One of the primary tourist attractions in southern Laos is Wat Phou, the site of ancient ruins located just outside Champasak in between Pakse and the 4000 islands. The ruins date back to the Khmer empire in the 5th century and the area was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sounds awesome, right? So how do you get there?
If you do go to Wat Phou, you have two options to get to Champasak from Pakse:
VIP Bus for 70,000 kips, or ~$9 USD. VIP sounds like a slam dunk! This is definitely the more luxurious option (using “luxurious” in a relative sense). You will have your own private seat. There will be A/C…that may or may not work. There will not be any pigs on the bus. Your bathroom stops will be made at markets where the driver knows everyone and can get a free lunch as commission for the small fee your entire bus will pay to use a SE Asian toilet (more or less a hole in the ground). If this sounds like your style, the VIP leaves once a day from Pakse at 8am.
Local Bus – By local bus, I mean big tuk tuk (“songthaew”). This will only run you back 20,000 kips, or ~$2.50 and there are waves that leave all morning until Noon. Perfect. HOWEVER, you will be packed like sardines surrounded by Laotians, a dozen little pigs, babies being breastfed, and every local’s groceries bought from the market that morning (which could include 50 pound bags of rice and a month’s worth of other items as your foot rest). You may also be lucky enough to get the “seat” on the 2×4 that runs across the middle of the tuk tuk, serving as a makeshift 3rd row section for farangs (foreigners). Your bathroom stops will be made randomly on the side of the road. You will know the bathroom stop is happening when all men, women, and children jump out of the truck at once, scurry into the woods to do you know what, and then jump back into the songthaew to handle their groceries after taking care of business with no soap, water, or toilet paper. Luckily it’s only about an hour long trip.
After quite the experience getting to Champasek, Wat Phou just didn’t do it for us. It could have been the pigs. Or that we had seen way too many temples already. Or that we were tired of basically hitchhiking on local tuk tuks to get around southern Laos. Or that we got up early to watch the worst Super Bowl ever. We walked around for a few hours and took a few pictures to occupy the time, but after a while eating sticky rice at our guesthouse by the Mekong River sounded much better than staring blankly at a bunch of old stone structures.
I will say this – if you are really into temples and historical stuff, Wat Phou may be the place for you. We also didn’t get a guide, which may have provided some more insightful historical context (they do have a pamphlet that provides some useful info). However, if you’re already tapped out on temples and not heading this way already, we’d recommend just skipping it.