Thursday, May 31, 2012

Exploring Central Pakse's Route 13 by Foot

Monks working hard in Wat Tham Fai

Pakse, Champasak Province, South Laos - After another quick shower at the spiffy Champasak Palace Hotel, I went down my 2nd floor room. It was almost 1 PM and I was aware it was my last chance to explore the part of Pakse I didn't see the last time I was here.

Pakse, the capital of Champasak Province, boasted of more energy than the Vientiane (Laos' capital) that I saw, mostly attributed to the hustle created by the nearby Thai border to the west. Moreover, there were several constructions on cursory glance and the markets hummed with moderate afternoon commerce. I lingered at my hotel's lobby for a few minutes to soak into its royal atmosphere. Fifteen minutes later, I found myself facing Route 13 (Road 13) - Pakse's national highway. It's kinda like an EDSA that stretches all the way from Manila to Baguio. It is a major thoroughfare. I wasn't able to explore it because my guesthouse last time was a quieter area beside the Mekong.


First on my agenda was buying my bus ticket to Ubon Ratchathani (Thailand) the next day. It was a mere 5 minute bike-with-sidecar ride (10,000 kip) south of Route 13 to Champasak VIP Bus Terminal. My bus was to depart at 8:30 AM. From there, I decided to walk and check out the sights. I was in no rush and I didn't have any place in particular to visit. This was freestyling time, so to speak. There was a day market from the side street of the terminal, directly facing Route 13. I carefully stepped on uneven slabs of concrete that lead me to the market. One stark observation was the rubbish around me - fruit peelings, crumpled sheets and pieces of hair - long strands! - lying on the ground! It was the hair that gave me goosebumps. :)

Lotus flowers at the Champasak Palace Hotel's pond.

Butterfly - or moth? - I have a visitor? Or was I the one?

Front stairs leading to the Palace Hotel's main lobby.

Route 13 facing south - Champasak Palace Hotel to my left; the Mekong to my right!  Straight ahead  are Champasak Town, Siphandon and Cambodia.

She wasn't pleased. :)

Hotel Champa near the market.

At the market, I found the fruit section so I bought myself 1 kilogram of dragon fruit - 3 pieces - at 12,000 kip ($1.50). The mangoes cost a little more (20,000 kip a kilogram). Just across the market was Hotel Champa which I've read from LP. A few steps from the hotel was Makky Noodle Shop. Since I haven't had lunch yet, it was time to try Pakse's Vietnamese Pho (noodle soup) which I've read in a couple of blogs.

The bowls looked big so I ordered "small noodle soup with beef" at 15,000 kip ($1.90). Now here's the dilemma: when they started serving my order, there were several more plates that accompanied my "pho". I was gonna tell them that I didn't order the extra plates until I noticed that the other customers had them as well. Hmm, so they were all part of the meal - much like a Myanmar dish which has a coterie of plates. Furthermore, they served a pitcher of orange-colored water. Orange juice? I asked. No one understood me. I had to rudely find out that this was the requisite serving of water - yup, "water"! Why yellow orange? Frankly, I had no idea. The others were drinking them so why not me? Would I deny myself the chance to taste this orange-colored water? Shame on you, gastroenteritis, I was gonna brave this one out!

Well, it tasted like water! LOL

After my later lunch, I started walking north. I saw a sports stadium and some banks (Lao-Viet Bank) and a sign that says I was in Ban Phonkoung. I saw some policemen stopping every  motorcycle drivers plying Route 13. This was a familiar sight even in Manila and Ubon Ratchathani. I was kind of hoping this wasn't about fleecing people off their hard earned kip - but just some safety reminders on helmet use.

I walked towards an unmarked landmark but I didn't find any English translation. I sat there for 15 minutes, gazing at the elevation at the east - the Bolaven Plateau. Darn, I had been there! I couldn't believe it was that high, really! But it's nice to have a renewed perspective on the plateau.

