Time for some TerryTreks bonus content. I had already sold my motorbike, and was on my way out of Laos. Laos is fantastic and beautiful and you should absolutely visit. But I did not enjoy my time there. I had a rough time, and had already traveled too much. It was time to stop (for now). I couldn’t wait to get out of the country.
But I decided to visit a tiny town called Champasak first. Champasak wasn’t on my list of three things I had to do in Laos. In fact, I didn’t even know about it. I only became aware of it while doing research online before I rode to Pakse. I don’t carry guidebooks anymore, and prefer to use free online resources instead.
Why go to Champaska? It is the site of some ancient Khmer ruins outside of Cambodia. The ruins are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. I figure those site are always worth a visit, so I decided to go there.
My first attempt failed, due to my confusion and losing data on my phone while on the road. So I decided to hit it on my way back north. This was my first real run in with buses in Laos. In short, they are terrible. Bring your own wheels.
The slightly longer version of the story: A different bus broke down, so all the passengers of that bus were crammed onto my bus.
Most tourists on the bus were going to Pakse, but I had them drop me off on the bank of the Mekong, across from Champasak. Only three other people got off. The river is the widest I’ve seen at this point, about a mile across.
After waking up some guys in a shack, I organized a ride across the river. Champasak is very spread out, and once again, not having my own wheels was inconvenient. I had to walk a long time in the blazing sun to a riverside guesthouse. After waking up the lady working there, I checked into a room and relaxed in the shade during the rest of the afternoon heat.
The next morning I rented a poorly maintained bike from my guesthouse and set off towards the temple. It was confusing and I ended up taking the long way through the countryside. The road was bad and hilly, and the chain came off my bike when I tried to change gears. But the scenery was very nice. Instead of the 20 minute ride I read about online, it took me an hour.
I had just missed a huge festival at the temple. It’s a huge deal, and Lao people travel from all over for it, which takes place over three days. Unfortunately, like the rest of Asia, nobody cares about litter. Plastic trash was strewn everywhere. The place was a mess.
The site is on a mountain, and I climbed to the top, where there were more ruins. The view from the top was nice.
With the temple checked off, I could use my bike to see the tiny town of Champasak. It’s tiny but spread out along the river. There’s no way to walk its entire length. It has a few French Colonial buildings in its center.
One of its temples was having a big party, while the other temple was silent. A stage was set up and music was blasting. The party spilled over into most of the houses along the road. Every house was having its own party, blasting its own music. People were hanging out having fun everywhere. It was a very festive atmosphere. But it grew silent again once I got away from the party temple.
Laos may seem like a tiny country, but even after a month I did not visit everywhere possible. I did not make it to the Bolivan plateau, or the extreme North. I did not visit the borderlands near China and Burma.
Will I come back? I don’t know. I hate to say never, but unlike Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, Laos did not capture my imagination.
But you should still go. It’s amazing, traditional, and undeveloped. I had just traveled too much. It was time to take a break.