Champasak - Unchained Melody - CycleBlaze

December 21, 2023 to December 23, 2023

Champasak

A Town Without Stores but with a Good Future

This couldn't be a more pleasant place however the new guest house owner wants to make it even more pleasant. He and I talked about changing the floor from cement to something earthy like small river stones set in cement, maybe in a design.
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Ron SuchanekBe careful with your back!
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1 month ago

Champasak 

We love Champasak.  It's a tiny town without any stores to speak of which makes me wonder if it's a town at all.  Champasak is more like a feeling.  And the feeling is, LAID BACK.   We felt great the entire time we were there, three days and four nights.  Of course we were not riding on one of the worst roads in our lives anymore and instead were doing nothing but enjoying gourmet food right and left, so, of course we felt great.   

Most of the riverfront restaurants in Champasak look just like this.
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The Mekong is super wide at Champasak. Across is a huge island with not much on it.
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A big beach on the island across from Champasak.
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This restaurant delivered us the wrong kind of coffee and by the look on Andrea's face she instantly knows it's wrong. The server was confused about everything. As good as the setting was, we didn't return to this restaurant.
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I guess the netting over the restaurant is to catch falling leaves.
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A small evening market a block from our guest house.
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The thing about Champasak is that it's not on any through route.  I described what kind of road was to the south of Champasak and that it eventually led to islands with ferries you wouldn't want to put a car on.  So, going south along the Mekong in a car is kind of out.  The only good road that enters Champasak comes in from the north, upstream, along the Mekong.  There is a big bridge across the Mekong about twenty miles north of Champasak which goes across into Pakse, a fairly good sized Lao town.   That good road that comes into Champasak from the north continues south for about 9 kilometers to Wat Phou.  But south and west of Wat Phou there isn't much of anything and I doubt that will change anytime soon.  It's a large no-man's-land of scrub forest where Cambodia, Laos and Thailand meet.  The soil isn't good for farming, it seems drier and there aren't any towns.  The Mekong River forms the significant boundary all along to the east of Champasak.  The nearest center of commerce and trade is the bustling town of Pakse; twenty-five miles.  Put it all together and it makes Champasak the perfect place to retreat to, or, in other words, a place for artists.  It has that sort of atmosphere.  I could see an artist's community springing up there in the near future.  I see the seeds being planted right now.   

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We visited Champasak fifteen years ago and again nine years ago.  There are three things only that have changed in fifteen years.  There are two great new restaurants; Boupha Garden Cafe and Homemade Restaurant.  And our guest house, Souchitra Riverside.  All three are owned by artistically minded people who are making their establishments beautiful and presenting comfort at all levels.  We thoroughly enjoyed talking with all three owners.  Their excitement about their businesses was so positive that I'm sure they will be successful.  We loved the food we ate and count it as some of the best Lao food we have ever eaten.  And our guest house was perfect for us.

Our guest house owner is a French man who bought the run down place less than a year ago and has already done quite a lot to repair and update all the rooms. I'm sorry I never got his name but he was a very sensitive person who wants to transform his guest house so that guests will have more of a zen-like experience.  Already, each room has a second door on the opposite side of the room that opens onto an outside patio overlooking the Mekong River. It was so pleasant to sit and watch the sunrise over the river or to just sit out there in the quiet far from the street.  I certainly don't know what all the other guest houses are like in Champasak but I bet most of them, including the fancy and most expensive place in town, do not have patios overlooking the Mekong.  Overall, I think Souchitra Riverside is the best place to stay in Champasak and will only be getting better as the owner continues to improve the facilities.  He's also doing his part in reducing single-use plastic water bottles by offering free drinking water.  We have had very few guest houses offer such a thing. We filled our water bottles every day.

