Friday, November 7, 2008

Champasak & Wat Phu


Destination: Champasak

Number of Days there: 2

Times we took the: Bus: 1, Tuk-Tuk: 1; Ferry: 2; Bicycle: 1

Estimated KM walked: 3km; biked: 16 km

Where we stayed: Anouxa Guesthouse (40,000 kip/$5 US) - Simple and basic with Lao sized hammocks (Tracy got a good laugh when Jason barely fit and needed a little help getting in!)

Favorite Restaurant: The Lao version of BBQ at Dok Champa 2. They bring a pot of hot coals to a hole in your table and give you sliced meat and a TON of veggies to cook in a broth around the bottom to make soup. Interesting and cheap - 30,000 kip (less than $4 US) for one that could feed about 4 people!

Best of: Quiet and peaceful serenity after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, The Angkor style ruins of Wat Phu

Special Moment: Getting caught in "rush hour" when the children were let out from school and poured onto the streets biking home for lunch

Worst of: getting "ripped off" by a pair of sly tuk-tuks (but only for about $3 so not that bad)

After taking the night train to Ubon, Thailand we took a taxi to the bus station, boarded a bus and crossed over the border into Laos at Chong Mek. After arriving at the border and getting your exit stamp on the Thai side, you walk down a rather long dirt road to the Laos side. There the border patrol equivalent of "Thing" from the Addam's Family waves you over and points using only one hand through a small slot pushing a piece of paper in your direction. We fill in the form and turn it in along with our passports and $30 each for our visa. Miracuously after about 10 minutes "Thing" came back and waves our passports through the slot and utters "40 baht"... We stare at each other uncomprehendingly until we realize that "Thing" wants a bribe in return for our passports and visas. We shrug our shoulders with the realization that it's the equivalent of a buck and fork over the cash. Passports & visas in hand we jump back onto the bus for the remainder of our trip to Pakse. As usual we were greeted at the bus terminal by tuk tuks offering their services for transport into town. After negotiating with one and getting nowhere we walk away only to be approached by a second who said he could take us for less than the last but still higher than we thought was fair. Thinking that this was the best we were going to get we agreed and settled in for the journey through town and to the southern bus terminal where we planned to catch a bus to Champasak. We realized a week later while lunching in Pakse that these two tuk tuks work together...very sly indeed! Here's how it goes: the female driver approaches the traveler and they discuss a price that is ridiculously high for Laos (about 3X the going rate but for Europeans and Americans it's still very low, the equivalent of a few dollars) and when she eventually refuses to discount it her male counterpart swoops in and seals the deal with a lower price that is still quite high. Most people assume that if one driver will let a customer walk away they have low balled the price so when they talk to the next driver they are willing to accept something higher. We saw these two working together in Pakse and realized what they were up to. Oh well, live and learn as they say. At least it was only a few dollars! Anyways, we arrived at the southern bus terminal only to find out that there was no bus so we got together with three other travelers and hired a tuk tuk to take us directly to Champasak for 150,000 kip for the whole vehicle. The trip was quick and uneventful. Our long journey was completed with a car ferry constructed with boards across the river. From the boat landing, it's a long and hot kilometer into town. Anouxa Guesthouse happened to be the first one we came across which might have influenced our decision to stay there.

The next morning we hired bicycles started our 8 km ride through the countryside to Wat Phu which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the largest Khmer site in Laos (though it can't compare with the size of Angkor Wat in Cambodia). After Bangkok the solitude of Laos felt great and we saw more cows, geese & water buffaloes than cars or motorbikes on the road! We arrived at Wat Phu after about 2 hours on the bike and thankfully before the daytrippers from Pakse. We had the site nearly to ourselves for the early part of our tour so we took our time looking around at the temple and surrounding rock carvings. On our way back we hit rush hour...close to 100 kids going screaming "Sabadee" (hello in Laos) at us while on their way home for lunch on their bikes! What a start to Laos...we knew then that it was going to be a very special country to travel in and it lived up to that early expectation for the duration of our stay there!

To see more photos of Champasak and Wat Phu please click here!

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