You come to Champasak to see the Wat Phu, a UNESCO World Heritage site

A journey north by a mixture of boat and car. First from Don Khone up the Mekong with a change to the car after a couple of hours in the boat. Then a drive for another couple of hours past a local hand production of palm sugar operation. Then back on a boat for a short crossing to our hotel which was on an island

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Palm sugar was originally made from the sap of the Palmyra palm, the date palm or the sugar date palm. Palm sugar is produced by tapping the sap from the inflorescence of the tree and boiling it down to produce a syrup, which is then sold as is, or allowed to crystallize into various shapes and sizes. In some instances the tree itself is tapped rather than the flowering spikes, but this is an isolated production method. Often the distinction is made between coconut sugar and palm sugar, but this only reflects the different species from which the sugar is sourced, i.e. coconut sugar is produced in an identical way. Thailand is one place where the distinction is made and the difference is due to palm sugar being produced there from the tree trunk of the sugar palm, whilst coconut sugar is tapped from the inflorescences of the coconut palm. The differences are semantic, as all the sugars under their various names are still produced from the sucrose-rich sap of a palm species.

The stall we stopped at sold a sugar drink, or little fudge like sweets and the fruits themselves. Boiling down was effected by the use of fairly basic charcoal fires

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River Resort Champasak

We arrived by boat, but you can arrive by car as well. It is a really nice resort with about 10 large villas, each with 4 large bedrooms. Our room had a private terrace overlooking the Mekong. The ultra modern rooms are well furnished. 2 swimming pools - in fact the older has the better views of the Mekong.

You can dine in the restaurant, or in the garden. We chose the garden for lunch because of the river view, but at night after dark, it is too black to see the river, and the lighting is not quite right so eating in the open air restaurant was the better option. A tip is to book the table you want earlier in the day, that way you will get what you want.

We enjoyed the sunset cruise - $15 a head, including tapas and a glass of wine. You got a pleasant 1.5 hour cruise on the river and a stop on the island opposite to see the sun set. The hotel offers massages at a reasonable price. Chris enjoyed her aromatic massage

The one criticism I have is the needless charge of $3 for a cup of cappuccino for breakfast. Penny pinching and unworthy. Considering the prices the hotel charges, this is mean and tight fisted, I have no idea why they have the effrontery to make this charge.

We stayed 3 nights and were never graced by the presence of Mr David - who features in a number of the TripAdvisor reviews. Had we met him I would have told him what I thought of his coffee charging, instead I did tell the waiter, who looked a bit bemused by my observations. We learnt later that Mr David was in fact in the hotel, entertaining family.

I really enjoyed the 3 nights here, in spite of their coffee at breakfast policy!


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Wat Phu

We had an early start - 5.30 am - for the short drive to Wat Phu. The idea is to see the sun rise over the Mekong. Unfortunately, the almost permanent haze of smog, from burning fires that hangs over most of SE Asia, meant that there really was not much of a spectacle. Probably better to have stayed in bed and ventured there later in the day. The path and steep steps up were very rough, in other words they have not been restored at all, so the easier option was to walk up the grass to the sides of the path.

Wat Phu is a ruined Khmer Hindu temple complex. It is located at the base of mount Phu Kao, some 6 km from the Mekong river in Champasak. There was a temple on the site as early as the 5th century, but the surviving structures date from the 11th to 13th centuries. The temple has a unique structure, in which the elements lead to a shrine where a linga dedicated to Lord Shiva was bathed in water from a mountain spring. The site later became a centre of Theravada Buddhist worship, which it remains today.

Wat Phou was a part of the Khmer empire, centred on Angkor to the southwest, at least as early as the reign of Yasovarman I in the early 10th century. In the later period, the original buildings were replaced, re-using some of the stone blocks; the temple now seen was built primarily during the Koh Ker and Baphuon periods of the 11th century. Minor changes were made during the following two centuries, before the temple, like most in the empire, was converted to Theravada Buddhist use. This continued after the area came under control of the Lao, and a festival is held on the site each February. Little restoration work has been done, other than the restoration of boundary posts along the path. Wat Phou was designated a World Heritage Site in 2001.

The path up through the temple culminates in seven sandstone tiers which rise to the upper terrace and central sanctuary. The sanctuary is in two parts. The front section, of sandstone, is now occupied by four Buddha images, while the brick rear part, which formerly contained the central linga, is empty. The entire roof is missing, although a makeshift covering has been added to the front. Water from the spring which emerges from the cliff about 60 m southwest of the sanctuary was channeled along stone aqueducts into the rear chamber, continuously bathing the linga.

The east side has three doorways: from south to north, their pediments show Krishna defeating the naga Kaliya; Indra riding Airavata; and Vishnu riding Garuda. The east wall bears dvarapalas and devatas. Entrances to the south and north bear have inner and outer lintels, including one to the south which shows Krishna ripping Kamsa apart. A lintel showing Krishna killing Kamsa is on the south wall of the sanctuary.

Other features of the area are a library, in poor condition, south of the sanctuary, and a relief of the Hindu trinity to the northwest. There are other carvings further north: a Buddha's footprint on the cliff-face, and boulders shaped to resemble elephants and a crocodile. The crocodile stone has acquired some notoriety as being possibly the site of an annual human sacrifice described in a 6th-century Chinese text; the identification is lent some plausibility by the similarity of the crocodile's dimensions to those of a human.

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After three very pleasant days in Champasak, we left for Pakse


On to Pakse

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