S: Our initial plans were to spend only a few days in Pakse before heading further south to Si Phan Don. Si Phan Don is known to be a popular backpacker stop off, before traveling overland to Cambodia. The land border crossing between Laos and Cambodia has earned itself a reputation for being somewhat corrupt. Officials are known to demand artificially inflated rates for visas. To avoid this confrontation we were advised to obtain our visas beforehand.
Two bewildering tuk-tuk trips to the Cambodian embassy in Vientiane turned out to be fruitless. On our first trip the tuk-tuk driver spoke no English and had no idea of where the embassy was located. A determined or maybe crazy character that he was, he just kept on driving us around the town, in some maddening hope of finding it. Getting nowhere we tried a second tuk-tuk. With a wave of the arms, exasperated groans and a considerable amount of pointing from us, the tuk-tuk driver somehow managed to find the embassy. The trouble now was that we had arrived on a public holiday and the embassy was closed.
Three days later with passports in hand we arrived at the embassy. If only to complicate matters, as we have plans to spend more than 30 days in Cambodia we have been advised to apply for a business visa. This type of visa will allow us to extend our visa whilst still in Cambodia. Avoiding a visa run – exiting and re-entering the country.
With umms and ahhs and discussions with her colleagues the embassy representative was unsure about which visa to issue us. To our amazement there isn’t just one type of business visa, there are many. As potty as it may sound, we don’t think this lady had a clue about visas. With a corrupt border crossing and a clueless embassy representative we were worried. Fortunately we had a plan B – fly. Surely the officials at the airport will have a handle on things? Si Phan Don had to be ditched as our flight into Cambodia takes off from Pakse.
With little info on Pakse and nine nights ahead of us we thought we had better book into a place with some comfort. With a little gem up our sleeves we boarded our second overnight bus journey in Laos.
This bus took overnight bus journeys to a whole new level. With flat sprung mattresses in place of seats, this was as close to 180 degree as we were ever going to get.
Scam alert! Bleary eyed we had reached Pakse. Off we hopped from the bus and straight into a tuk-tuk that a local driver had convinced us we needed. With another couple in the tuk-tuk beside us, we asked if we could be dropped off at our pre booked hotel. The couple on the other hand didn’t know where they were going. With no accommodation booked and a marking in their guidebook for a town two hours away they were being dropped off at another bus station. We however were going around in circles. After five minutes of driving it appeared we had arrived at our hotel. Nope, the driver had decided to drop us off at one of his mates guesthouses, stating he didn’t know where our hotel was. 40,000 kip down (which luckily, is only about £3.20), we were lost. Fortunately a local cafe owner took pity on us and pointed us in the right direction.
Pound for pound this is probably one of the best hotels in which we have stayed on our trip so far. Our boutique hotel was housed in an old colonial building with French architecture and overlooking the Mekong River. The individually furnished rooms came with petite balconies to sit and share a drink and… As we looked around the corner we couldn’t believe what we saw – the very same bus station we had arrived at that morning. Oh, how foolish and frustrated we felt.
The next afternoon we ventured downtown to see how we would fill our remaining eight days. Unfortunately Pakse has been pitched as a place in which to base yourself for day trips to surrounding areas. A coffee plantation, waterfall and temples being the popular trips. Fortunately for us we have already had the pleasure in visiting these top attractions, in countries we have visited before.
Desperate for some exercise we visited a nearby gym recommended by our Lonely Planet guide. Housed in one of Pakses oldest hotels – Champasak Palace Hotel – the equipment may well have come from a museum. There were treadmills there that looked as if they had milled a million treads and weight machines tied together with pieces of string. Deflated we tried the hotel next door which advertised the only swimming pool in Pakse. We were outdone again ad unfortunately it turned out to be more of a plunge pool than somewhere to rack up the lengths.
That night we stumbled across a restaurant which boasted panoramic views from its roof top location. While it wasn’t quite like looking over Kuala Lumpur, the fresh breeze was a welcome relief. The food was rather average, though, my chicken was cold and chewy, but that was of no interest to the eccentric waiter. He was only concerned about receiving a tip for his service.
20 km south of Pakse lies Champasak and the religious complex of Wat Phu. It is of Khmer architecture and Hindu religion, situated at the foot of a hill. This temple is said to have links with Angkor Wat in Cambodia and so we thought it would be a great introduction.
Here are some photos of our visit…
The runway for the world’s first stone aeroplane.
Frodo couldn’t wait to be back in The Shire.
Wat Phu’s beautiful sanctuary.
Waiting for a bus in Laos has always required great patience.
Even monks feel more chilled out here.
Today we fly to Cambodia and the city of Siem Reap, the gateway to the largest religious complex in the world – Angkor Wat.