WAT PHOU CHAMPASAK – UNESCO site by the Mekong River
his UNESCO World Heritage Site is located at about one hour drive from Pakse where it is possible to hire a tuk-tuk or rent a car/minibus on a daily basis. Following Route 13, heading south, you will find a sign at Ban Lak Samseep and turn right for about 3 km until you reach the Mekong River at a very wide point. A ferry will take you across the river to Champasak town which is about 8 km from the site. If travelling by bus an overnight stay in Champasak is recommended. A number of small guesthouses are available.
Wat Phou is the most interesting and important site in Laos because it represents the origins of the Khmer civilization long before the appearance of Angkor. The ruins date back to the 9th and 12th centuries. The Khmers made it their main religious centre which, originally, was Hindu based and representations of Shiva, which among others, can still be seen today. Later, in the 16th century, it became a Buddhist site. Although small compared to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Wat Phou is charged with atmosphere.
On the grounds is a large pond with a wide walkway leading to the palace bordered with sculptures symbolizing the Laws of Shiva (please try not to trample the debris as this will damage the remains of the site). To the rear of the palace is a library.
Further along are some very steep stairs that will have you gasping for air. On the first landing you will find a statue of the temple founder, on the third floor you will find the sanctuary where it is possible to admire the bas reliefs portraits of Shiva, Bramha and Vishnu. Here you can relax and enjoy the carved rocks representing animals as well as the beautiful view of the site complex and the surrounding plains.
Some 600 metres below Wat Phou are the ruins of Hong Sida, which was the palace of the goddess Sida, a Hindu sanctuary from the same period as Wat Phou.
During the full moon of the third lunar month (usually in February) the most important festival of the province (Bun Wat Phou Champasak) brings thousands of pilgrims to Wat Phou. This religious festival lasts for three days, during this period the entire site as well as all surrounding places are jammed with people and it is almost impossible to find a place to stay overnight in Champasak town.
The site is open daily from 8.00am to 4.00pm, there is an entrance fee and photographs are best in the morning.