Wat Phu, Pakse, and Don Det - Ancient ruins and tubing the Mekong in Laos

After completing the loop, we rested for a day in Thakek, then took a bus to Pakse, a small town several hours south.  Pakse itself was not that interesting, but the nearby Wat in Champasek is the real draw.  The day after arriving we rented a motorbike to visit the Wat.  We were told by Steve that the road there was very confusing, and he had been unable to find it.  We checked the map and felt confident we could, but 45 km later we were at the Thailand border, which is conveniently ALSO named Champasek.  The guards instructed us (sort of) to head back the other way, and we luckily noticed a small sign pointing the right way.

After riding up the correct road for 35 km (topping out at 95 km an hour!) we rode through the tiny, one street town of Champasek and at the end of it encountered the entrance for Wat Phu.  This ancient city may have been the blueprint for Angkor Wat, but nobody is certain.

We paid a small entry fee and headed in.  After walking about 2 km around a gorgeous lake, we came to the base of the mountain, where small pillars were placed symmetrically down a cobbled path.  After walking down the path and past a few cobblestone buildings, the hill starts to rise, with the path being made of large, uneven stones, with nature fighting to take back the spaces between.

The path then became very steep, in some places requiring hands and feet to get up.  Looking back as we climbed, we saw a very postcard-esque scene.  We finally reached the top and found a crumbling old temple with a large golden Buddha inside.  Up the hill behind it there was a small outcropping in the cliff and underneath it was a shrine.  Johanna decided to go native and say a quick prayer.

Back down around the Buddha and to the left, through a path covered in thick foliage, we found the Elephant carving.  After that we made our slow descent back down the hill to our bike.  It's easy to get a sense of the past in places like this, especially since there were no other people there.

The next day we left for Don Det, after some intense negotiation with the bus driver, who gave us a better deal, but made us promise not to tell the other passengers, as he was pocketing the money.

Don Det is a tiny little island on the Mekong, and we heard it was a nice place to spend some downtime.  After we arrived and got our $6 room, we ran into Steve and some new friends (Sonny and Yasmin - UK) and went tubing down the Mekong.  As soon as we entered the water, we realized this was actually the equivalent of tubing in a sewer, but we didn't really have a choice, so we rode on.
The beach babes at Don Det

After narrowly making it back to shore through the rough currents, we all went for a shower, then headed for dinner at Rogue, a great little bar where we watched movies, played cards and got very drunk.  Sorry no pictures (or no appropriate ones).  The next day we slept in and were lazy all day.  That night we met with the crew again for more drinks, movies, and Johanna got to pick her own dinner, this delicious cat everyone called "Gollum".  After getting back to our room, we discovered someone had broken in through the window and tossed the contents of our bags everywhere.  Luckily all they took was Josh's MP3 player.

That's all for now, we're heading to Cambodia tomorrow, so hopefully we will have another update soon.

All aboard the knuckle train to Fist Planet!