Going from country to country by land rarely is a piece of cake… You need to have a lot of things in order if you want to avoid major headaches and save time and money. From my experiences, I have compiled a checklist to follow when traveling to any country – especially if you plan on traveling by land and not by an airplane…
Visas. Check online [HERE, at www.projectvisa.com for all information] about the details of the visa you’ll need to visit your destination country. Some countries allow you to obtain a visa walking off the airplane, but other countries are more strict and could possibly send you back home! Also, depending on which country you’re from has an influence of price, time, and restrictions.
Prices. Be very certain about the price of the visa before you make your way towards the border. There are countless cases of people at the border changing the price of the visa once you get there and then… what do you do? You’re stuck.
Transportation. Try to arrange transportation on your own if possible. There are travel agencies that are willing to arrange a mini-bus and a driver to get to the border and then the driver takes care of your visa by brin
ging your passport himself while you relax in a restaurant or somewhere else. This type of arrangement is often more expensive and a lot easier for scams. Try to find out where the border is, if visas can be obtained by simply walking through, how much the visa is, and how much the taxi is… then compare to travel agencies for total price. However, this can be very difficult because what a travel agency tells you and what the people at the border tell you when you get there are often two different things. [read my story below about traveling from Thailand to Cambodia]
Travel with extra passport pictures. The pictures do not need to be a replica of the picture in your passport, but have multiple copies of a picture of you with the same passport restrictions: looking straight at the camera from the shoulders up [no lower] and as close to the passport picture size as possible.
The reason for the pictures is because you might need these if you’re going by land from one country to another. Going from country to country by land, you will need to fill out a “Visa Application Form.” On this form you’ll need to provide the same basic information you always do going through customs [length of stay, passport number, etc.], but, when you travel by land, some forms need you to provide a picture of yourself.
Now most tourists do not think to bring pictures, so this is a chance for them to make money… Where ever you’re filling out this Visa Application Form, there will also be some sort of picture-booth set up so you can get your pictures – for an addition cost, of course! It might not seem like much, but I’ve seen one tiny picture cost about US$4! Rip off! Bring your own and save money!
Travel with U.S. Dollars. On many borders, it is cheaper to get the “Visa on Arrival” using U.S. Dollars. You can use the local currency, but sometimes they will over charge you if you do so… I hate this system because I think their own countries should use their own money, but, nevertheless, this is how it is. Save money by traveling with U.S. Dollars and save those dollars for the borders! [read my story below about traveling from Vietnam to Laos]
Local Holidays. If you have the time during all your researching, try to include checking what the local holidays are. Although it might seem great if your vacation seems to fall on a local holiday, sometimes it might be more of an inconvenience than fun: all business are closed, streets are blocked off if there are parades so taxis and even walking is a bother, noise at night while trying to sleep, hotel prices are most likely doubled, more tourists so you don’t get a true feel of a place, etc.
I was in Cambodia planning to go to Vietnam in a few days and then realized I was stuck because of the Chinese New Year – EVERYTHING was closed for 10 DAYS!
Receipts. Always get a receipt – especially of major purchases such as transportation or visas. If something goes wrong with the tickets or the booking number or whatever other craziness can happen with foreign organization, then a receipt showing that you belong on that bus or that boat can really come in handy. Also, there is usually a phone number on receipts so if anything does go wrong, you can have the people giving you trouble call and figure it out. [read my story below about traveling from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh]
Here are some stories of how I got the idea of this checklist, which even I will use next [and every] time!
Thailand to Cambodia by Bus
I was in Thailand and planning on making the circle: Thailand, Cambodia, Southern Vietnam to Northern Vietnam, Northern Laos, Northern Thailand, and back towards Bangkok. My 30-day visa for Thailand was about to end, so I checked bus and visa prices all over Pattaya. They were all exactly the same of 1500 Baht for the bus, and the visa will be done at the border for additional 800 Baht. I check these prices with about six travel agencies in town and all said exactly the same thing so I thought this was a legitimate price.
I get to the border and they have me fill out the Visa Application Form in which I needed a picture to attach to my form. Once I got my form filled out and I’m ready to hand it in a pay my 800 Baht, the guy collecting the form says “no 1200 Baht!” WHAT?! I told him I was told by a few different places that it was 800 Baht and that the travel agency I booked my bus ticket from promised me when I got to the border, it would only be 800 Baht… he didn’t care. He said everyone else is the room is paying 1200 Baht so that is what I must pay too. I was furious because what do you do?! If I didn’t pay, would I be standing there stuck at the border?! I paid the 1200 Baht because I didn’t know what else to do and I didn’t want to be stuck there but I told him to make me a receipt and to write down his name and that he would be hearing from the travel agency when I returned. He really didn’t care and he did so with a smile on his face.
