card. I have confirmed with 6 separate sources that each experience is different. 2 sources (1 pair and 1 individual) have crossed with no problems because customs didn't notice their bike and they didn't say anything about it. For the rest of us (3 pairs on a bike and then me), the use of their interrogation tactics were the same, the $2USD 'processing fee' for Cambodia and for Laos was the same, but the money asked for during the scam/interrogation process and time spent varied from $10USD to $100USD and 1 hour to nearly 4 hours to complete the crossing.

There is only one way to cross from Cambodia to Laos: Land crossing.

If customs and immigration don't notice you have a bike

Exiting Cambodia

You will pay a $2USD processing fee for your Cambodian exit stamp. You can fight this since it is a scam, but thank your lucky stars they didn't notice your bike and my advice is to just fork up and pay. 

Entering Laos

You will pay a $2USD processing fee for your Laos entry stamp, even if you have your visa in advance from Phnom Penh. Again, thank the travel Gods and get out of there as fast as you can.

If customs and immigration notice you have a bike

Exiting Cambodia

This is where things get bad. They will detain you, try to extort you, and you need to remain calm, respectful, patient, yet stand by the fact that you DO NOT have to pay to have a bike leave Cambodia. Get mentally ready for this to happen and also plan for this to potentially take up your entire day.  Some of the common interrogation tactics and examples are listed in a section below.

You will have to pay or attempt to also fight the processing fee mentioned in the 'if they don't notice your bike' section above.

Tip: Finding a guesthouse in Laos is possible within 10km of the border, but the nearby town of Nakasang (20km from the border) is where you catch the boat to the islands, has ATMS and money exchange, and the guesthouse there is not that bad but overpriced (100,000 kip.)

Entering Laos

You will need to pay $3USD (25,000 Kip) to register your bike for Laos. They give you an official receipt for this which you should keep. There is a big official government purple sign out front of the Laos customs and immigration building with this price on it for motorcycles (and other prices for different vehicles.)

You will have to pay or attempt to also fight the processing fee mentioned in the 'if they don't notice your bike' section above.

Intimidation and Extortion Tactics

This is all from my personal experience crossing the border. Two other couples (both French) had a very similar experience to me all within 1 month (before and after) of me crossing the border. 

My general situation & preparation

  • I have a Vietnamese Honda Win with blue card.
  • A Cambodia business visa which doesn't expire until December.
  • A Canadian passport.
  • I crossed the border alone.
  • It was a very rainy Sunday before lunch. 
  • I had all my bank and credit cards hidden in a book in a plastic bag deep in my pack strapped to my bike, all wrapped in a tarp.
  • I had exact change for my Laos visa, plus $4 in $1 bills to prepare for the processing fees.
  • $10 in my wallet.
  • The rest of my money I had in small zip-lock plastic bags in my socks at the bottom of my foot... just in case. 

Tactics used on the Cambodian side

  • Instantly taking my passport and motorcycle blue card and not giving them back.
  • Putting 6 male officials with me in a room with the door closed, with only one acting as a translator.
  • They would constantly repeat questions in varying order to see if my responses changed. 

They tried many different tones and phrases to intimidate and threaten me. All of their statements about the law were not true and purely to get me to pay them money to leave the room. They'd say:

  • I was lying about where I worked and traveled in Cambodia.
  • I was stupid and couldn't possibly understand Cambodia law.
  • Repeatedly asking why I had a Vietnam motorcycle instead of Cambodian, especially since I haven't been to Vietnam.
  • I bought the bike illegally in Cambodia and that this is a crime.
  • Because I was Canadian I was under British rule and understood nothing about laws because they were all made for me (seriously.)
  • The Laos side won't let me in without special Cambodia papers.
  • Because I was talking too much when explaining my story, that speaking a lot was an indication of lying and I was a liar. 
  • Whether I spoke any other languages and that because I didn't speak Khmer I wasn't allowed a motorcycle or a business in Cambodia, and again was breaking the law.
  • I needed paperwork for my bike to have it in Cambodia, and the fact I didn't have that paperwork was breaking the law.
  • I had to go back to Phnom Penh to get this paperwork, or I could buy it there at the border.

The one strange thing about their tactics is that they never threatened to go through my backpack or my bag to look for money or anything incriminating. 

Tactics used on the Laos side

  • The Cambodian official 'escorted' me to the Laos side to maintain control over me.
  • He insisted on 'helping' and raised his voice angrily, practically spitting in my face and stepping close to me, telling me I was stupid for not seeing he was helping and that I would be left there at the border with no help. 
  • He will go speak to the Laos official and come back with a price. You can negotiate this or fight it by telling him you want to speak to the Laos official yourself.
  • Laotian officials will ask for vehicle registration amount of $3USD which is actually legitimate (see the big government purple sign to the right of you on the building platform near the picnic table,) plus the $2USD processing fee which is a scam/robbery and pretty much non-negotiable at this point.

In the End....

  • I paid $2USD in Cambodia for my exit stamp.
  • I paid $10 for my vehicle registration on the Laos side.
  • I paid $2USD in Laos for my entry stamp.
  • I spent just under 4 hours to get across the border.

A lot of people 'have heard of a story' or 'guess what it will be like' to cross this border. I assure you, the above points are from my own personal experience plus the first-hand experiences of people I have met face-to-face.  

Feel free to comment if you have your own personal crossing story, but be sure to add the details like date, time of day, and if others were at the border with you. It'll help the rest of us try to plan better to not get scammed!

Prepping for ATM Theft in Laos

Opting to Not Enter a Conflict Zone