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

Sunday, May 27, 2012

One Royal Day - Pakse's Champasak Palace Hotel

Once upon a time, in a far away land of indomitable warriors, there lived a prince whose father succumbs to illness. Now who doesn't want a piece of this fantasy world? So when the opportunity presented itself, I booked for a room at a palace-turned-hotel in Pakse. Wouldn't you?

The Champasak Palace was a former residence of the Prince of Champasak, Chao Boun Oum, the son of King Ratsadanay from the latter's 4th wife, Princess Sudhisaramuni. Boun Oum ascended to the throne in 1946 upon the death of his father. But he eventually renounced his rights to give way to a united royalty system that made Sisavangvong the ruler of the unified kingdom. He became Prime Minister of Laos from 1948 to 1950 where, as a sympathetic patron of the French colonial rule, he commanded a force of 15,000 to fight the Japanese Troops and the Lao Issara uprising of South Laos. In 1960, he once again became PM for two years, then retired from politics thereafter. When the communist group Pathet Lao (a movement closely associated with the Vietnamese communists) came to power in 1975, Boun Oum had to abandon his post, flew to France for medical treatment and never came back. Sounds familiar? History is really a vicious cycle of seemingly preordained events, something that’s dressed differently where, in truth, is a familiar animal. With the monarchy abolished, what is left for any royal blood to linger?

Construction of the palace began in 1968 and went on until 1976 when the Prince of Champasak Chao Boun Oum had to abandon it 2 years short of its completion. The architectural style is French, more than Lao, although, as mentioned before, it reminded me of Louisiana and New Orleans of a grander scale.

In 1995, a Thai conglomerate succeeded their negotiations with the Lao government, effectively converting the palace into a hotel. Though the establishment has been fitted for consumerism (so much for the  tenets of communism, right?), much of its interiors and designs have been retained: the hand-painted art-deco tiles; the exquisite hand carvings found in windows, stairway posts and cornices – each one different from the next. 

The hotel boasts of 5 floors, 116 guest rooms, 6 different categories (according to the financial capability of the guest), glass elevator (the only one of its kind in the country) and a view of Pakse right in the heart of the southern capital. As a trivia, the establishment has 1,900 doors and windows, thus earning it the moniker of “Thousand Room Pavillion”.

Champasak Palace Hotel: grand wedding-cake layer design!

Though the hotel staff is mostly hospitable and accommodating, their number is limited. In fact, a hotel this big requires more personnel to run it competently. This is the reason why typical (i.e. “expected”) services found in other nearby hotels and guesthouses - like day tours, purchase of bus and plane tickets, transportations from and to the hotel, etc. - aren't offered here. One must arrange and secure his own transfer arrangement. The hotel won’t do it for you. If you require a tuktuk to take you around town, they will cordially offer a big grin then point you to the highway just outside the hotel where you could hail yourself transportation. Convenient, right?

The hotel is situated in the heart of the city. With its very central site, every tuktuks from terminals (from the VIP Bus Garage to the Southern Bus Terminal) know about this. And they cannot and should not charge exponentially considering its distance from the terminals. It should range between 20,000 to 40,000 kip from the terminal to the hotel. Moreover, the place is a wee more hectic because the hotel is located beside Route 13, the main highway that runs the north-south axis of Laos. There’s a beautiful, sprawling temple complex - Wat Tham Fai - to its south; the Sedone River and a scenic bridge (Sedone I Bridge) to its east; a backpacker’s row to the north; and the road towards Thailand to the west. Breakfast is a sumptuous buffet at the main restaurant beside the front desk at the hotel lobby. Dining tables are also available at the backyard garden.


I got my room at the 2nd floor, room 203. It had a veranda and faced the lawn. More importantly, it had tastefully decorated interiors: from the curtains, fixtures of ceiling to floor, a huge bathroom with a curvaceous tub, etc. It was a beautiful place to stay! At night, I could sit at a corner and daydream of its bountiful, nay adventurous past; of gracious princesses and lavish ceremonies. It isn't such a bad deal to get a piece of fairy tale here.

The hotel is located 3 kilometers from Pakse Airport which has limited local services..

Call them at +856-31-212-263 or email them at You can also visit their website at More conveniently, Agoda offers discounts on certain months. A single standard room costs about 500,000 kip ($65 or P3,000) - and even cheaper if you a) book early, b) chance on a promo offer, c) book during an off-peak season. I would suggest Agoda, of course, for a no-frills booking. This includes buffet breakfast. Where else do you find palace living as cheap as this? Only in Laos.

For a gallery of the palace grounds:

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Lotus flowers and Koi fishes inhabit this pond.
Hotel lobby surrounded by a pond and a garden

A fountain intermittently works at the facade of the palace-hotel grounds.

Front desk

Restaurant beside the front desk.

There are tables and chairs at the backyard of the hotel where you can spend  your meal at a garden with a pagoda and animal sculptures.

Warm morning sun bathes this east-facing veranda. 

My room at 203.

My veranda. Notice the door design and the unique lock system.

From my room, this hallway leads east to a glass lift.

At night, my beautiful veranda can get eerie.

The veranda facing the east which has a view of Sedone River.

A view of Sedone River

Sedone I Bridge. Just across the river is a quaint temple that people refer to as Wat Tsin, i.e. the chinese temple. Would I be able to see it up close?

The reclusive Wat Tsin from across Sedone River.

Wat Tsin

Statues of animals at the hotel's backyard

Restaurant tables at the backyard garden at night

A room at the 5th floor

Night view of the main highway, Route 13 at night.

Scale model of the palace now a hotel.