Time goes by and I’m enjoying Cambodia a lot… then I met a couple that made the border-crossing-journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap [not too much different than my route from Pattaya to Siem Reap]. However, this couple only paid 500 Baht for a private taxi through Thailand to the Cambodian border, then 800 Baht for a visa at the border, and then US$20 [US$10 per person] for a tuk-tuk from the border to Siem Reap.
… and just so you don’t have to calculate the savings, I’ll do it for you while kicking myself in the process:
Savings of US$86.
This means that we paid literally DOUBLE of what we should have spent and this makes me furious beyond belief! But there is nothing that can be done about it except to try to be very cautious and always double check. Use this checklist from my experience to help you get things in order.
And even if you do everything right [like I thought I did] by checking numerous sources, getting a receipt and name of the person, and double checking every question, it doesn’t mean that you definitely got the best deal. Sometimes, there is just no way of knowing until it is too late.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh by Boat
I decided to take a boat instead of a bus from Siem to the Capital of Cambodia. The ticket I paid for included transportation from my Guest House to the boat dock. They checked my ticket to get into the mini bus with about 12 other people. I had the ticket with me in and then the jammed packed mini bus drove to the boat dock. Everyone got out and made their way down to the dock. Again, there was another checkpoint checking our tickets. I thought I had it in my pocket, or backpack, or hand, or… I’m not sure… it must of fallen out in the mini bus with all the squeezing, shuffling, and bumping going on… I asked if I could go check where I was sitting and they told me no. They said if I didn’t have a ticket with me right there, I could not get to the boat. I explained that I HAD a ticket because the woman checked it three times in order for me just to get into the van at all… they either didn’t care or didn’t understand what I was saying.
Is there another way that I can prove that I belong on that boat? YES! I always keep my receipts! I dug through my papers and quickly found my receipt. I showed the guys the receipt that clearly said it was for a boat ticket and also had the phone number of my Guest House where I had purchased the boat ticket. They called the Guest House and confirmed that I really did buy the ticket [just incase I was able to forge a printed receipt with the company name on top from out of my backpack in a van]… After being on the phone for 20 seconds, they just said “ok” and pointed to the boat. I ran and made it just in time! Moral of the story: KEEP YOUR RECEIPTS!
Vietnam to Laos by Bus.
After a long bus ride, I arrived to the border of Vietnam and Loas. I mostly had Vietnamese Dong as the currency I had planned on using, but I also had some Cambodian Reil, and Thai Baht with me as well. After filling out my “Visa on Arrival” application and standing in line, they gave me the price of the visa in U.S. dollars [US$35]. I quickly did the math [US$1=20,000VND] and gave them 700,000VND. The guy then showed me the calculator that has “900,000” written on the screen. WHAT?! Even if he’s using US$1=21,000VND, that is still only 770,000! How in the world is the visa 900,000VND?!! He explained that US$1=25,000VND. Not a chance on earth did it go from the 20,500 that I checked that morning to 25,000! He didn’t care. He told me to pay in U.S. dollars or else the conversion is US$1=25,000.
So now what? I’m on the border with no U.S. dollars because Vietnamese ATMs only give dong even though most things are priced in dollars! UGH! I had no choice buy to pay this… I mean, what would they have done with me? I was already stamped out of Vietnam, and they wouldn’t stamp me into Laos until I paid the lie of a conversion… So I would really just be sitting in between two countries for days, I guess, until I died of starvation?! I don’t know… I don’t know what they do with people stuck on the border like that, but what I DO know is that I didn’t want to test it and find out! The end result is that I had to shut up and pay US$10 more than what I should have paid if I had U.S. dollars with me!
I hate this. A country should use its own currency or neighboring countries’ currencies – they should not base their system on U.S. dollars and then toy with the conversions to squeeze more money out of tourists! And what makes me absolutely furious is that the guy just pocketed the money and smiled! The guy sitting behind the desk is making US$10 for every tourist going through that border without U.S. dollars! That’s a lot of money. I would take that job if I was a shady and dishonest person like those people!