I’ve now crossed over three land borders within Asia, from the old world of China to the scooter packed Hanoi Vietnam, then from Vietnam to friendly Laos, and finally onto Cambodia.
At times these crossings have been super stressful. There was the time I got questioned relentlessly by the guard when leaving China, “where had I been, who had I spoken with, where did I stay, did I know anyone in China”… on and on this went, the same questions over and over again while they held onto my beloved passport until eventually they grew bored and let me go. There was the time when a Vietnamese guard wanted an extra ten dollars to give us an exit stamp while our bus driver threatened to leave. Finally there was the counter coming into Cambodia with a sign asking travellers to pay a dollar in order to get a ‘medical certificate’ (which is not needed). Looking back I wish I had been more prepared hence why I’m writing this article in the hope it helps out fellow travellers.
On the road you will often hear horror stories from those who have completed land border crossings in Asia.
The only way to deal with this anticipation is to take control using these following tips.
1) Firstly know that you are going to end up spending more than the amount you think as there will always be extra ‘fees’ and yes most of this simply goes into the guards pockets. Bring extra cash! Avoid turning up with only your visa on arrival fee. Remember there are often no ATMs or exchange counters at or near the border. Put the visa on arrival fee in your purse and a bit extra for other ‘fees’ into your pocket. If officials demand extra money you can always show them your empty purse but if they persist at least you know you have the cash.
2) If you have to pay in dollars, as you do at the Cambodian border, ensure every single dollar is crisp, free of marks and is not torn or folded. The officials will not accept less than pristine dollars.
3) Before you travel ensure you pack some passport pictures as there is an extra charge for this and the whole process will take you longer.
4) Try not to get involved with other travellers’ anxieties, this will only cause you more stress.
5) Observe what others do, for example, some people paid the dollar fee for the ”medical certificate’ at the Cambodian border while others simply bypassed it with no repercussions.
6) Research what you think your visa on arrival fee will cost using official government sites. For each country the fee can be different i.e. they charge different fees for those with an Irish passport to those with an American passport.
7) Consider getting an e-visa online (if the country and the border is accepting of e-visa). I had success using iVisa.com however ensure you apply at least one week in advance. I was told it would take five days but the process actually took a week. Ensure you choose the correct border crossing on the application form.
8) Should the officials question you, be polite but firm. Generally in the queue it’s best to make yourself as least noticeable as possible, staying quiet and avoiding eye contact with the guards unless they speak to you.
9) You can always consider flying to avoid the whole situation! Check out cheap flights on http://www.skyscanner.net
10) If you do decide to cross borders by bus, use a reputable bus company. Consider using travelfish.com or the Lonely Planet ect. for recommendations and/or chat to other travellers. If you are crossing borders by motorbike or car, research the fee and ensure you have all the required documentation for the vehicle.
11) Keep an eye on your cash the WHOLE time. The counters are very low, (so low you have to crouch down), so your cash can easily be swapped for fake cash. I witnessed this happening to a Colombian girl at the Laos border crossing.
12) Keep all your valuables on you, (do not accept anyone carrying your bags for you), you don’t want the buses to drive off with any items of importance.
13) Remember at the border the officials have the right to refuse you into the country, so keep your cool!