After resting my feet, I chanced on a Chinese Temple, but it was closed so I had to move on. A block away was the Champasak Provincial Historic Museum. Beside it was the Champasak Library. I walked towards the latter, but backed off when I learned I had to take my shoes off to get in. Beside the library was the Museum. Entrance for foreigners was 10,000 kip ($1.25) and 2,000 kip ($0.25) for locals. Though not particularly excited about the visit, I was aware of its collection of lintels and several more statues taken from the Champasak temples. Majority of its display was sepia-fading photographs that plot the birth of communism in the country. I met a couple of monks who were more interested in me than the relics and displays, but I understood their curiosity. The visit didn't take me an hour, and navigating the 2-story museum was a breeze. It didn't hurt that the AC was spewing cool air amidst 33 degree C temperature outside. I shall post a separate piece on Champasak Historic Museum since I was able to take photos (despite the notice that says otherwise). I did ask for their permission.

After the museum, it was such pleasure to visit the sprawling Wat Tham Fai located just across Champasak Palace Hotel. Simply put, this temple complex was just "beautiful". The temples and its stupas come alive with color. I was particularly surprised because LP described it as "undistinguished, except for its spacious grounds". I had to disagree. I think I like this better than ornate Wat Luang. The temple grounds is also called "Wat Pha Baht" because it houses a small Buddha footprint - which I didn't see haha! What I did see were monks working overtime to cut the shrubs and tend to the garden surrounding the temple (first photo above); some sweeping the grounds. I must have taken half an hour to just sit and watch as the afternoon sun gradually mellowed to its hazy rays. It was a satisfying day, and I wasn't even done gallivanting yet.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Hundreds of chips and noodle soups.

Fruit vendor - grapes, oranges, apples, dragon fruits, pomelos, lychees, tamarind, coconut, mangoes.

Vegetable stalls

Dragon Fruits, white variety, 3 pieces, 1 kilogram costs 12,000 kip.

Watermelon shop

A coterie of plates accompany my noodle soup order. Notice the orange-colored water (left).

Small noodle soup with beef - "Small" so you can imagine how big is a "big order". This was delectable!

Makky Noodle Shop along Route 13.

Notice their orange-colored water! They serve these pitchers when you order your pho.

Champasak Sports Stadium (above and below)

Entrance to the Champasak Sports Stadium

A little garden beside the Champasak Sports Stadium.

Lao-Viet Bank

BCel Bank and Lao Development Bank ATMs - I remember these because our bus had to stop here on our way to Champasak and Siphandon.

Champasak Library (above and below)

Champasak Provincial Historic Museum (above and below)

Indochina Bank along Route 13

Policemen were stopping motorcycle riders.

Who is it honoring?

A stupa in the middle of an empty park.

While resting under the shade, I saw Bolaven Plateau from a distance.

A Chinese Temple

Wat Tham Fai or Wat Pha Baht (above and below). More photos of the temple in our succeeding posts.

More on Pakse:

Whispery Temples, Smiling Monks


Mom with a Dot said...

I'm guessing the orange water is something like the Cumin Water that Keralites make. Try googling JeerathuVellam ..
Great Pics.!

eye in the sky said...

@ Mom with a Dot:

Thanks for the info. I love it when I learn these new things. says "Jeeraka Vellam" is a refreshing drink that helps to digest food. It is prepared by boiling the water with Jeerakam (Cumin Seeds)." With boiling as part of its preparation, then it should be safe to drink. More than anything, I like the idea that I have tried it. Thanks again! :)

Ola said...

I am always pleased to see your pictures and read the report-it is so different from my surroundings:) Even the names are exotic to me:)

I am not sure if I liked cumin water...
and the soup is really huge!

Blog about life and travelling
Blog about cooking

eye in the sky said...

@ Ola:

The orange water - Cumin - tasted like water so the coloring was really interesting. And the noodle soup tasted so good! :)

NRIGirl said...

Hmmm... How's it that we can go where you go, see what you see, hear what you hear but only see what you eat?!

I love your travel logs Eye in the Sky; it's absolutely awesome the way you bring it live for us with mere words! Oh! Yes, the pictures speak volumes more. Thank you!

eye in the sky said...

@ NRIGirl:

How I wish i can share the taste of food as well, haha. That's funny! Thank you for the kind words, as always. :)

Twin said...

Craving for Pho!

eye in the sky said...

@ Twin:

Plenty all around. :)