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16-Bit by Bit Corruption Kissed Goodbye on the Last Lips of Laos

“Two dollars.”


“Over time.” The Laotian Customs officer pointed through his Dairy Queen-style walk-up window at the visa in my passport.

“I’ve only been here 10 days. It’s good for a month. I’m not over the time limit.”

“Over time. Today is Sunday.” That’s about when I realized he wasn’t telling me that I’d overstayed my visa. It was that he didn’t like having to work on Sundays and so I had to compensate him for overtime. And he wouldn’t accept it in his own currency, the Laotian Kip. Maybe just because it’s called the kip.

On principle I argued for about 30 seconds. Stood my ground. Actually, kneeled my ground because the Immigration office is a double-wide trailer whose windows only open at groin level. I’m not sure what goes on here but a two-dollar bribe doesn’t seem too extreme when you consider the possibilities.

Still, their power play wasn’t going to work on me. If he wanted even a miniscule $2 extortion, he was going to have to pursue me with the commitment of the newspaper boy in Better Off Dead. But as it turns out, the busload of fellow travelers behind you waiting to cross from Laos’ southernmost border into Cambodia aren’t impressed by pathetic rule-of-law protests that hold up their trip to Angkor. So I coughed it up.

The Cambodians weren’t a whole lot better. One dollar for a quarantine slip, two dollars for visa processing 10 paces later, and one dollar for some other absurdity (I think it might have been for the staple in my paperwork) a few steps after that. I felt like I was on the New Jersey Turnpike.

But truth be told we all enjoy these borders. It provides an amusing anecdote and makes you feel like you’re at least a little off the beaten path on a heavily paved, not-so-lonely planet. It’s good to know that there are still outposts of any kind in the world where figures of authority could get away with murder, but settle for two dollars. That’s my kind of outlaw.

No man's land between Laos and Cambodia.
Transferring buses in southern Laos, bribe free.


  1. Michael

    Hahaha – yeah I loved the corruption at that boarder too – especially when the Cambodian “health officials” point that pistol grip laser thermometer point blank at your head, the reading according to the red LED digital numbers is clearly 39 degrees celcius (102.2F!!!), then they wave you through and demand a dollar for the priviledge…… 🙂

  2. Joshua Peck

    Sell-out. You’re the reason we all have to pay bribes… Sigh, we paid it too.

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