Stones in the Sky - How to get to Lingaparvata

Pilgrimage to a Holy Mountain


Willard Van De Bogart

Note: Details on reservations, visas and prices with internet links are at the end of the travel tips.
Note: All links active as of May 1, 2006

If you allow a suspension of time where the past and present intermingle you will find a celestial chariot just outside the train station grounds in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand awaiting to take you to the Holy Land of Kuruksetra and Lingaparvata. in Laos. If you chant three times,

I'll go to Kuruksetra
I'll stay in Kuruksetra

the sacred white horses will rear their heads and appear ready to whisk you away to the Holy Land. But even if you don't think this is a possible way to travel I suggest you walk over to the chariot of the gods, which symbolizes your entry into this ancient world of gods and kings of long ago. It's a fitting image to experience before continuing your pilgrimage which demonstrates the power of myth that permeates this part of the world.

Chariot of the gods in Ubon Ratchathani

Traveling to the ancient Holy Land of Kuruksetra in present day Champassak, S Laos requires a few modes of transportation in order to get there. I will use Bangkok, Thailand as the starting point for this pilgrimage to Kuruksetra since Bangkok is the largest international airline hub closest to Laos. So, once you arrive at Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok your pilgrimage begins. For those people already in Thailand these directions will be the same.

There are three major ways to begin the pilgrimage to Champassak, Laos.
1. By air
2. By train
3. By bus

1.  The quickest and most expensive way to get to S Laos is by air. However, as of this writing there are no direct flights from Bangkok to S Laos. There is a flight from Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos, and from Vientiane to Pakse in S Laos through Lao Airlines. There is a flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia and from Siem Reap to Pakse in S Laos. But for the time being there is only a domestic flight from Bangkok by Thai Airways to Ubon Rachathani taking a little over an hour.

Ubon Ratchathani can also be reached by train as well as bus. It's necessary to go to Ubon Ratchathani because only in Ubon can you take a bus directly to Pakse in S Laos which crosses the Chong Mek border crossing into Laos. This is a new service which just began in FebruARY OF 2006.

It is necessary to obtain a Lao visa which cost 1,500 bhat. Visas are issued at the border crossing as well as the Lao Embassy in Bangkok.

Once you reach Pakse you have to take another bus to Champassak or a taxi both which take an hour. However, a bit of advice making these bus connections to Champassak. Its best to arrive in Pakse as early as possible seeing as the buses stop running around 1pm. If you leave Ubon Rachathani early in the morning there should be no trouble in getting a connection to Champassak.

You absolutely must get to Pakse to make the connection to Champassak. Again you can also reach Pakse by bus from Vientiane which continues on to Champassak.

2.  The train is less expensive than air and takes 11 hours to get to Ubon Rachathani. The bus takes about 9 - 10 hours. The train leaves for Ubon rachathani at 9PM and arrives in Ubon rachathani at 8AM. This early arrival in Ubon gives you plenty of time for connecting buses to get to Pakse. You should be able to arrive in Champassak by 4PM if you leave Ubon by 8:30AM

The train offers sleeping berths which I highly recommend. The lower berth is much wider than the upper berth. If you absolutely need an air con sleeping car then be prepared for a very cool evening. The train cars with fans are suitable but not as clean as the air con sleeping cars. These sleeping cars have clean toilets as well as wash basins with mirrors (no hot water). The dining car is close by and meals are available from a walking porter or you can sit in the dining car and order directly. The Thai food is exceptionally good on the trains. Roasted cashew nuts with chili peppers, sliced tomato, lettuce and cucumber with a dash of salt is an exceptionally good appetizer with a beer chaser; whiskey and coke is also served.

The next time you have to concern yourself with personal toiletries is when you get to Champassak when you will need a quest house. There are about a dozen small quest houses close to the center of Champassak. All are reasonably priced. There are now several new restaurants in Champassak. One is in the center of town near the circle with the flag pole, and one has just been completed inside the main gate to Vat Phu. Most all the quest houses have a kitchen and most of the quest houses are near Vat Thong, the temple where many of the royal families reliquaries are kept containing their ashes. King Nyutthitham (1885) has his ashes kept at Vat Thong. Vat Thong is in easy walking distance of the quest houses or a bicycle rental from the quest houses. There are no banks or ATM machines in Champassak, one public telephone, and a post office. There is a currency exchange office in a home on a small soi near the old UNESCO building between Vat Thong and the main road through town. One bhat equals 263 kip. 4,000  bhat equals 1,000,000 kip.
There is also one internet shop called Internet Nam Ohy in front of Amath Temple run by a very nice Japanese man Yuji Iwatsuki email is, . If you have a cell phone Laos now offers a calling card for 40,000kip which allows you to connect outside of the country.

If you absolutely need to feel secure about a place to sleep I suggest contacting Vieng Kham Narissak, manager of the Vong Paseud Quest House located in Central Champassak. Its a rustic quiet place with a veranda overlooking the Mekong River, as most quest houses do, and has air con rooms and ones with fans. The sunrise in the morning is very picturesque. Prices start at 10,000kip per night. All rooms have private baths. The kitchen is always open and they make very good Laos noodle soup. Mobile phone for Narissak is:  (031) 227 7606, Tel at Guest House : (031) 920 038

3. The bus is less expensive than either of the train or by air. However, with such a long distance and needing to arrive in the morning in Ubon Rachathani you would have to sleep on the bus. The seats recline and there are movies to watch and on board beverages but not as comfortable as sleeping in a berth in a train. The price is about half as what the train would cost.

