Hello, Houston… we have a problem

25 Mar

So, departure from Don Det started inauspiciously when the engine of the boat across to the mainland spluttered and died… we made it back to shore and the engine was replaced, leaving us travelling to the other side relatively painlessly.. we did follow the dance band from the previous night – here, even the roadies travel by boat.


It should be a simple trip – the travel agent said I should be in Ban Luang by 3pm. He said it with a straight face, too.

And after another walk, onto the bus for the border. Cambodia have a huge ornate temple like immigration facility – Laos is in the process of gaining the upper hand with an even more impressive edifice – but in the meantime, It’s three little wooden huts and a market stall.

The bumpy journeys across Laos had left the seats detached and in some places simply missing. In the process, though, I had found out that I had insufficient funds for the border process – although I suspected that the price would be higher on a Sunday, and specifically asked the travel agent how much t would be, he forgot to tell me about the additional processing fees. These ‘additional processing fees’ by the way are actually the border officials’ way of making a few bucks on the side…

So . . .

Walk from bus to Laos border.

Departure from Laos. $2. 

Walk across no-man’s land, imagining spies and secret agents being exchanged.

Health check half way across including temperature scan. $1.

Apply for Cambodian visa. $23. I managed to borrow some money from the lovely Melissa from Australia.

Receive visa back. Walk to Cambodian immigration to have visa stamped. $2.

We then had a huge wait for no readily apparent reason. Although we had arrived in two buses, only one bus was available to take us all down to Stung Treng, the next stop – we were hoping that another bus would turn up, but no.. we’re all on little plastic seats in the aisle…


Eventually we left for Stung Treng – at which point I got off, with Seb from Quebec (my life is dogged by Canadians and the French over recent days – Seb managed to roll it all into one tidy package by being French Canadian), Rut (Ruth) from Dusseldorf, and James, who I had already met in Champrasak….and Don Det….from the farmlands of Ireland.

Seb and I waited for the bus to Ban Luang, while Rut and James went in search of accommodation. Meanwhile, Seb and I checked out the local curry and made friends with the owner of a guest house in Ban Luang, who was in town for a wedding. And who has rooms available. Result!

When the bus eventually rolled into Stung Treng, it was over 2 hours late, and three hours behind the advertised time to get to Ban Luang (the normal rules of physics may not apply in Cambodia, but in most of the world, if a bus trip takes two hours and should arrive at 3pm, then the bus should depart at 1pm. Not exactly sure how it’s supposed to work if the bus is scheduled to depart at 4pm for a 3pm arrival. But I am new to the country. What do I know?

Anyway, off to Ban Luang, crammed next to a monk who definitely wants to occupy the whole two seats. Much to our suprise, we are joined by Rut and James, who have become rapidly disillusioned with Stung Treng and have set off in search of more exciting pursuits. It’s definitely ‘au revoir’ and never ‘goodbye’ on the backpacker circuit.

Eventually, after a bumpy and bouncy journey worthy of any theme park, we arrive into Ban Luang, to be greeted by a welcoming party from our guest house. Only 7 hours after the anticipated arrival time that I was expecting, and around 3 hours after the arrival time that the guest house were expecting – they’d all gone to bed. Apparently Cambodia buy old buses from Vietname, Thailand and China, which tend to break down.

And then a hair raising trip on a scooter, with backpack attached, to the guest house. I have to admire the balancing skills of the rider, though.


And so, safely into the Lake view Lodge, the governor generals old residence and very nice indeed. It needs a little TLC, but I am sure that Sopaht will manage to make it a very nice place indeed. The food is good, the beer is cold, the restaurant is relaxing, and Sophat is a genial and welcoming host with excellent English.

And my wallet is missing. And my passport. Hello, Houston, we really DO have a problem.

I’m not sure where they are, but essentially, I have lost:

– my passport, including all the trip record so far, my visa for China (and Cambodia)…

– the credit card that I had stored with the passport

– my wallet with the $300 that I had just taken from the ATM in Stung Treng.

– my debit card

– my driver’s licence (not a problem, really – I need to replace it when I get to the UK, and no-one asks for it over here!)

– my visa photographs

– a selection of bank notes that I had been saving up

All in all… a real disaster. However, maintaining my cool, we check the bus station and the place in Stung Treng, without a result. I also visit the police station, to be met with laughter (not malicious, just the response of the Cambodians when they don’t understand what’s being said. However, it takes a little effort to keep my peace. I’ll go back again when I have a translator with me.

Damage control – well, get a spare card sent from the UK courtesy of little brother (hoorah!) and once that arrives, I can get to Phnomh Penh and go to the embassy. Hopefully, this is just a minor glitch on the trip.

Meanwhile.. we meet up with another couple of English girls in the Lodge, and book ourselves on a three day trek into Ratanakiri province. Sounds like fun….


One Response to “Hello, Houston… we have a problem”

  1. Sue Gorringe March 25, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Hi Tim,

    If you need any help or money let me know what I can do. I know I’d be quite frantic if I’d lost my essential purse/passport/money etc. Please if there is anything I can do let me know!

    Lots of love, Sue xxx

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