Champasak and Pakse
13th August 2012 11:23
Champasak is further north from Si Phan Don, and Pakse further still. I'm combining them as Champasak is basically one short dirt road with some restaurants and guesthouses. Not much in the way of things to do, but then I went there as it was closer to one of the main Laos sights, Wat Phu.
Wat Phu is another Khmer temple complex, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. After visiting Siem Reap already and towards the end of the three day pass, almost becoming "templed out" as is commonly experienced by others, I initially wasn't sure if I would visit this place. However, it was on my way up north through the country anyway and I also didn't want to miss anything if I could help it.
I arrived at the site, and immediately knew I'd made the right decision. The location was quite unlike any other temple I'd been to in Siem Reap, in a beautiful location at the base of a mountain. Even if the temple weren't there, it would still have been a worthwhile place to visit. As it was, the temple was pretty much "same same, but different" - a common phrase heard in Southeast Asia! The area was the standout feature in this case.
I'm starting to experience a lot more rain lately, I guess that's the inevitable consequence of being here in rainy season! Almost feels like I'm back in London! I always knew that would be the case, it was pretty much impossible for me to be in each place at the perfect time of year. It's only a little bit of water though, right?
Pakse is a much bigger place than Champasak (not hard - it has more than one street). Waterfalls are the order of the day there. The problem is, they are relatively far out of town, the closest one being around 40km away. Every option I explored for getting there worked out ridiculously expensive. This included going on an organised tour to the area - because I would have been the only person doing it. Hiring a tuk tuk for the day also would have been very dear.
I was only really left with one option... getting back on my old friend, the motorbike and making my own way there. This was the very last resort, remember I had sold my bike in Cambodia due to not wanting to ride in Asia anymore, so I wasn't too keen on hiring one now, but on my budget I was left with little option.
I was soon back in the swing of things, even if I was paranoid that every other bike on the road was hell bent on ramming into me. Things went well, up until the turn off the main road to reach the waterfall. I was faced with this:
If you're a regular reader, you'll know mud is what broke my bike and nearly stranded me on a mountain in Vietnam. I was determined to beat it this time. Remembering some advice I'd been given from another rider on my travels, I attempted to ride through it with a bit of speed and therefore stay balanced on the bike despite any wobbles it may throw. Big mistake. I hit the very first bit of mud, felt the back of the bike slide sideways, somehow managed to stay on and upright as the bike rode off out of control, coming to a halt on the other side of the road from where I'd started, completely covered in mud from the waist down. Directly in front of me by the side of the road was a small, local restaurant (wooden shack). The owner was stood there smiling in amusement, and I had little option but to join him and laugh at my unfortunate situation! He kindly provided a hose which I used to wash myself and the bike down with, so now it at least looked like I'd only wet myself. I parked the bike up by the side of the road, and walked the further 2km to the waterfall. Fortunately, the view was worth it.
A short way up the main road was another, equally impressive waterfall. This one was interesting as you started at the top, with the option of walking down to the bottom if you wanted to. I didn't fancy that bit, as the walkway took you directly into the mountain of spray that was thrown up by the crashing water, and I figured I'd got wet enough for one day.
Usually at this point I would end with a comment about where I was heading to next. On this occasion, however - the journey itself warrants a mention. The local bus I'd boarded to Savannakhet was completely overloaded with vegetables, the kind of overloaded they manage so well here in Asia. The whole back half of the bus was packed from floor to ceiling, and they were also piled high on the roof.
We were casually pulling out of one of the bus stations we'd stopped at, when we heard a horribly loud scraping of metal. I initially guessed the back of the bus was grinding against a car or bike to the side of us, but further investigation uncovered the root of the problem.
The driver was forced to continue driving out of the pothole, the sound of metal grinding against the ground was not a pleasant one, and I was sure the engine would be damaged. Luckily it was ok, and apart from being very bent up, we made it all the way to Savvanakhet with no breakdowns!
Oh, we also stopped to pick up a herd of pigs. I kid you not. On one of the routine "oh-why-the-hell-are-we-stopping-again" stops, a truck reversed up to the side of the bus, the luggage compartment underneath us was opened, and the pigs were unceremoniously hoisted by their back legs out of the truck, squealing in terror, into the hold. To their credit, once they were in there I almost forgot they were under my feet until I heard the occasional grunt or squeal.