The town of Champasak is on the west bank of the river, the opposite side of the paved "highway" that runs north to south along the Lao/Thai border. This means you need to board a rickety old ferry to get across the river, and then walk (or flag down a ride) another couple of kilometers south to the town. Its a bit out of the way, but your efforts are rewarded with a quiet and peaceful village and some gorgeous views over the river.
The area was once the capital of the Lao Kingdom and Wat Phu Champasak is set in kingly fashion on the side of a mountain about 5 kilometers south of town. The ruins are relatively humble in comparison to those at Angkor, but beautiful their own right.
We walked along a narrow causeway skirted by two rectangular reservoirs until we reached two crumbling pavilions and finally the stairway that leads up to the main temple. The climb to the top was brutal (April is the hottest time of the year in Laos!), but we were emboldened by the laughter of the Buddhist pilgrims who accompanied us and comforted by the shade and delicate fragrance offered by the pretty yellow and white frangipani trees lining the steps.
The temple at the top exhibited an interesting mix of Hindu and Buddhist influence and there were a couple of fascinating rock-carved sculptures in the surrounding thicket, including a table shaped like a crocodile that archaeologists suspect may have been used for human sacrifices. We dipped our hands in the spring water that emerged from a cave in the mountain, hoping to benefit from its reputed magical properties. After drinking in a few last glimpses of the golden countryside that unfolded below us, we headed back to our motorbike and enjoyed a tranquil ride home in the soft light of dusk.