The Holy Land of Kuruksetra is a UNESCO preservation zone with many fragile remains of buildings and temples which can only be detected by bricks and stones lying on the ground. The two ancient Barays are very visible as is the wall that surrounded Kuruksetra. Its best to contact the deputy director of the Vat Phu Museum for a guided tour of the ancient city to avoid disrupting any archaeological diggings. I suggest you contact either Oudomsy Keosaksith the Deputy Director of the Vat Phu Museum or Thongkhoune Boriboune who is the Director to get further information on guided tours.These tours start at 200,000  kip

Now lets look at the internet links and prices:

1.  By air:

On September 28, 2006 Thailand's new Suvarnabhumi Airport opened. A connection to a domestic flight will be necessary to Ubon Rachathani. Check with the new airport flight schedules when it opens.

Once you get to Thai Airways at the domestic terminal you have to book a flight to Ubon Rachathani.
This is the link to Thai Airways: Thai Airways
You will be looking for Flight TG 020, 022, or 033, flight time one hour and 5 minutes.

Cost: 1st class: 6890  bhat
Economy class 4490  bhat

Be sure you arrive early in Ubon Rachathani otherwise connections to Champassak are difficult to get late in the afternoon in Pakse. This is why I opt for the train. The train definitely arrives at 8am in the morning in Ubon rachathani leaving plenty of time for all connections to Champassak.

If you want to fly to Vientiane, Laos and then fly to Pakse the link is Lao Airlines

2.  By train:

Remember, the train leaves at 9PM from Bangkok.
Once you have passed through customs you can either stay in Bangkok for the night and get your Lao visa the next day or go directly to the Hau Lam Pong train station by taxis which cost 150bhat.
Link to the Lao Embassy in Bangkok: Lao Embassy
Link to the Hau Lam Pong train station in Bangkok: Hau Lam Pong train station
If the ticket reservation link does not work on the Hau Lam Pong web site then the main railway ticket reservation link is:
Main Railway Ticket Reservation

If you stay in Bangkok there are two excellent mass transit systems which will get you directly to the train station as well as all around Bangkok.

1. The BTS Skytrain: BTS Skytrain
2. The MRT underground: MRT Underground

Once you arrive at the train station you have to buy a ticket to Ubon Rachathani: Train Station Ticket Reservation

The cost is about 430 bhat for a fan car, lower berth, and 630  bhat for a lower birth in an air con car. There is not much difference in price for an upper or lower birth. Usually the lower berths are booked in advance.

If you wanted to just sit for 11 hours on the train the cost is about 60 bhat

3. By bus:

The bus from Bangkok to Ubon Rachathani leaves the Northern bus terminal in Mochit, and its best to get a bus which arrives early in the morning. If you do not mind sleeping on the bus overnight then the price is cheaper than the train or by air; About 350 bhat. A bus ticket will give you a food voucher so there is one meal provided by the ticket at a Thai food court bus stop. The bus is a VIP bus with sitting on an upper level. Do not get a local bus that stops at every town. Be sure to get the express air con bus. The Northern Bus Terminal tel number in Bangkok for schedules for air con buses is: 279-4487-5. There is a Mochit Skytrain station, but you then have to take a taxi to the bus terminal. Cost 50 bhat and takes 10 minutes.

Once in Ubon Rachathani you have to take a tuk tuk to the main bus station for about 30  bhat. It takes about 10 minutes. Banks open at 8:30am on week days if you wanted to do some banking. I suggest the Krung Thai Bank in Ubon rachathani. The bus to Pakse direct cost 200  bhat and leaves three times a day. This is a new service so I do not have the departure times. If you do miss the direct bus you can always take a regular bus to Phibun Mangsahan for 35  bhat, and from Phibun Mangsahan get another bus to Chong Mek at the border. These buses run about every 20 minutes so if you miss one there is another one right after it. Then, if you do not have your Lao visa you have to buy one at the Lao immigration arrival window (don't forget a passport size photograph of yourself).
There is a currency exchange window on the same side of the building where you get your Lao visa. They are closed from 12PM - 1PM for lunch.
After you get your Lao visa you have walk quite a distance to take a small open air jumbo bus to Pakse which cost 5,000 kip (its very packed so be prepared, luggage is placed on top of the bus) or a take a taxi for 70,000  kip. Driving time from Chong Mek to Pakse is about an hour. From the immigration office you can sit on a push cart with your luggage and be taken to the open market bus depot for 40  bhat. Believe me its a lot easier because its very hot.

Finally, from the drop off point when you arrive in Pakse you then have to take a tuk tuk to the open market where the buses leave for Champassak. The tuk tuk cost 5,000  kip and it takes 15 minutes. Or you can take a taxi for 50,000 kip directly to Champassak from the first open market you reach after you cross over the Mekong River on a large bridge.
However, if you do go by bus to Champassak you have to go to the another open market bus depot. You then have to either find a jumbo bus, a regular bus or a taxi. Prices to Champassak by taxi are the same as at the first drop off from Chong Mek; 50,000 kip. The buses from the 2nd open air market cost 5,000 kip. The large enclosed bus runs infrequently as it comes from Vientiane so I suggest you take the first jumbo bus you can get going to Champassak. They both cost the same; 5,000 kip

If you arrive late in Pakse there are many fine hotels in Pakse to stay at for the night. The Pakse Hotel is very nice. Pakse is a popular place to stay for a night before continuing on to either Vietnam or south to Champassak and further south to the Lao Cambodia border to see the dolphins, islands and water falls.

You have to cross the Mekong River to get to Champassak and once you are on the other side ask the driver to let you off at a quest house you have already made a reservation for, or get let off in the center of Champassak and inquire on your own. Its best you have prepared a place to stay ahead of time. Enjoy your trip.

Back to Lingaparvata:

Part VI - Stones in the Sky - Pilgrimage to Lingaparvata (Linga Mountain, Champassak, Laos) - February 8-12, 2006

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