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This tip concerns the amazing Wat Phou (also rendered Wat Phu / Pou) and it would be easy to run out of superlatives very quickly when trying to describe it. In my life I have been priveleged enough to have visited both Angkor in Cambodia and Bagan in Burma and, whilst not on the same scale, this place certainnly merits comparison with both. For scholars of the region I should add that I have not yet visited Sukothai in Thailand but it is very much in my plans.
Imagine, if you will, a sort of Indiana Jones meets L. Rider Haggard with a bit of 1950's Boy's Own comic and a dash of Tomb Raider and you have the idea. I do not use the term comic book in the title to in any way demean the very obvious and continuing religious imprtance of the site but that is just what images were conjured up in my Western imagination when I visited here. So what exactly is this wonderful, mystical place?
As I mentioned, I had previously visited Angkor in Cambodia and marvelled at the way the civilisation here was so markedly advanced for it's time compared to what Europeans in now so-called developed countries were doing. When I read that Wat Phou pre-dated Angkor by some centuries, I was completely amazed. Isn't it strange how things go? A country who are now desperately trying to throw off the tag of "least-developed" in our post-Millenium world had the ability to make something as stunning as this when people in my country were basically living in not much better than mud huts on fortified hillsides. It never ceases to amaze me. Enough, however, of my ill-educated ramblings and onto the facts of the matter.
Although most of what remains here is from the 10th and 11th centuries AD, the original Hindu Temple (the Khmer who ruled here then were Hindu), remains has been dated back to the 5th and 6th centuries. The bulk of the work, however, was done later, and spanned several centuries. The results simply have to be seen to be believed. According to my practice, I will only upload one or two images here but a full travelogue will be forthcoming on my return home. Let me take you for a walk through it.
Go in the front gate and park up your scooter (or bicycle, depending on preference). Don't be fooled by the gatehouse affair on your right, that is not the ticket booth, although they will direct you there. It is actually co-located with the cafe and local craft shop in the large building to the right. Your guidebook may mislead you here. Mine stated that the staff would effecively let you wander about from sunrise to sunset, and this is the case but at a premium. Standard entrance for foreigners is 30,000 kip (and well worth it) but you can get a 40,000 kip ticket if you arrive before 0830 or after 1600.
After ticket purchase, my advice to you is to head straight across the carpark to the very well-presented exhibition / musem, which is included in the entry price. A number of the more vulnerable and important pieces have been preserved here and the whole place is impeccably set out with good annotation in both Lao and English. Don't miss the small but impressive collection of photos in the back corridor.
Leaving the exhibition hall, I suggest you follow the very good little pamphlet they give you with the ticket (available in several languages). As you look, you will walk along the left hand side of the Barays (man-made reservoir). The largest of these are 600 metres long, and to follow on an earlier theme, it amazes me that people that long ago could manage such feats of engineering. I wonder when the first comparable reservoir was constructed in Europe. I am neither historian nor archaeologist, although I would love to be either or both, but my gut instinct is that the Northern Baray must have been a later addition to accord with the need for water. If you remove it, everything else is perfectly symmetrical, but with it the whole thing is "thrown out of kilter" as we would say in my home country.
Turning right at the end of the Southern Baray, you walk along the gopura, a sort of terrace affair, which is still in reasonable repair given the vagaries of the weather here. It is then that you can, with a little imagination, transport yourself back to the glories of the ancient Khmer Empire. Turning West again, you begin the walk along the processional causeway towards the temple site proper. In those days, the high and mighty would have sat on the gopura either to watch guests arriving or watch sports in the Baray itself. I realise fully that I make constant comparisons to Angkor, and this is impossible to avoid. Walking along here is to experience exactly the same sensation as to walk along the ceremonial causeway in Angkor towards the elephant terrace. It is suggested that Phou was the inspiration for the causeway at Angkor. The whole thing is designed to awe and humble the visitor in the face of such obvious power, and it retains that power today albeit that it is semi-ruined. Imagine a vassal King approaching here, perhaps in the afternoon with a lowering, powerful Asian sun in his face, to approach his King, the most powerful man in his known world. Beyond the initial gopura, the eye would be drawn ever upwards into that sun towards the sacred and mysterious places half hidden by the glare above. to use a much overused word, it must have been awesome then and remains awesome today. You really should visit.
Updated Jun 27, 2011
Well, this is a VT first for me. I have written so much in the main text box, I have exceeded the 10,000 character limit, so I will need to spread this over two tips. I make no apologies, the place really merits the coverage.
If this tip is becoming boring and somewhat akin to an ancient history lesson, please feel free to leave now, but I would like to record my impressions of a place that made a profound impression on me. I should digress yet again to explain something else. Every year in February or March, depending on the lunar calender, the Wat Phou festival takes place. This is between three and five days of revelry, drinking, music and so on. My timing was as always impeccable, impeccably bad that is. I arrived two days after the event finished to find gangs of workmen de-constructing stages, and a positive army of locals litter-picking. It really was rather a mess, although no doubt they would have had it back to normal in a day or two. Therefore, do not judge the site solely on my rather litter-strewn images.
