Asian Oasis Vat Phou Mekong River Cruise (with the Blanks!)
Champasak Travel Blog› entry 18 of 34 › view all entries
Everything was going fine in the minivan as we drove back to Pakse to get on the boat until I said something to Cindy about my camera. She reached in her daypack fumbling around as I watched the panic on her face grow, realizing that she had left her camera back at Saesi. Luckily we weren't to far down the road and so Mee said we had time to go back and get it. Not an auspicious way to start our river cruise, but it seemed ok and we retrieved the camera, even managing to avoid running over the goats and dogs lazing in the road.
When we got to the coffee shop in Pakse where we were to start our trip, we found out that Hans and Alice from
I checked email and, as expected,
At the coffee shop we met our guide Mr. Van who was educated as a teacher but because of the poor economy and communist government, after the war from 1972 until 1990 when
We all piled into another mini-van wondering when we would get to the decadent looking Vat Phou Boat we had seen in the brochures and drove to the Khon Phaphaeng waterfall which is the biggest in
After a marginal river-side lunch, still wondering when we would see the luxurious Vat Phou, we all climbed aboard a longtail boat to cruise to
Mr. Van pretty much disappeared trying to wangle a deal on a replacement boat so we all wandered around the island which reminded me of 1980's
We spent the next two hours lumbering up the muddy Mekong River, passing many islands, some large and some small but on the banks of each every 5-10 minutes there would be a small group of children, half of them naked, frantically waving and screaming "Sabadee" and Bye Bye!" Too cute - I have a video if you are ever in town. New! Here is the video on Youtube Screaming kids on the banks of the Mekong River in Laos
We finally picked up the Vat Phou boat at Houyphai and climbed aboard.
Mr. Van then did his best Laotian interpretation of Marty Feldman, removing his glasses and bugging his eyes out two inches away from the map as he pointed out our route up the
The six of us had a nice dinner with a couple bottles of red wine with Brent and Rosemary (budget travel seems to be becoming a distant memory - we could get used to this). They have a boat at home and Brent told a very funny story about telling Rosemary to go to the left of the rope which she thought meant that she should keep the rope left of herself - maybe that's why nautical people use port and starboard.
Later that night at the bar, Mr. Van was deeply involved talking with one of the girls who works on board (and who happened to have, in the infamous words of Firesign Theatre, "a balcony you could do Shakespeare off of") and we are still trying to figure out if Mr. Van got lucky.
The next morning we stopped at a small island with a grade school called
New! My lame attempt at video humor Apocalypse Now Redux - Laos
At one point, Hans walked in and sat down with some of the younger kids which made them squeal and laugh with delight.
Our afternoon trip that day was to Oup Moung temple, hidden in the forest and largely overtaken by it. It was a nice walk through a village and then out into the forest where all of us were paying more attention to the dirt and mud path than the surroundings since Mr. Van had warned us of leeches which we did indeed see.
The temple ruins were small but nice and covered with bright green forest moss and the walk through the small village was nice and full of smiling kids.
Another nice night and dinner on the boat (red wine included) sent us all off to bed early and ready for exploring Vat Phou ruins tomorrow.
After breakfast we climbed ashore and hopped in a tuk-tuk with Mr. Van and the water man, an older, tiny little barefoot guy more agile than any of us and headed off to Vat Phou.
We stopped first at a museum where Mr. Van explained in detail various intricacies and mythologies of Hinduism (which was the original religion of Laos) and Buddhism which Laos converted to in the 13th or 14th century. There were lots of cool stories, many from Indian Hindu tales about Ganesha the elephant god, Garudas (mythical half bird half man) and one about why the Lingham (a.k.a. what men have and women don't) is so important in their beliefs. At this point, all I can remember (and this is no doubt confused and wrong) is something about Brahma and Shiva fighting and Vishnu appearing between them causing his Lingham to shoot out in both directions (which sounds somewhat painful).
Anyway, we headed off to the Vat Phou ruins which are now a World Heritage site and they were very impressive (perhaps foreshadowing Angkor Wat). There is a long causeway leading up to the ruins lined with four foot high carvings of lotus flowers on each side. Amazingly, one of the Lao princes had the rough road made from giant stones paved with asphalt to make his ride more comfortable. UNESCO is now paying to restore it.
There are a series of levels accessed by very steep, narrow and uneven steps with picturesque but hazy views of the ruins and the ponds below. Mr. Van explained how there were similar temples built every forty Kilometers between Vat Phou and Angkor Wat which is exactly how far an elephant could carry passengers in one day.
We all hiked up the very steep Vat Phou steps, some of which were so steep and narrow that you had to hold on to the steps above.
Some of the lintels (the thing above the top of the door frame) are incredibly ornate and well carved. The one in this photo (ok in the photo that I will eventually upload when I am not in dialup Laos or Cambodia) is a story about Krishna (the 8th incarnation of Vishnu I think) who is challenged with killing the two headed demon Kamsa who is half white and half black and made from two hairs of Shiva. The legend is that he cannot be killed inside or outside, during day or night and not on earth or in heaven. Krishna, being a smart guy, ends up splitting him in half at dusk (neither day nor night) in the doorway (neither inside nor outside) over his knee (neither heaven nor earth) - simple but smart.
Further afield there were some old Animist ruins that pre date the pre-Angkorian Vat Phou ruins including a huge elephant carved into the face of a rock and a crocodile outline.
Mr. Van had told us that a large French group was joining the boat for the down river return, but that the boat was "ours until 2:00 p.m." and that they would have lunch downstairs in the air conditioned lounge until we disembarked for our two hour Longtail boat return to Pakse. Unfortunately for us, this was not the case and we were invaded by a group of mostly older, overweight, smoking, bad face lift people - we all wondered how they would manage the steps at Vat Phou. Luckily, Hans and Alice as well as Brent and Rosemary all share my views on the French - nuff said.
We bid farewell to Hans and Alice who were off to Phuket then Kota Kintabalu and Rosemary, Cindy, Brent and I headed to the Pakse Hotel which was not a bad place.
After a somewhat bizarre dinner where the four of us were hidden from the rest of the customers behind a curtain dinner at Tour Lao Restaurant, we returned to the Pakse hotel to have a farewell cocktail.
Once again, we were waited on by the funniest, most fawning, obsequious waiter on the planet. This guy could not possibly smile or bow any more or any harder. Funniest of all, he kept referring to Rosemary and Brent as Mother and Father which had us howling. We are pretty sure that this was really an honorific thing, but from now on Brent and Rosemary will affectionately be known as "Mother and Father".
Meanwhile, shortly thereafter Angelica and Stephanie from our kayak trip in Luang Prabang showed up and they are having fun and healed from the rigors of our class one rapids adventure.
Sadly, we had to say good bye to the Blanks who are back to
We are off to Siem Reap