16 July 2008

Off The Beaten (and Bridged) Path

Most everyone was going directly from Pakse to Four Thousand Islands, a collection of tiny paradises that scatter outward as the Mekong river widens down south, basically becoming a massive lake (the widest river on the planet). We didn’t want to take that route. Between the two was Wat Phu Champasak, the first Wat in Southeast Asia that even predates Angkor Wat in Cambodia (that’s a big deal). So big in fact, that it’s a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site. Needless to say, it had to be seen.

That meant hopping aboard a massive tractor truck carrying fruit, veggies, gas and yes, several cases of red bull (along with some local commuters). The price? $3, including the ferry trip across the river into town, where we joined a gas truck and two small tuk-tuks. Safety first! Champasak the town was one street of charming perfection and utter bliss. Just as we hopped off the truck it started pouring rain. That led us to dive into the first guesthouse we saw that just happened to have riverside bungalows with hot water and air conditioning. Does it get more perfect? I think Laotians are onto something with the whole “everything works out” business.

We waited out the massive storm with books, music and card games. As soon as it stopped we found the only tuk tuk driver in town and asked him to take us to the Wat before it “closed” (nothing actually closes on set hours here. If there are people, they are open). The Wat itself was breathtaking – two levels of partially restored ruins terraced into a massive mountain overlooking an equally beautiful valley of farms, lakes and the mighty Mekong. To put it simply, it was “otherworldy.”

On our way back we realized something rather important – we had no idea how to continue on to Four Thousand Islands. Thankfully, our “jack of all trades” driver did. “My friend books the bus for you. I pick you up, take you ferry, make sure you get on bus. No problem. Pick you up at 8. Around 8.” Could it be any easier? $8 later we were all booked through our final destination on the smallest, most remote inhabited island of the 4000.

We ate a kick-back dinner right on the river in a “restaurant” that ended up being the kitchen of a family’s home. The food (and the iced coffee) were divine. I’m actually attempting to limit myself to one (or two) a day. We’ll see how long that lasts!

Oh, last funny story. A friend had asked us to bring her a hammock, so we’ve been asking every person we meet if they sell them or if they know where we can buy one. This has led to some hilarious rounds of charades involving my usual mimicking, noises and sound effects. Said attempts had been only marginally successful thus far (we still didn’t have a hammock in our possession). The lady in Champasak, during the first round of charades, literally had no clue what I was trying to mimic and replied with a rather direct “can you just speak?” I did and she said “ewe!!!” I clapped and yelled out loud, “hurray, she has one!” To which she replied, “oh no, I don’t have one. In Laotian a hammock is called an “ewe.” Ohh!!!!
Kyle Taylor

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