Cambodia: Moc Bai/ Bavet

– Can cross border without passport for the price of $20, the same price as a visa-on-arrival (if you need one). While everyone gets off the bus and walks through immigrations, you’ll get ferried away on the back of a scooter.

– A visa-on-arrival is $20, but you pay $5 extra so your passport can be swiftly stamped.

– All money changers on both sides are Vietnamese.


Laos: Lao Bao/ Dansavanh

– The fine for overstaying your visa is 120,000kip ($15)/month. All legality issue can be efficiently handled by the money changer crew.

– Buses have deals with a certain Mr. Cuong to “make the law” (làm luật) that is bribing officials to not notice overcapacity and contraband. In exchange, they have to carry timber for Mr. Cuong. The timber is unloaded 2 minutes past the border gate, on the main street in broad daylight. Who is responsible for this outrage? The Laotians that cut down their forest, the corrupt officials, the traders/dealers, or people like my parents who demand beautiful hard wood for their doors and furniture?

– All money changers on both sides are Vietnamese.


timber trafficking across Vietnam Lao border


On a side note, regarding the intense anti-China sentiment stirred up by the recent maritime dispute: Lots of tension and aggression directed at the influx of illegal Chinese migrant workers as they represent a loss of employment opportunities for local Vietnamese, as well as a threat to national security. Are these well-founded concerns or simply scapegoating, it’s hard to tell in the heat of the moment. Regardless, if we’re so concerned about our economic and political sovereignty, we should also take a hard look at ourselves on what’s going in Laos. The majority of Vietnamese migrants there are manual labor working illegally on tourist visas. As a Vietnamese, I have a lot of sympathy for them: people from poverty-stricken villages in the central coast with little education and skills, having to leave families behind to go work in a unstimulating foreign environment. But looking from a Laotian’s perspective, it could be radically different. They work for Vietnamese contractors, stay at Vietnamese hostels, eat at Vietnamese restaurants, shop at Vietnamese stores, and socialize only with other Vietnamese. And even worse, many come explicitly for trafficking, robbing Laos of its natural and historical heritage. So many before we open our mouth to deride at Chinese workers, we should take a moment to think that they’re real human beings with families who are just trying to make a living. And then, if they commit any wrongdoings worthy of our condemnation, we can do so with some sympathy.