As a travel destination, Pakse doesn’t have a lot going for it in and of itself. The real reason travellers head to Paske is to get to somewhere more interesting, and that was our plan too. Having had such a good time motorbiking around Koh Pha Ngan with the kids, we thought a longer trip could be on the cards. However, 45 minutes was about the longest they’d spent on a bike at one time, so we thought we should test the waters with some longer rides first. A day trip to visit Vat Phou near Champasak seemed just the ticket.
We got some Nutella baguettes to-go and then dropped in at Miss Noy’s motorbike rental, a few doors down from our guest house. We can highly recommend it as a place to get bikes and bus tickets heading elsewhere. Yves, a friendly and humorous frenchman, sorted us out with bikes, helmets and a map, then wished us well and sent us on our way. After a mildly stressful few miles of negotiating around various forms of motor vehicles, we left Pakse town and the best road in Laos, according to Yves, opened up in front of us. Driving through gorgeous scenery with few vehicles for company and smooth asphalt under our wheels, I couldn’t say that he was wrong.
An hour after leaving Pakse the road abruptly turned worse and we knew we were in Champasak. We carried on a further 10k, following the signs for Vat Phou. We arrived and followed the signs towards the entrance. After paying for parking I was directed down a path to go and pay the site entrance fee of £5 each (adults only). We got back on the bikes and drove a few hundred meters to the parking lot.
It was hot. We walked slowly, keeping to shaded areas as much as possible. Vat Phou, meaning ‘mountain temple’, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a ruined Khmer Hindu temple complex, older and smaller than Angkor Wat, that rests on a hillside surrounded by jungle. Before visiting, I hadn’t done any research on Vat Phou so wasn’t sure what to expect of it. A minute or two from the carpark, we caught our first glimpse of the site.
Weathered stone pillars lined a stone and grass pathway leading to the temple in the distance.
Interesting insects like butterflies, dragonflies and grasshoppers abounded. And Chloe wanted me to take a picture of every. single. one. When I ignored her request to photograph yet another winged beastie because I was busy setting up the camera for a family self-portrait, she was none too pleased. The unreasonable grump that ensued was immortalised on film forever:
We continued towards the terraced hillside that stepped upwards in swathes of green vines, while warped sandstone staircases led upwards through gnarled and knotty trees. It’s a place that feels as ancient as it is, a place I’d have happily stayed at longer had I not been dripping with sweat and desperate for drink. Those steps take it out of you in the heat, don’t be like us and forget to bring any water.
Once we reached the top I didn’t even mind paying 4x the normal price for an ice cold bottle of water. I mean, someone carried a bloody fridge up there, that’s worth some extra kip.
We wandered in and around the ruined buildings adorned with carvings of Hindu deities, discovered animals carved into boulders and placed an offering and some incense at one of the many shrines dotted around the area. We marvelled at the views and the giant spider hanging from a palm, being thankful it was a good 20 feet above us. You know you don’t want to meet a spider that you can clearly see 20 feet away…
All too soon our stomachs were feeling empty, the kids were hot and bothered and ice coffees were calling me and Alex, so we retraced our steps, carefully descending the steep stone terraces.
After gulping down ice coffees, silencing the kids with ice cream and snacking on some BBQ’d bananas we left Vat Phou and drove through the small village of Champasak, stopping for lunch before setting out on the 50kms back to Pakse.
The day was a success – we saw a stunning ancient temple, discovered that BBQ’d bananas mysteriously taste of berries, and the kids passed the sitting-on-a-motorbike-for-longer-than-45-minutes test. We were all set to hit the road for a longer adventure.
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