Wat Phou.

Day 133, Wednesday 16 May 2012, Champasak – Paske

Damnit, I should never have left Don Det ! Crap sleep in Champasak… As always I was up early(ish), I had breakfast and a quick catch up blog post and then took a walk up to the ATM as I was running low on cash. The ‘ATM’ is actually a guy in the bank who gives you cash from your card for a small fee. However, he requires ID – which I did not have in my pocket due to my licence being in the wallet I lost on Don Det. It was a quick trip back to the guest house to get my passport. Seeing as it was already approximately a billion degrees at only 8.30 am, I grabbed a bicycle from the guest house and rode back to the bank. However, my USD debit card was not acceptable as it does not have my name on it (for exactly this reason) so I had to suck up the pain and get cash on my visa.

Once I had enough money to pay my room expenses I settled up with the guest house and took my recently borrowed cycle and pedaled off in what I hoped was the general direction of Wat Phou – at this point there really is only one road, so it was 50/50 ! The ride took about half an hour under scorching sun, frustrating at times as there are no road signs – to what is the only reason that people come to Champasak. The only sign I saw on the ride suggested Wat Phou was on the Mekong, about 100 metres before the road took a sharp right inland. The ride was great and I found a lovely roadside Buddha.

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as well as some awesome shutters 🙂

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and of course, a wat.

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I finally made it to Wat Phou with only having to double check directions once at a un-signposted intersection. Wat Phou is a Khmer religious site and dates back to the 5th century, pre-dating Angkor by a number of centuries. The site is built into the base of a small hill range, which makes it quite different to the sites around Angkor. It was originally constructed as a Khmer Hindu temple, but in the 11 – 13th centuries it was rebuilt as a Theravada Buddhist site of worship and the remains today are mainly from that period.

And now I am going whinge, like the pom I am !

This is the most significant Khmer site in Laos, it pre-dates Angkor – so  it is old, really old, and in terms of SE Asian architecture, quite important. It is a major tourist attraction – why do none of the staff speak even rudimentary English as so many Lao people do? Not meaning to be the arrogant/ignorant English speaker, but come on – even the French speak some English. It was embarrassing for me and the staff as I tried to understand why I needed to pay more for a golf buggy to drive me to the site. I ended up with the buggy – a waste of money.

The two largest sections of ruins are under re-construction, and I mean with cranes and stuff, so not accessible, and hardly photogenic. And yes I agree with the rebuild – if it is to Angkorian standards.

It was noisy, lots of construction noise and as there was an extraordinary number of vendors in the site playing radios, full of awful Lao pop music.

There was not a bit of signage as to what was what – and stupidly I grabbed a French guide – that was my fault.

Whinges over, the bad things….

Ok some of these are good things, just wrapped in bad things, I mean who cannot resist a centuries old stone guard draped in pink !

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Ok, they may be half hidden in modern tat, but they are still cool, this elephant carving and Buddha foot carved into the hillside were just amazing !

There was some good stuff to see, but probably bad timing on my behalf with all the work going on, maybe a sign before we handed over our $$ advising that reconstruction work was being carried out would also be good. I would have visited anyway, but you know – customer service. There were some awesome carvings here, which I really liked.

The good things….

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The carvings – awesome to see some Khmer carvings on site again.

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Vishnu riding Garuda – carving on the sanctuary.

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The Elephant, the light was terrible for this shot

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The crocodile. This was possibly the site of human sacrifice, in the very early days, pre conversion to Buddhism.

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A Buddha figure, where it lay- I loved this.

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Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed Wat Phou, just not as much as I should have, given how much I love ancient sites, especially those of the Khmer – and how long it has been since I have been to one.

I had a quick ride back to town, now I knew the way, but it was stinking hot and I was glad to get back into the shade of the GH and sink a large water and a Beer Lao over a quick lunch. After lunch the GH owner took me to up to the main road so I could get a mini-van the hour or so back to Pakse. Turns out the wait was more middle of the road than roadside.

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And the mini-van was more back of truck – at least it was air conditioned ! The Keen’s are looking a wee bit shabby.

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To be fair I think I was supposed to be in the back of the cab, but being a six foot westerner rather than a five foot Laotian, it wasn’t going to happen. I was dropped at the market bus station and met what was possibly the only honest tuk tuk driver in Pakse, his opening offer was half the price I was advised was fair – I accepted on the spot and got a ride back to the Sabaidy 2 hostel – the warmest in town, and got my old room back.

