Pakse & The Toe Incident

Pakse is the major town of South Laos and serves as a good hub to access the Bolaven Plateau and Laos’ most significant ancient temple – Wat Phu. It also served as the location where Ben broke his toe.

Although we generally didn’t like Pakse, somehow we ended up making 3 separate visits there, staying in 3 different places, hiring 2 scooters, hopping on 2 long-distance buses, a couple of ferries and taking 1 flight…as well as getting caught up in the Laos new year celebrations. One or two establishments – for instance sipping a drink high up on the roof terrace of the Pakse Hotel – make for a haven away from the dreary, uninteresting streets.

Wat Phu

One of the most important archaeological sites in Laos (and a world heritage site), Wat Phu was built by the Khmers of Cambodia, before becoming part of Laos later on. The nearby tiny one-street town of Champasak, sitting alongside the Mekhong, was previously the Laos capital.

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

Steps and more steps leading up to the sanctuary at Wat Phu

A temple has stood on this impressive mountain perch since the 5th or 6th century, with the ruins there now dating from the 11th century – the same period the Khmers were also busy building the astounding temples at their capital Angkor. Wat Phu is said to be a prototype for their masterpiece Angkor Wat, built a couple of centuries later.

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

The view from the sanctuary: 2 barays (artificial lakes of religious and practical use) with the main path leading from the right hand baray, all the way up through the trees on the left. The 'palaces' between which this path disects where off-limits to tourists due to restoration works. Beyond the barays was an ancient city, founded in the 5th century, which nestled next to the Mekhong.

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

The terraces at Wat Phu, Champasak, Laos

Other than its dominant elevated position with impressive steps and terraces leading up from the flat plain below, a fascinating detail of Wat Phu is it’s (sacred) natural spring. Water was channelled 60 metres along aqueducts directly into the temple, where it would become sanctified by pouring over a linga – a powerful phallic symbol of Hinduism. The temple was converted into a Buddhist one later on.

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

The sanctuary at Wat Phu, Champasak, Laos

Unfortunately, the water system is no longer visible and the temple itself is in bad shape – the magnificence of Wat Phu is the overall placement and design.

Getting to Wat Phu

Getting to and back from Wat Phu from Pakse was quite fun. On a scooter we whizzed down the main road south, before taking a right along a dirt road to a tiny town next to the river. Crossing the river is the next challenge – achieved by taking a small ferry.

ladies Pakse & The Toe Incident

Three ladies, three scooters and us on the floating platform which served as our makeshift ferry on the way back from Wat Phu

On the return trip this consisted of a platform of bamboo that sits on two long tail boats – big enough for 3 scooters. The local ladies had a good laugh at us as we joined them for the crossing – we just joined in with some big smiles. The ‘captain’ of this makeshift vessel stubbornly tried to rip us off by charging double the going rate…sadly another example of the short-term rip-off mentality some of the Laos people seem to have.

Bolaven Plateau

Outside of Pakse is the Bolaven Plateau, 1000m up hence slightly cooler, where a lot of the Laos coffee is grown. Rich, nutty, sweet and luxurious with a generous dollop of condensed milk, Laos coffee is wonderfully delicious.

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The jungle backdrop to the two mega falls at Tad Fane, Laos

We scootered out to the plateau to take in the several impressive waterfalls and scenery. First stop was Tad Fane Resort, a collection of bungalows in pretty woodland which sits high up opposite the 120m twin falls – Laos’ tallest. We planned to hike over to get a closer look at the monstrous falls the next day, but first headed onto the road again to check out the two other falls very close by.

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

This was a close as we got to the Tad Fane falls due to the 'toe incident'

The Toe Incident

On the way to the first one, disaster struck! Slowly pottering along a dirt track on the scooter Ben managed to catch his foot on a rock-hard bag of cement sitting on the grass verge, bending his foot up and backwards, the force ripping off his walking shoe. Severe pain and a broken big toe.

We lamely proceeded on to the fall, parked up and gained plenty of curious looks as Ben grimaced with each hobbled step towards the cooling water for a temporary respite.

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

Just after the 'toe incident', Ben cools the throbbing toe

So, no hike the next day and also no exploring the other falls in the region, namely Tat Lo which is said to be particularly worth a visit…really frustrating to come deep into Southern Laos (which takes some effort!) only to miss out on the fun stuff. The broken toe would require weeks of rest…not good when travelling!

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

Err...the toe

We headed back to Pakse (via scooter) in order to rest up and recuperate.

 Pakse & The Toe Incident

The ubiquitous geccos on the prowl in Pakse. The rooftop bar at the Pakse Hotel was a great place to hang out and recuperate!

The Water Attack!

To add some spice to the journey, we were in the middle of the Laos New Year celebrations…which the Laos people celebrate with a friendly water attack on anyone within range.

As you drive along the road you see ahead a group of children, armed to the teeth with water pistols, bamboo water shooters, buckets of water, water bombs and water shotguns (water-based armoury has impressively moved on since I last took up arms). The kids seem to get a particular buzz from targeting the farangs (foreigners).

In addition you get drive-by attacks from the back of pick-ups, fully loaded with squads of water-rifle-bearing guerrillas, indiscriminately spraying their victims. We could only fight back with a pathetic, pleading toot of the horn on our chicken-chaser – this seemed to excite them even further.

We arrived back at our hotel in Pakse drenched through to the skin but smiling.

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4 Responses to “Pakse & The Toe Incident”

June 14th, 2011 @ 1:00 pm

sorry to hear you hurt your toe. Hope it’s better now. Notice i have given up the pretence of being called ‘ben’ haha. Hope you are still having fun. TD is as always….your website is amazing. I wish i had more time to read everything.

June 14th, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

Hi Sam great to hear from you. Still having a lot of fun and thankfully the toe is better now so means we can do more stuff.

We’re in Beijing at present! Loads more posts coming up so get reading the older stuff to catch up!! You’re friend’s cocktail is in the Vientiane one!

Missing you and Rachel et al – but can confirm travelling is better than working ;)

June 16th, 2011 @ 10:04 am

That’s a ropey toe Benny! Is it ingrown too?

June 16th, 2011 @ 10:18 am

Hi Alex – thanks! Not ingrown but it did turn a bit black (still is!) but luckily didn’t fall off! Presently all toes are in fair condition.

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