It was time to move on to southern Laos. I had to be in Cambodia in a few days anyway, so traveling through the south seemed a better option than cutting through Thailand. Rather than lazing through the center and southern portion of the country, I grabbed a night bus to Pakse out of Vientiane.
This was my first, and for the foreseeable future only trip on a Lao Sleeping Bus. Sleeping buses are a bit quirky. All of the beds are doubles, though only about the size of a twin. I knew this going in, that I would most likely end up in close quarters with a random for the night, though I didn’t realize how close the quarters would be. My best-to-worst case scenario list went like this:
A hot chick
My own bed, no partner
A regular chick
A skinny Lao dude (ie, I get most of the space)
A fat chick
A fat dude
I’m sure you can guess how it worked. Not only did I get a fat dude, I got a fat Lao dude, which was a real wildcard since he was probably the only fat Lao dude alive.
The primary reason I wanted to go to Pakse, beyond geographical convinience, was that Wat Phou is nearby. Wat Phou is a Khmer-style temple, in a similar style to Angkor Wat, which makes sense since it’s around the same age. Since I haven’t been to Angkor yet, I thought Wat Phou would be a good preface.
As soon as I got to Pakse, I discovered I had another good reason to be there – to get a Vietnam visa. There’s a Vietnamese consulate in town, so if I got a visa here I wouldn’t have to worry about it in Phnom Penh.
Pro tip – Pakse is the place to get a Viet visa. I’d heard horror stories about acquiring Vietnam visas, but the Pakse consulate is empty. I was in and out in 20 minutes, visa in hand, no overnight requirement needed. Easiest pre-arranged visa I ever got.
After a nap, I got myself a motorbike and headed down to Wat Phou. The temple is actually just outside of the town of Champasak and I could have taken a bus and stayed there rather than Pakse. However, I was looking forward to the 40 kilometer motorbike ride down to the wat.
I was right to do so. I got a pretty solid Honda semi-automatic bike that was quite fun to drive. The road down to the Wat crosses one of the few bridges over the Mekong (and maybe the only non-international Mekong bridge in Laos) and then follows the river south. Most of the road was brand new as well, easily the best stretch of road that I’ve seen anywhere in Laos.
The temple site itself was lovely, although I’ll get to that more in the picture section.
On my return trip, ominous clouds were looming ahead. It had been cloudy all day, so I was hoping to beat the rain back to Pakse. About halfway back, it was clear that the rain was inevitable. I pulled over and put on my shitty 89 cent Wal-Mart poncho, but I discovered it was pretty badly ripped (and actually, I guess it wasn’t that shitty. Four months into this trip, it has been my only rain protection, which is pretty good considering it was probably designed as a single-use item). I noticed that the rain was visible in the mountains a mile or so away, and it was legit.
I saw a little open-air store with an overhang, so I hopped back on the bike and headed there. Two women were working there, and battening down the hatches. I asked if I could hang out for a minute, and they said I could. I stepped under the roof overhang, and the rain started falling like, well, a Southeast Asian monsoon.
I hung out at the little shop for 10 minutes or so while it poured in waves. It was nearing sunset, so ultimately I decided it would be better to drive through a rainstorm with a ripped poncho by day than to do it at night. Rain was slapping into my eyes, so I had to wear sunglasses even though it was twilight. I was glad the road wasn’t busy, especially since Southeast Asian motorcyclists have the asinine habit of riding at dusk or even at night without a headlight. With my sunglasses on, bikes without lights were nearly invisible.
I returned to Pakse without incident of course, and as expected, it stopped raining 3 seconds after I returned my motorcycle.
Pakse itself is kind of an odd duck. It’s a small town with nothing to do, yet it’s filled with western tourists and rooms tend to sell out. I guess there’s decent coffee, so there’s that. Anyway, on to the pics.