If you have visited Southeast Asia or have been reading about it, you will know that here there is the highest corruption of the world in the borders. Although the winner is Cambodia, its neighbor Laos is usually also in the top positions. Reading several blogs of Spanish travelers who had been in this country, I found that everyone was saying that they paid different prices for the visa. From those who said it was only $20 to those who claimed to had to pay $40. Wanting to know beforehand which was the real price so I would not end up paying more, I contacted the embassy and I do not know if those who said they had paid had less it was many years ago and the price had risen now, but the truth is that, confirmed at the embassy, the price of visa on arrival is $35.
After a wonderful month lost in northern Thailand, we were going to cross into Laos the day before the 30-day free visa expired. We had been the last days relaxing in the city of Nong Khai, which has one of the bridges between the two countries, and about four in the afternoon, when the heat is already more bearable, we went to the border.
On the Thai side it was easy. They just stamped our passport, returned them with a smile and told us we had to take a bus (20 BHT) to cross the bridge because you can not walk it. When we reached the other side, the problems started. The man who was issuing the visas gave us a couple of papers to fill and told us to come back after doing it. Upon returning, and while he was stamping already my passport, he asked us $35 plus an extra dollar per unofficial hour. The truth is that sounded quite like ‘pay an extra dollar if you want that I let you pass’ and we said that we had exactly $70 to pay both visas, which was quite true, because we had more dollars but hidden, lest they saw them and ask for more.
The man insisted on this unofficial schedule rate and we were telling him that we did not understand and that if he could give us a payment receipt of that same dollar, we would pay. The discussion was quiet until another policeman appeared with very bad manners, asking why we were arguing and I told him because we had only $70, which was the exact price that the embassy had told us to pay. He got angry and started saying that I was accusing him of corruption, the law was the law until he ended up asking if we had Euros or Baht because that extra money we had to pay it yes or yes. This last sentence sounded even weirder and between this, how he began to speak to me and the memory of the many discussions I had in India when they were trying to rip us off and how quiet it had been the last month in Thailand, it all annoyed me and I got to his level raising my voice and telling him that despite his position he shouldn’t be talking to me like that. The police asked how we thought we were going to travel the country without cash and we said we had credit cards that we would used this to get money, and he insisted then on how much money we had there and that there was an ATM machine right there, to which I replied that I didn’t think he had to tell us and even less behaving how he was behaving. At this point when he took our passports, threw them to the table and told us to come back to Thailand.
I did not believe him because the police which I had begun discussing kept a smiling face as saying: ‘Be quiet, nothing will happen’ til he took the passports and with the same quiet smile, pressed a CANCELLED stamp on it. He photocopied the passports and returned them telling us to leave.
That’s when we realized that we had messed it all up. Not by the discussion itself but because we had put ourselves completely in the point where we did not want to be: in the hands of border police. It was nearly eight in the evening, there was no longer more people on the border, less than two hours to the closure and we had a ‘Cancelled’ on my visa. We had it all so they could ask what they wanted and we should have had to go with it.
Since the policeman with whom I had discussed didn’t want even to speak with me, I agreed with my girlfriend that I would disappear a little and she and her angelic looks should try to save the situation. After talking with them quite a lot they told her to wait until there were even fewer people, and after a while the police came. He said that he was asking how much money we had on the credit cards because we should prove to have a minimum of $5,000 for the 30-day visa. We thought and we keep on thinking it’s exaggerated, since it’s $75 a day per person, a very large sum for a country in Southeast Asia.
And the truth is that in any other occasion we could not have proved it, as to avoid greater problems in case they our cards usually we carry a maximum of €500 on each of our cards, and when the money goes down, we transfer more from another account. But that morning I had seen there was a lot of money more on my credit card and no, unfortunately it was not a sponsor or a ultra-generous donation from one of our readers, but a mistake of my father making transfers between accounts. There was an ATM machine right there and we only had to print the card statement, but… It did not work. We tried the other cards also and nothing. So the policeman, quite happy with a smile from ear to ear, told us to go to Thailand where there were more ATM’s, and that if we could not get this, we should not bother to return.
Seeing everything so dark, it all ended by asking a taxi driver if he could share his Internet data. This way easily I accessed my account and proved them that we had the money they asked. We paid $72, we got the receipts of the visas and the two extra dollars, waited 5 minutes and we had the desired visa to explore Laos.
In the end, what made me think is that while it’s true that his manners were not anywhere near the best, he did not ask for more money when we were on a tightrope, totally alone at night in the border with the cancelled on my passport, and merely ask what the law says: $35 per visa and $1 when you pass between 6 and 8 am or between 4 and 10 pm. And to finish, I remain with the lesson to always keep calm. It looks easy but it is not always, and he or they would not have lost absolutely nothing, whereas to us they would have destroyed not only the trip in Laos but also Vietnam, where we will go when we’re done with Laos.
Anyway, all this is passed now, so with this lesson learned, we begin to discover this new country!