The day after returning from my motorbike adventure, I decided to get warmed up for going to Angkor Wat by going to some Khmer temple ruins of a similar era, at a place called Champusak, about 50km south of Pakse. Since I had a bit of time spare I made a two day trip of it, leaving most of my things in Pakse, and I'm glad that I did because it was a pain in the arse getting there!
I started out at about 10am, and tried to got lift to the bus station which involved some strange bartering - I was offered 10,000kip, but refused to pay more than 7000kip and he thought about it and offered me 5000kip at which point I jumped in without a second thought - and was taken to the sawngthaew station. The sawngtheaw is a converted truck that has two covered rows of seats in the back and are the way a lot of the locals seem to get around for medium length journeys. First off a guy tried to cram me in to one that was already overflowing with people and goods, so I declined and went for one with a bit more room. This was a mistake. I bought a ticket (like a bit of a fool - I forgot that you aren't meant to pay until you get off or else you get overcharged. Which I was) and was assured we would be leaving at 11am, and since it was 10.30 I went to get a drink then sat in the back to wait. The truck didn't seem to be filling up, and at this point I remembered that the things only go when they are full - not at a fixed time, and the lack of people wanting to go to Champusak meant I was settling down for a long wait. While I was waiting, bags were piled on to the roof. When the roof was full, 12 bicycles were precariously balanced on top of it. After two hours of waiting, the driver and his mate came along and told us all to move up, folded two of the four benches up and started loading concrete lined metal buckets (I have no idea what they actually were) in to the gap and since the two benches were now full of people, I figured we'd be off soon considering myself lucky that there was at least leg room even if the benches were cramped. At about 12pm, the engine was started, but my excitement at leaving was as short lived as the 5m we drive before the engine stopped and the driver got out. Finally, at 12.30, we got under way. Ten minutes later, we stopped at a warehouse and were all told to get out. The two remaining benches were folded up, and from the warehouse enough cement, tiles, stone fence posts and plastic tubing was loaded on to build and plumb a new house (I assume some other unfortunate souls had had the pleasure of being in the truck with the bricks). Just as I thought it was full, a door and some wood was added, and we were allowed to get back in, squeezing around the stuff in the way. In this form of transport, passengers are definitely an afterthought. I was seriously resenting the fact that I had been overcharged - when we finally left we were a full four and a half hours late and there was pretty much no room for a westerner, at a foot taller than anyone else, in the back. But somehow I managed to get in to a reasonably comfortable position and at least we were on our way. The driver must have had the munchies, because we stopped at every small market or stall along the way, and I ended up being shunted to an even smaller space by an small irate woman. The rest of the trip went fairly smoothly, although I was the object of a fair few amused stares along the way - the only white person on a truck crammed with building supplies and locals. I was very happy when we got to Champusak, even if it was five hours later than i thought I'd be there!
Champusak is a tiny place on the banks of the Mekong, which is quite wide by the time it gets there. My guesthouse had a restaurant that overlooked the river, a place that I barely moved from all evening except for walk to confirm the smallness of the place. It would be very easy to spend a couple of days there with a good book.
Next day I hired out a bicycle - the oldest, squeakiest bike I have ever seen - for the 10km ride to the ruins. Fortunately it was a flat ride, as even in the early morning it was getting very hot. The ruins themselves were great. The temple is set out on three layers, an uneven stone path running up the hill connects the dry pools at the bottom with the two square worship pavillions in the middle level and runs up a steep hill to the main temple sanctuary at the top. The highest point has good views of the lower levels and surroundings. A lot of the intricate stonework was still visible around the archways, but the carvings and statues had been taken away - either to the museum by the entrance or further afield. The temple at the top featured the most intact stonework, with carvings of scenes from Hindu/Buddhist legend around the doorways, although parts of the temple itself were in ruins. Going there has definitely made me eager to get to Angkor.
When I returned to Champusak itself, I then had to work out how to get home, since all the sawngthaew left in the morning. I tried to find the boat landing to see if I could get all the way back to Pakse but couldn't, so ended up taking a tuk tuk to the main river crossing, where I met a Czech guy and his Slovak girlfriend who were also trying to get back to Pakse. I also met the owner of my guesthouse whose son happened to be waiting in the queue for the boat with his tuk tuk and a couple of passengers. The owner tried to get his son to take me, but the passengers in the back had hired out the whole thing for the two of them (it was a 10 seater) and wouldn't let us on. Entirely unreasonable in my opinion! So me and my new found friends crossed the river on foot hoping to be able to get a lift on the other side. The only lift we could get was for $15 (150,000kip), which, since the three of us together had paid a total of $5 to get there, we refused. We tried bartering but $10 was the lowest they would go, and waiting yielded no more lifts, so we decided to start walking towards the main road and see if we could hitch a lift. 3km down the road, we saw a tuk tuk coming our way and were very relieved, until we discovered that it was the tuk tuk owned by the people who wanted $15 off us. This time though, they agreed to take us half way there for $2.50. Why they wouldn't take us all the way for $4 I don't know, and they dropped us at a market 14km from Pakse. We were determined that the whole trip wasn't going to cost more than $1.50 each, so set about trying to barter a lift for 7000kip. There wasn't much choice for rides, but eventually we managed to get a ride in the back of someone's pickup truck all the way back. Which adds one to the number of different means I've now used to travel around! I don't think I've been anywhere that was such a mission as this. It was definitely worth the effort though!