Vat Phou (Wat Phu) is an ancient Khmer temple complex. Found at the base of Mount Phu Kao in Champasak province in southern Laos, a temple has been on this site ever since the 5th century. However most of the ruins you see go back to the 11th to 13th centuries. The site afterwards became a centre of Theravada Buddhist worship, which it still is, to this day.
Getting to Vat Phou:
Flights to Vientiane connect many cities to this, the capital of Laos. To get to the Champasak province, many people take a boat down the Mekong. Pakse is the transport hub of the region, with an airport, bus service and limited boat access off the Mekong. To get to Champasak from here, you can take a minivan or a songthaew (boat) that takes about two hours down the river to Champasak or Than bhan khop which is about 30 minutes walk to Vat Phou (Vat Phou is about 13 kilometres from the town of Champasak.)
Vat Phou is considered one of the oldest archaeological sites in Laos. Constructed using sandstone, laterite and bricks, the temple complex is a major example of both early and classic Khmer architecture of the 7th-12th centuries. There are some outstanding carvings like the one of Indra, the Hindu god of war and Vishnu riding on a garuda, (eagle).
A World Heritage Site, the temple complex is a particularly fine example of the cultures of south-east Asia and especially the Khmer Empire that was in its heyday in this region between the 10th and 14th centuries. An active temple for Buddhist religious practice since Buddhism replaced Hinduism in Laos in the mid 13th century, there is an altar at the front section of its sanctuary that features four large Buddha images with more of these Buddha images around the ruins.
The terraced temple complex lies at the foot of a hill, Phou Kao and stretches west-east to a freshwater spring on a rock terrace where the shrine was built. There is an axial line running from the natural linga (phallic-like point) that can be seen up on the mountain summit to the shrine that was used as the basis for the layout of the whole complex.
On the full moon of the third lunar month (usually February), the temple’s most important annual festival takes place including many ceremonies and activities that last around a week. There are monk-blessing ceremonies, elephant races, buffalo and cock fighting as well as a trade fair with live music and traditional Lao dancing.
There are several guesthouses centred around the Fountain Circle in Champasak town, about three kilometres from Ban Phabin. Kham Phouy Guest House has nice big rooms and cosy bungalows. Otherwise Sala Wat Phou, on the north of the Fountain Circle is the luxury place of Champasak with air conditioning and hot water showers. For homestay accommodation go across from Don Daeng Islandon the Mekong River or Don Ko Island.
Shopping and Dining:
For quick and easy noodles, there’s lots of delicious street food from the local stalls on the main streets that serve noodle soup and standard Laos dishes like laap with sticky rice. Most guesthouses and hotel s also have restaurants. Lan Kham Noodle House is attached to Lan Kham hotel and is popular with locals for their breakfast menu that is usually served up in enormous bowls with fresh herbs and green salad.
Laos is particularly famous for its silk. Go to Don Ko Island to see locals weaving it and to buy your silken souvenirs.
A relatively unknown country for most travellers, Laos offers rewards for those that make the effort. The Vat Phou and associated ancient settlements are stunning and well worth a visit for tourists.
Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 & 2.