I asked after Danny when I arrived and was advised she was still up at the hospital, so I hung around relaxing for a while in the warmth – watched another episode of Sherlock – loving it. I caught up with Danny later in the afternoon and she was glad to see an old face again – Mike had been through yesterday and Laura the day before. We shared a curry for dinner and she borrowed my laptop to Skype her parents and give them the news about the crash and the burns. While they are not life threateningly bad, I think she has finally realised she may not be able to fully continue her travels, and that infection is a probability, scarring is a definite and things wont be easy over the next few days that she has to stay in Pakse. Now that Laura, Mike and I have all left town for good, those of us who were there at the time of the accident. The people that come through the GH in the future, though I am sure they will help out, they wont be the same as those of us that were there and had that ‘bond’.

We said our farewells early, I wished her all the best, and regrettably I never got an email address : (

Canoe across the Mekong

Day 132, Tuesday 15 May 2012 – 4000 Islands to Champasak

I was awake early again after another pretty good sleep, awesome ! It will be such a shame to leave, but it is time to move on – so today I head back north to Champasak to visit ancient Wat Phou.

The mini-bus leaves at 11.00, but I still wanted to get to Khone Phapheng falls as I missed visiting them the day I lost my wallet. I sunk a quick coffee from the guesthouse, rented a bike from next door and pedalled off to Don Khon Island.

The falls are only a couple of kilometres away and I was there before 8.00 Am, early enough to beat the bike park security guy (though he got me on the way back and i had to pay the parking fee – few cents) but not early enough to not have to pay the entrance fee to the falls area.

I was the first tourist there and way too early for all the vendors to set up shop !

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There are a large number of vendors who live here and sadly the place is just one big rubbish dump – the falls are stunning, but behind every bush there is garbage, so terribly sad. I realise that this is not the west and an environmentally friendly garbage disposal system is not at hand, nor is any garbage collection. However, this is a stunning area – one of Southern Laos key tourist attractions, the local people earn most of their income from the park – they should respect it.

Anyway – the falls…. they are not tall, but they are huge, water entering from every direction – I would love to see this in the wet – and I am planning on a return to Laos to see the river when it is full. It is an awesome beast.

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After the falls I rode back to the GH for breakfast and then packed up my stuff for Mike to ferry me along with my Dutch and Czech companions from the past two nights over to the mainland to catch our buses to the different places we are going. I had a good time on Don Det !

I was in a full mini-van of people going to Pakse, I was the only one to be dropped off in the village of Don Muang on the edge of the Mekong. Back in the dark ages+ of my early travelling I would be almost terrified to be dropped off alone in a new town, especially the remote edge towns where long distance buses deposit tourists so they can get local transport to the tourist areas – where people don’t speak English. Nowadays, while not exactly ecstatic about the whole thing, I am at least comfortable with it and do relish the challenge of my next goal – in this case getting over the river to the town of Champasak.

I was walking down the towards the river, staring at this massive storm heading towards me, I wondered if anyone was making the crossing giving the pending storm but some guy came up to me and asked if I wanted to go to Champasak – not that I could think of any other reason some falang with a backpack would be heading down to the river ! I said yes and he guided me across the littered beach to his canoe – yep a wee fishing canoe, I was expecting at least a large canoe, but at least he had a motor.

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Once he cleared all the fishing nets away I was bundled in and we headed out across the river with a lovely cross wind building as we left!

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There was a couple of tense moments as we approached Champasak as the wind got quite strong and the waves were splashing over the side on to my pack and day bag. My pack had a waterproof cover on it, but naturally my day bag with everything important in it had nothing – and neither did I. I really thought we might go over, I was very confident I could swim to the shore as the current was not strong, but after the experience of losing my wallet I was terrified I would lose everything ! luckily nothing happened except I arrived on the beach at Champasak soaking wet – to the amusement of many of the locals.

I staggered up the hill to the main street and was picked up by a tuk tuk driver – who just happened to have a guest house, I agreed to check it out and got in – luckily as it hammered down.

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The gueshouse was pretty cool, a few westerners so I agreed to stay, decent price and it had a Mekong side restaurant and bar which was cool.

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I hung out there for a while, waited for the rain to stop, had some lunch, dried off and then went for a walk around down town Champasak. Champasak has some lovely old, fading and dying colonial buildings, as well as the more traditional Laos homes and temples. It is pretty much a one street town.

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I loved the buildings, sadly, like the one above, a number of them are derelict and abandoned.

After the walk I settled down on the deck over the Mekong with a bottle Beer Lao and leached wifi from the hostel over the road – like everyone else was doing.

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A while later Laura, who I met in Pakse and a French girl arrived at the GH, and it was great to have some company. She had just been in Pakse and had gone for a hospital visit with Danny (I now know it is not Dani), which was cool.

Laura gave me this photo she took of the four us in Pakse hospital. I am the one who is twice the age of any combination of two of the others…

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It was another pretty good – if damp day.

+ I refer to the dark ages as a long time ago, not that it was a dark time ! (I am loving these things that I don’t know the name of )