Sunday 12 February 2017

Smuggling my bike into Cambodia down the Mekong River.

Whilst in Vang Vieng I was faced with a conundrum which had been going through my mind for the past three months - where do I go with my bike from Laos? The two obvious choices were either Thailand or Cambodia. But then, that total pain in the arse of border controls comes into play which turns what should be a straightforward decision into a minefield of custom regulations, import permits and fluctuating rules into a logistical nightmare. 
For Thailand, I would have had to have the ownership of my bike in my name. It's not, my name isn't Sung Seo Pao. To change it legally, I would have needed to live in Vietnam and show residence permits etc. I considered for a time to forge my ownership card - it wouldn't be the first time I had done something like that, and it seemed relatively straight forward. But as things go, the Thai authorities had recently changed the rules of bringing your own vehicle into the country, mainly due to the amount of Chinese tourists causing accidents. This means that even if a European or the like had ridden from their home and had all the correct papers, they still may be refused entry in Thailand, or at the least, be made to hire a guide at a huge expense to escort them through the country. My feeling is, is that this regulation will change in the near future as Thailand will lose a lot of money from motorcycle tourists who just want to visit their country. But as it stands now, this is the case. I did go past some very remote borders (the ones you usually have the most luck with) on my way down south through Laos, but I ultimately decided against it.
This left Cambodia. Now, Cambodia only shares one border with Laos, and the customs officials there have taken full advantage of this fact, and for motorcycle tourists, this border has become somewhat infamous. Their are numerous threads documenting the corrupt activities there on the
Horizons Unlimited Hubb, and on more localised Southeast Asian travel sites. The basic deal seems to be; you rock up at the border, they stamp you out of Laos and into Cambodia, then turn around and say it's impossible for you to take your bike through. Then a 'friendly local' will magically appear and offer to buy your bike for around $30 in a take it or leave it situation. Some people have managed to get through by paying exuberant amounts of money, or an occasional lucky few have managed to get through after waiting for many hours. But the definite result of all this, is that the Cambodian officials are making a killing out of taking tourists bikes off them and selling them on, and the unanimous advice is to stay clear of the Laos-Cambodia border if you wish to take your own vehicle through.
This left me two options; backtrack (something I really don't like doing) and ride to Vietnam (this would take some days, and my visa had already expired by this point and I was acquiring fines daily due to this) then ride south on a road I'd already ridden and then enter Cambodia. All Vietnam - Cambodia borders are fine. This would have taken maybe a week. The second option being - find another way for my bike to get into Cambodia!
I found just one comment on a Southeast Asian travel thread about a guy named 'Mo' who lives on Don Det island in the 4000 Islands region who will take your bike down the Mekong River and leave it in a relatives house for you to pick up in the nearest town after the border, Sung Treng. The directions to find this guy were 'once you get onto Don Det, walk up the main street until you come to a fork in the road, turn left and you'll see a nice restaurant in about ten meters. That's where you'll find Mo'. 
I must say, that in the five day dash from Vang Vieng to 4000 Island with this being my sole plan on getting into Cambodia, it really did put a smile on my face. It seemed ridiculous.
Yet, here I am, in Cambodia, and with my bike. It has been quite a stressful few days as Mo is absolutely terrible at letting you know what was going on. Thankfully, another guy who randomly appeared as I was making the deal with Mo turned up, and we decided to ship the bikes together in order to save costs. He stayed behind on Don Det whilst I left for Sung Treng, and if it wasn't for him giving me feedback about delays due to police etc, this whole thing would have been a mountain of anxiety. But hey, at the end of the day it's worked. And I did enjoy crossing the border with middle fingers beaming out of my being to the customs officials. Corrupt officials really do rile me. I have little respect for them. I'll worry about not having an import permit later. Again, this won't be the first time, and it always turns out okay in the end.

My Bike in Cambodia!

My first impression of Cambodia have been really... nice. 'Nice' is the best way I can describe it. The moto taxi man who took me to my guesthouse insisted on holding my hand until we could see the guesthouse as we couldn't ride further due to road works. And today, as I was getting my chain tightened and lubricated, a local said he would pay for me, seeing as I've come such a long way on the bike. 
I'm really looking forward to riding to Siem Reap, the place which holds the world famous Ankor Wat temples. And after this ordeal, I'm looking forward to finding a hostel letting loose for a while once I get there. I really got back to basics travelling through Laos, and I don't think I got inebriated off alcohol once, and now I've got a bit of a calling to do so after these stressful days. It's a two day ride to get there. I feel there's going to be some fun ahead!

A full moon on my first night in Cambodia.


  1. I have heard of many people bringing Honda Wins from Vietnam into Cambodia without ptoblems most god vie Hatiean. the problems in the Laos Cambodia is news to me.

  2. Yeah, it's a shame. It seems to have been going on for the past year or so. Laos into Cambodia is fine though, as are all the other borders.

  3. These days, new dirt bikes are anything but cheap. Heck, motocross bikes cost much more than many streetbikes.

  4. cykeludlejning What is an outstanding post! “I’ll be back” (to read more of your content). Thanks for the nudge!

  5. Does anyone know the current status of this border? We are in Don Det with two Vietnamese Wins. Wondering if it’s worth trying our luck at the border or if we should go find Mo.

    Great post, thanks!

  6. I have a Honda Wave copy. What's stopping you riding across the bridge by pulling on the throttle.

  7. VEUNKHAM LAOS has two borders. I heard the one without the huge bridge is easy to smuggle your bike across the river for $10.

    The river crossing border has been closed to foreigners. Still you could try trusting a complete stranger with your bike and meet up with them later to collect your bike.

  9. Today i tried to enter Laos with my Honda Win from Cambodia and it din't worked. I parked my bike before i got my stamps from Cambodia and i went straight to the Laos bording and ask if it was possible to enter but they refuse it. So now i'm in Kong Strung Treng. Anyone knows how to smuggle my bike into Laos? Who do i need to contact to smuggle him on a boat into Laos?