After a short trip up from Dom Khon to Champasak we have an easy afternoon changing some money and cruising around town. Two hundred US dollars buys us one million six hundred thousand kip, the Lao currency. It's causing a big lump in my pocket that's for sure. Tara decides to spend some on a massage at a little place run by a French woman. It costs her ninety thousand kip - roughly ten dollars - for an hour, very cheap in any ones language.
We eat dinner in a quirky little restaurant called Frice and Lujane that specialises in Italian fare. I expect there to be a western owner but it is run by locals. It's set in a nice old French building, of which there are many in Champasak. There's not much else though. This just adds to the charm of the place.
Next morning we head off early on a moto to check out Wat Phu, a Khmer temple from the Angkorian era. It shares many features with the temples in Siem Reap but unlike those Cambodian ruins this one is less well preserved. Despite this it has an amazing setting and a charm of it's own. There's lots of frangipani trees - the Lao national tree - disturbing the sandstone blocks and some are beginning to flower this time of year. This gives the stairways a wierd, twisted look and provides some nice shade.
The temple starts on the plain and reaches up the end of a mountain range, with terracing and very steep stairs. Like Angkor it's symbolic of the ascent to heavenly places. At the top there is a spring which originally fed into the main temple, over a linga and down to pools below, in which devotees could bathe.
There's a great view from the top and I can see the whole Bolaven Plateau, where we plan to spend the next leg of the trip. Wandering around I almost step on a large snake. Haven't been able to identify it yet but it looked kinda like a brown snake. There are lots of reptiles here - we've seen a couple of huge geckos and the little ones are omnipresent. I also spot a lot of skink-like lizards at Wat Phu. Coincidentally, there is a strange rock carving of a snake and a crocodile up here too. I guess the Mekong had crocs once upon a time.
After the morning at Wat Phu we head back to town to make our way to Pakse. After getting across the Mekong on the ferry we need to find transportation thirty k's up the road. We find solace - after a hot fifteen minute walk up the road towards the highway - in a tuk tuk. After some delicate haggling over price he agrees to take us to Pakse! Unfortunately, eight k's out of town we get a flat and have to renegotiate. Another tuk tuk picks us up and the two drivers argue over what slice of the fare each will get. Thankfully we arrive in Pakse with both drivers happy and us dropped at our preferred guesthouse.
Pakse is a large town and looks quite nice, there are mountains off in the distance and after sleepy Si Phan Don and Champasak it's nice to be in the big city. However, we focus on sorting ourselves to take a four night trip out through the Bolaven Plateau on a moto. We'll leave most of our stuff in town and just carry the essentials.