Don Khong Island: Friday 29th March 2008
Mone picked us up from the hotel and dropped us off at Talat Suo Market. We had a quick wander through and bought a few woven scarves. Then it was to the airport for our Air Laos flight to Pakse.
We met our new guide and were soon on the road again; today would be a lot of driving. The flight was a later flight than normal according to how the itinerary was planned so we skipped lunch (we’d eaten enough on the plane anyway, and could easily miss a few meals with the amount of food we had been eating).
From the roadside we could see a natural mound on the peak of the highest mountain which looked like a large breast, but was traditionally considered to be a linga, the Khmer sacred phallic symbol.
After crossing the Mekong on a barge we drove to the ruined Khmer Temple Vat Phou, built here because of the linga on the mountain top behind.
The paths leading to the temple were flanked on either side by linga and ceremonial washing pools were to the left (woman) and right (men) of the path. The path led us up crumbling uneven steps through century old Frangipani trees, the soft perfume following us.
We climbed the steep crumbling steps to the temple which had detailed carvings of Vishna, Brahma and apsaras. Indra sat atop his three headed elephant, the symbol of Laos.
Behind the temple in the rock face of the mountain a natural spring was captured. In the days of the temple, the water was channelled through stone conduits into the back of the temple where it flowed through a yoni stone. When the linga was inserted into the yoni, the water became sacred and continued down through channels into the ceremonial washing pools below, allowing worshippers to wash away the evil spirits on them before ascending to the temple.
Up the hill to the right of the temple was a large stone slab, carved in relief with a crocodile. Our guide informed us that this was used for human sacrifice. A young virgin boy and girl would be placed on the slab and beheaded, their blood drained off via a channel. In later years the sacrifice of people was replaced with the sacrificing of buffalo. According to the guide book, there is no evidence that this practice actually took place.
We returned across the river, passing hundreds of school kids riding home from school on their bikes.
We drove south towards Don Khong Island with the sun setting over the linga.
We arrived quite late in the dark at the old Russian barge we would use to get onto the island. A short wait for a few more passengers and were across the river and at our hotel. The hotel was new, only two years old and right on the banks of the Mekong. We ordered too much food again: a really nice and juicy ginger and lemon catfish, duck larb, fried rice with chicken and the best fried spring rolls you have ever tasted. All washed down with a really refreshing Beer Lao. We caught up on our e-mails then off to bed.