04.03.2016 - 05.03.2016 36 °C
Day 18 - 04 March 2016
We headed to the bus station before breakfast to get our tickets to Pakse as we couldn't go all the way to Champasak. Our plan was to buy the onward tickets at Pakse bus station.
We returned to the bus station about an hour later and found our bus that was due to leave at 9am. Like the previous bus that we took to Savannakhet, this was jam packed full of yogurts, tissue paper, and boxes of who knows what, that were being delivered to the various towns and villages throughout the province and beyond. They had boxes and containers under every seat, at the back of the bus and even under your feet on front of you.
We headed off on the 4 and half hour journey to Pakse and the usual food sellers got on the bus at the station. We made numerous small stops along the way picking up locals and both collecting and delivering goods and boxes to whoever had ordered them. The bus got fuller and fuller with passengers until the entire aisle was jam packed with passengers who were all standing or sitting on arm rests of other passengers. The bus got warmer and warmer and fuller and fuller until at one point, we were stopped for a few minutes and people started to grumble and complain in their own language about the heat, babies started to cry and there was literally not a puff of air left on the bus. Even though we were next to a window, the air was really warm coming in and the aircon was barely working on the bus.
There was nothing that anyone could do except sit/stand there and put up with it.
Just after 3pm, all foreigners on the bus were ushered off the bus to a waiting tuk tuk which was to bring us to Pakse city. We wanted to get to the bus station so we were reluctant to get into the tuk tuk. The driver agreed to drop us at the bus station so we were ok with that. After dropping the other passengers off at their respective hotels, he came back and told us that the next bus was not leaving until 2am which was not what we wanted to hear. Our only option was to hire a mini van which would cost nearly 50 euro or a songthaeiw which would also be an expensive option. We settled on a price with the tuk tuk driver who agreed to drive us the 40km out to Champasak. This journey took almost an hour as these tuk tuks are much slower than a car or van and more suitable for city driving.
It was duskish as we pulled up at the inthira hotel in this tiny village and we checked in.
Our room was across the road in a separate building next to the water which had a log cabin feel about it with wooden stairs, wooden doors and wooden floors.
After a quick change, we went for some dinner at the hotel which tasted really good after all of the travelling we did that day. Planning to do a long cycle the next day, we called it a night.
Day 19 - 05 March 2016
Wat Phou and trip to 4000 islands
Saturday morning, we woke at 645 to have our breakfast and get on our bikes to Wat Phou which is an old temple built on top of a hill overlooking the Champasak countryside. Wat Phou is an Unesco world heritage site which dates back to the 11th century, slightly older than Angkor Wat, the single biggest manmade religious monument in the world.
After a very american breakfast of pancakes and bacon, we rented bikes from the hotel and cycled along the one road for about 10km. Along the way, the chain on my bike packed in and we had to stop at a "garage" for some oil. The guy was very obliging and soon enough, we were on our way again. After a very pleasant hour of cycling, except for the little chain incident, we arrived at Wat Phou. We left our bikes in the bike shelter, and visited the museum first. This showed a map of all of the various temples dotted around the province and had various displays of conservation efforts of the team who have been maintaining and reworking some of the brickwork on Wat Phou and the other related monuments. There were also examples of the engravings of elephants and lions in the stonework and what these meant.
As it was heating up outside, we proceeded onto the hill and the temple. We found two derelict churches at the base of the mountain, where some of the brickwork was being reworked. Each brick had a number and were laid out in order on the ground, waiting to be put back in place.
We climbed up wide steps and narrow steps, tall ones and small ones eventually arriving at the top of the hill to where Wat Phou was. Most of the roof was gone and some of the internal walls had broken down. The view down over the entire complex including the churches, the lakes and the visitor centre was quite impressive.
There was also a small cave at the top that didn't seem to have an entrance and there was fresh water running the mountain which was a welcome relief from the hot sun.
There were a couple of rock formations that apparently looked like snakes, crocodiles and elephants, but the latter was the only one that we saw. We climbed back down the steps, returned to our bikes and headed back the same way that we had come.
Arriving back to the Inthira hotel, weary, thirsty and tired, we ordered some cool drinks and lunch. About an hour later, we decided to leave for Don Khon which is one of 4000 islands in Southern Laos and very popular with tourists. We left the hotel just after 2pm in a tuk tuk which then took us to the ferry which we thought was taking us to Don Khon. However, there were no other backpackers around and no signs with details of what we should do. With as much english as the tuk tuk driver had, he told us to get on one of the boats across the water and then pick up a bus to Don Khon on the other side. If only it were that simple. We got on a handmade barge which consisted of two canoe boats joined together by a plank of wood where we sat. For about €2.50, this elderly man brought us across on his boat. On the beach at the other side, we asked some locals if they knew where we would be able to catch the bus to Don khon and they told us that we had to get to these cross roads a few miles away to catch the bus coming from Pakse. They offered to drive us to this pick up point which we accepted. We got to these cross roads and we stood there waiting for a bus to bring us to the island. It wasn't until we met an american who was trying to do the reverse of what we were planning to do, that we found out that we were still on the mainland and about 80 km to the ferry for Don Khon! At this stage, we were getting a little anxious and concerned as it was well after 3pm in the afternoon and we had no sure way of getting to our final destination. Also, we had accommodation booked and paid for, for two nights and we really wanted to get there.
I asked almost everyone in shops, cafes and stalls at this crossroads, if there was a way of getting someone to drive us to Nakasang which we learnt was where the ferries left from. We flagged down buses, vans and were just about to flag down trucks when a Songthaeiw stopped that was heading to the port. We had to climb over boxes, people and suitcases to get onto the back of this goods delivery truck converted to take passengers.
After two long hours on this van, we eventually got to Nakasang exhausted and worn out trying to get to the damn islands.
Thankfully, we got talking to a local on the van who told us that he was going to Don Dhet, the main touristy island and to follow him. At the port, we were told that no more boats were going to Don Khon for the rest of the night but we remembered from our research that there was a bridge connecting the two islands together. Happy days!
We hopped on the canoe passenger boat and just as night was drawing in, we arrived at Don Dhet. We tried to get the number of our hotel so that the local guy, whose family had a guesthouse on Don Dhet, could ring them and see if they would collect us. Eventually, he got a friend of his to drive us over on his motorbike which had a side car that could carry passengers.
5 hours and six modes of transport later, we finally got to our hotel shattered but thrilled to have made it. Our final stop on our 13 day adventure around Laos and we get to spend it chilling on an island.