Sunday, May 5, 2013

Chilling in Champassak, Laos

I left Don Khone in the morning. I had arranged a bus north to Champassak. I had met several tourists that talked of the quiet charms and I decided I would venture to the village. I realized quickly, I was the only passenger going to Champassak. Wow! It is off the beaten path! The bus ride was interesting...they always are! I noticed the bus driver kept pulling into gas stations but was not able to purchase anything. Finally, he stopped at a roadside stand where he got a large plastic container, a hose and a fence post. What was happening?
I sat on the bus watching to see what was going to happen next. The men walked under my window. The positioned the fence pole next to the bus and placed the plastic container with gasoline on top of the pole. Then, while smoking a cigarette, one placed the hose in the container while his buddy sucked on the other end of the hose. They were filling the bus with gasoline. I looked at the guy next to me. He was as white as a sheet and started gathering his stuff to get off the bus. He kept saying "boom!" I had to get a photo. Really?!?! Yeah, I probably would go up in flames!
Luckily, there were no problems and we were headed north again. The remainder of the journey was uneventful. I was left at a corner in the village of Ban Muang and the man pointed to a woman selling water. I told her I wanted to go to Champassak and she asked for 25,000 kip. Then she pointed to the boat landing at the end of the road. A boat had just left the dock and she yelled for him to come back. He did! He pulled up and I got into the boat with 2 guys from Poland. They had just arrived in Laos and were not use to traveling. I gave them tips as we crossed the Mekong River towards Champassak. I listened to their concerns and explained that in Asia, some things don't make sense to westerners. They never will and you are better off accepting it and going with the flow than complaining about it. One of the guys laughed and told his buddy to breathe and enjoy the experience. When we arrived at the boat landing, we walked up the hill and met a tuk-tuk driver. He offered to give me a ride to my hotel. The Polish guys asked if I wanted to share a tuk-tuk to Wat Phu. Sure, just let me leave my bag in my hotel. We negotiated our price and the driver told the guys they could leave their bags at his guesthouse.
After a short stop, we were off to explore Wat Phu. This is an ancient Khmer religious complex that dates back to pre-Angkor Wat (5th century). It was small compared to the Angkor ruins in Cambodia but the similarities in the architecture were striking to me. The site had similar carvings as I had seen in Angkor; dancing women, warriors and carved doorways. The three of us explored the sight.

Afterwards, we headed back to Champassak. My Polish travel mates decided they were going to hitchhike to Pakse. I laughed and told them good luck. I offered them my floor if they were not able to find a ride. They laughed and said they may be back. They must have used their charms to get a ride. I did not see them again. I spent some time walking the small village before dinner. The village is small but 30 years ago was a seat of royalty. That grandeur has long since departed. The village has a main road with colonial-era homes mixed with Lao wooden homes. This town reminded me of a rundown version of Luang Prabang but with the potential to be charming. I liked the quiet streets and locals that were excited to see the few tourists in the village. I ran into the French couple I had met in Don Khone at my hotel. They had liked the village and returned to spend 2 more days exploring. They gave me several tips and insisted that I need to rent a bike and explore the area and also take a boat to Don Daeng Island to explore. Since we had similar travel styles, I took their advice and decided I would stay a couple of days. As I walked back to my room, I laughed as a herd of cows were passing down the narrow main road. There were no street lights or lanterns. It was dark and quiet. The only sound I heard were the cowbells as the cattle wandered through town. I smiled and knew was going to enjoy this village. 

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