The front of part of Souchitra Riverside Guest House, Champasak, Laos.
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The Mekong side of Souchitra Riverside Guest House showing everyone's patios.
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Our door to the Mekong (and our patio).
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Boupha Garden Cafe is across the street from Souchitra down a little lane.  It is owned by a young Lao woman, Stephanie, who grew up largely in France.  I only have rudimentary facts about all three of the owners of these places I'm mentioning because a.) I'm a bad reporter, b.) I don't like to pry into people's lives and c.) there is always a bit of a language barrier, however all three of these people speak English well.

Stephanie's parents fled to France in 1975 I believe.  That's when the retributions began in earnest just after the war.  The family remained very connected to Laos and Stephanie is renting the beautiful antique house, where her peaceful cafe is, from a relative.  Her breakfasts are unique and delicious and to sit in her vast garden is a joy any time of day.  Her parents are the gardeners. She also roasts her own Bolaven Plateau coffee beans to perfection making her coffee as much a treat as her other treats: brownies, madeleines and muffins.  She is the only one in town making such things.  Inside or outside, Boupha Garden is a place I could sit and read or work on this journal all day long.

Boupha Garden Cafe - Champasak, Laos
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The wonderful and amazing owner of Boupha Garden Cafe, Stephanie. We think that is her name. Just look at her garden!!
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At Boupha Garden Cafe - A banana/chocolate muffin and some of the best tasting coffee I think I've ever had. It was like it was perfumed, in a good way.
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Frangipani, oh so sweet.
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Cornelia SchulzThey look a little bit like big jasmine blossoms. Do they also have a strong smell?
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanTo Cornelia SchulzThey smell wonderful. One of my favorite flower fragrances. However, each tree is different, some strong, some weak.
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1 month ago

And the third wonderful addition to Champasak is only a couple more blocks down the street; Homemade Restaurant.  Again, I didn't get the owner's name but he came to Champasak from Vientiane to cook absolutely great Lao recipes.  He made an abandoned building into a bit of a work of art and is mostly an outdoor affair.  I have to say....his traditional Lao dishes are the best I've ever eaten.  We returned for several meals because his menu was extensive and we wanted to try as many things as we could.  He also has a cooking school there and if we were planning on staying in Champasak a long time I definitely would have taken one of his classes because I believe he has a great deal of knowledge about Lao recipes.  He is quite a character, in a good way,  always happy, always laughing and joking.   It was a fun place to eat.

The wonderful and fun owner of Homemade. Take a cooking class from him.
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At Homemade Restaurant there was a very sweet little cat.
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Dinner at Homemade Restaurant.
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The best Nem Khao I've ever had. You spoon the nem khao, on the left, onto a big leaf and add all those other greens and some sticky rice, fold it up and enjoy it.
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This is a light fixture that the owner of Homemade Restaurant made. Homemade all right, but I loved it.
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Homemade Restaurant, Champasak, Laos. Homemade light fixture upper left.
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Mark LellmanI don't know if this is the owner's name, but it is his email:
keomookda@gmail.com
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanTo Mark LellmanWow, thanks.
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1 month ago

The whole time we were in Champasak we noticed that about 95% of the foreign tourists were French.  In fact we have noticed it for our entire trip so far in the three countries that made up 'Indochina' - colonies of France.  I think the saying holds, "The French love to return to places they once controlled."  I think it may be true!  Although the French are real true adventurers we've also found.  They will take their three kids with them whether they are all on bikes or have driven a van from Europe - overall, the most adventurous travelers.  

We were lucky to be in Champasak on a Friday because that is when the biggest market happens early in the morning.  We were also lucky about the change in the weather.  The wind had been blowing from the north or northeast for many days and I thought that eventually it would bring down some cooler weather.  Well, it finally did.  We even had to dig out our fuzzos (fleece jackets) which we never thought would ever see anything other than the bottom of our panniers.  We didn't even need the air conditioner in our room!  It's only a bit more than a ten degree drop but the humidity also dropped quite a bit.  It was actually perfect temperatures for our entire stay in Champasak and we were thrilled by the change.  Winter finally arrived!  Now people are trudging around in big down winter coats and all muttering, "Naow!", which means, 'cold'.  I'm in shorts loving the change and they are freezing to death.

