Men waiting for a ferry on a dock in Champasak, Laos
Men waiting for a ferry on a dock in Champasak, Laos

I love ruins, buildings and architecture, so when our book said that Wat Phou had the most beautiful Khmer ruins in Laos that were evocative of Angkor, I couldn’t say no! Located in the town of Champasak, our journey took nearly 20 hours from Vang Vieng including an overnight sleeper bus and a giant ferry across the Mekong River.

The town itself is built around a long and sleepy local street. There are a few guesthouses and local restaurants, but it is by far one of the least touristic place we’ve been on this trip. I felt completely at home at our guest house and loved relaxing on the large communal balcony restaurant that overlooked the Mekong.

Wat Phou with the town of Champasak in the distance
Wat Phou with the town of Champasak in the distance

Along with a German couple we met on the boat over, we hired a tuk tuk to take us up the road to Wat Phou. This offered us a great glimpse at local life as we passed through rice fields and villages watching scores of Lao people at work and play. The ruins themselves were, as advertised, beautiful. Sandwiched between two lakes and a mountain range, they were pretty well restored. Unfortunately, we could only walk next to them and not through them, due to continuing work being done.

By far the highlight was climbing up the steep stairs behind the ruins into the mountains. In addition to the spectacular views of Wat Phou and the surrounding town and countryside there was another temple with a beautiful Buddha statue, rock sculptures, other buildings and a boulder that dripped Buddhist holy water into a basin. We must have spent at least an hour up there just taking it all in.

The boy in front was the one who was using my camera at the Groupe Scolaire de Champassak
The boy in front was the one who was using my camera at the Groupe Scolaire de Champassak

The final story from our time in Chapansak came later in the evening when Carrie and I went for a walk to see the sunset and found an abandoned school with a bunch of kids playing in the field out front. The classrooms still had some desks and writing on the chalk board and we went nuts taking photos of the rooms and the sunset behind the mountains behind them.

Halfway through our exploration of the school, one of the boys from the field came over and wanted to play with my DSLR camera. Though I kept one hand on the strap the whole time, I let him go nuts and he had a blast taking photos of all his friends. He literally just stood there, held the shutter button down and took at least 300 photos.

Supervising the kids playing with my camera
Supervising the kids playing with my camera

Most of the photos were blurry messes but it didn’t matter to him. The best part was when his friends came over to see what he was doing and try to play he acted like it was his camera, allowing them to touch it for a second or two but then taking it back to continue using it himself.

His familiarity with how to hold and use the camera leads me to believe I was not the first person he had this experience with. But for me it was unforgettable.