If your imagination has allowed you to pass the majesty of the ceremonial causeway, you will come to two structures, both still in reasonable repair which are variously referred to as the quadrangles, pavilions or palaces. these were a later addition to the main temple, probably constructed in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. Pause here for a while to admire the quality of the workmanship and imagine what these places must have been like when new. The "palaces" are believed to have been places of worship segregated by gender, men on the right, women on the left, and the small structure to the rear of the women's side may have been the Queen's personal place.
Carrying on West, you will pass the Nandin temple on the left. I say you will pass by it as it is currently closed for renovation and I suspect will be for some time. It was dedicated to Nandi, the hump backed bull believed by Hindus to carry the God S(h)iva and, if you have followed my advice thus far, you will have seen an excellent statue of the nandi in the exhibition at the entrance. Just beyond the Nandin temple is the start of the ancient road to Angkor. You can just imagine people setting out on what was probably quite an arduous journey, albeit a much travelled one, as the Khmer Kings kept up Wat Phou right until the last days of the empire.
At this point you are going upwards on a set of sometimes quite steep steps, eventually to a height of 90 metres, where you will eventually emerge, breathless no doubt, in front of the main temple, a wonderful structure originally dedicated to S(h)iva and bearing some wonderful carvings all over the outside. It is now a Buddhist temple with a fine image inside, although expert opinion is divided as to when this change of use took place. It may have been in the reign of King Jayavarman VII in the 13th century or later on in the 14th century on the demise of the Khmer Empire and the return of Lao rule to the area.
After looking round the temple, walk to your left along a well-defined track and you will come to a large rock, the natural shape of which has lent itself to a carving of an elephant head on it. Elephants were hugely important in Khmer society as efficient workhorses, battle engines and status sypmbols. Indeed, Lao was once known as "Land of a million elephants". Should you require it, there are toilets close to Elephant Rock.
Double back on yourself to the other across the back of the main temple and you will come to one of the main reasons for this huge and impressive complex. Underneath an overhanging rock, there is a small shrine with water dripping down (it was the dry season) which is the holy spring. Even today, this is channelled into a cistern by means of a carved wooden channel. You should remember that this place is still a functioning place of worship as well as a World Heritage site and dress and act appropriately. In the temple's heyday, this water would have been channelled through the back wall of the temple where it washed the holy linga and was then further channelled into a receptacle outside for the faithful to bathe in.
Come back towards the front of the temple now and you will see the small remains of what is believed to be the library, and at this point you should stop. Sit down on one of the numerous rocks and just look. This is maybe the best bit. Whilst the temple may have been built here due to the supposed linga-like shape of the mountain or the sacred spring, the view alone should have been sufficient to make this place special, they are simply breathtaking. Look back out over the steps and the gopura, back past the vast barays, across an unbroken vista of flat, cultivated land to the Mekong flowing majestically on it's journey to the sea and I defy you not to be awestruck. I know this all sounds a bit William Wordsworth but this is the impression it left on me.
After taking your fill of the view, start your descent (be careful, it is steep) and walk back along the other side of the Southern baray to the entrance again. As you leave, take a lst look back over your shoulder at a place that I guarantee will have affected you in some way.
Written Feb 18, 2010
The Angkor-period ruins. One of world heritage site by UNESCO.
I went to the historical site "Wat Phu" by mortorbike and take a boat cross the river, starting from Pakse to KM 30 and then follow the sign to right hand site around 7 kms to the pier , take boat around 10 minutes and then riding about 10 kms to the place.
The entrance fee is 30,000 kip or 3 US
Updated Dec 16, 2007
Champasak used to be an important commercial city in the past. So you can see some shophouses along the main street pararelled with river. Nowaday, the main city have moved to Pakse,so almost shophouses run down. Some changed to be a house and some ruins. When I was there I enjoyed to see all old buildings but felt sad if some 'll destroy.
Updated Jun 1, 2006
This palace used to be the palace of Chao Raja danai (Father of Chao Boon Oum) ,King of Champasak. For now, the King's relative 's still live here. The building was built in Colonial style with big terrace at the front.
Updated Jun 1, 2006
This temple used to be the royal temple for Champasak Kingdom.The main building of this temple called Sim where monks do religious activities. This Sim built in old Laos style with arched and veranda on the front. It also decorated with stucco on the front wall. At the temple ground,it's a royal cemetry. Almost contains the ashes of Champasak Kings ,Queens and his/her family members.
Updated Nov 23, 2005
On the way to Vat Phou, I found one old temple where the main building 's running down. I 'm interested in the style of building and hopefully,it'll alive till next time I visit.
Updated Jun 1, 2006
Actually,I don't know the name of that mountain ranges.It 's behide the Champasak city. But it was a good scenery which I shouldn't missed to take the shots of its.
Updated Jun 1, 2006
On the way to Vat Phou, I found some Laos Traditional houses which built from wood. All attracted me to take so many shots on them.
Updated Jun 1, 2006
Another palace in Champasak,it used to be a palace of Chao Boon Oom (younger brother of King Boon Oum of Champasak). The building 's the white building located not so far from the first one.
Updated Jun 1, 2006