The big Friday morning Champasak market.
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Friday morning market in Champasak.
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Bagging up some baby ducks!
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Cornelia SchulzThey carry them home in plastic bags alive… and then?
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1 month ago
Bruce LellmanTo Cornelia SchulzI presume they grow them up! Animals are treated pretty roughly in Laos.
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1 month ago
In Champasak I noticed the sticky rice steamer baskets were thicker and more nicely designed with those black stripes than any I've ever seen. I wanted one but refrained.
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I love the smell of sticky rice in the morning.
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Mark Lellmanbetter than napalm
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1 month ago

I also wanted to mention that there are lots of temples in Champasak.  None of them are in good condition or anything special but it reminds me a bit of Luang Prabang where there is temple after temple down the main street.  I went into all that were open and found that they all need repair and some loving care.  If the town gets more of an influx of money they will eventually be spiffed up.

Directly to the west of Champasak are some pretty formidable mountains.
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Kind of run-down temples but I love kind of run-down temples.
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In one temple were these cute stands. I wanted all of them.
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What I see in this crystal ball is a green future for Champasak.
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A quilt for monks at a temple. It says, "Good Happy Life" Fitting.
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This famous Buddha statue is a little south of Champasak. The Bodhi Tree (The kind of tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment) is slowly growing around the statue incorporating it as its own. How appropriate.
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This cow and I became fast friends. She came to me and I scratched her head repeatedly. She was so sweet.
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Jen RahnShe's beautiful!
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Bruce LellmanTo Jen RahnDon't tell Andrea but she and I had something going on.
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1 month ago
The mother of the cow I befriended giving me the once over. I'm not sure she approves of me associating with her daughter.
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I wanted to steal this cobra someone carved. It's folk art!! Look at all those teeth!
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The most extravagant house in Champasak. It's French Colonial, possibly the former French governor's mansion. Only a guess. But notice the fence. It's made from treads used in the Vietnam War for vehicles to gain traction in mud.
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The second most extravagant French Colonial mansion in Champasak almost next to the other one.
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This is about as center of town as it gets in Champasak. This building is slowly melting into the earth. It's French Colonial and it would be nice if someone saved it before it's too late.
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Whenever you see a house with two peaks, one larger and taller than the other, like this one you know it is very traditional, and old. They don't make them like this anymore. And this one's property was Mekong Riverfront.
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The other thing that I wanted to mention is that there is actually one store in town.  It's not much of a store but they do sell a large variety of items.  The stuff is oddly juxtaposed next to each other such as motor oil next to shampoo.  The store is open to the street across the entire front, as most are, and dust and dirt has wafted in for years.  Most of the items in the store are covered in dirt and look like they have been sitting there for years.  Metal items are rusting from the humidity.  But in that store I found a little bottle of sewing machine oil so dirty I didn't want to touch it but I thought it might be something I could put sparingly on my bicycle belt to see if it takes away the screeching.  It had a 5000 written on it but the cashier charged me 10,000 Kip.  Inflation has no bounds, dirt settling on merchandise included.

Back at the guest house I cleaned my belt with a toothbrush without water.  Then I put a very tiny amount of the sewing machine oil in each groove of the belt and spread it thinly with the toothbrush.  I let it dry and surprisingly the light sewing machine oil dried nicely.  Then I took it for a spin.  NO SCREECHING!!  I'm so happy.  I will forever have a good feeling for peaceful Champasak, especially with the new developments in town, but also for being the place where my screeching stopped.   

lovebruce

The view of the Mekong from our room.
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Today's ride: 5 miles (8 km)
Total: 472 miles (760 km)

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Rachael AndersonWhat a wonderful place! I hope your screeching belt drive issue is solved.
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1 month ago
Jen RahnHooray for the sewing machine oil!!

Here's to the Sound of Screechlessness.
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1 month ago