Did you know there is an Angkor style temple in Laos, from the same period as the famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia?
Honestly, I did not know until I started to check what to see in the South of Laos. I had spent a lot of time in the North so I did not have a lot of days left (in my one-month visa, I mean). I wanted to spend a few days in the 4000 islands (to rest), and this ancient complex was on the way. So I stopped a couple of days in Champasak, the nearest village, to visit it.
Champasak is a very small, very quiet village by the Mekong. It has a few temples, as most towns in Laos, but the most remarkable sight is Vat Phou. The complex is located 10km from the village, and the best (cheapest) way to get there is by bicycle. It is an easy ride, the road is flat and in good condition, and it is easy to find. Once there, it makes a good walk since it is quite large.
Vat Phou is an ancient Khmer Hindu temple complex containing a temple and several associated buildings. From the entrance, a tuk-tuk drove me past two artificial lakes (barays) and dropped me in front of two buildings in ruins. I was confused. The two buildings were really in ruins and were being reconstructed. Behind that, I could only see the mountain covered by forest. Mmm, that’s it?
Fortunately, it was not. Those two buildings are called ‘palaces’ (even though its purpose is not clear), and behind them, I found the stairs to go up. Up, up, up. It was not an easy path, the steps being high and steep. There were some intermediate terraces good to catch my breath. Up, up, up, and I finally arrived to the main sanctuary, were the temple is.
It was originally a Shiva temple, constructed during the 11th century, even though nowadays is used as a buddhist temple. It was much smaller than I expected (not that I expected it to be like Angkor Wat, maybe like Halebeduu or Belur in India), but the upper terrace was not large. The roof was missing, but there were some nice carvings on the walls representing divinities, guards and dancers, so I walked around to observe the details.
Around the temple there were some more carvings: a representation of the Hindu trinity (Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu), an elephant, a snake and a crocodile. There were also the ruins of a smaller building and a water source. And, of course, since I was on the hill, I had a great view over the plane.
Overall, I did not find Vat Phou very impressive (at least, not in its current state), but it was nice to spend the morning walking around there, going up the hill, observing the temple and its carvings, and looking at the views.
** USEFUL INFORMATION **
- How to get to Champasak: there are daily buses to/from Pakse and the 4000 islands. Note that the bus stop is on the other side of the river, so you must take a ferry to cross. When you buy the bus ticket, ask if the ferry is included (even though they might tell it is included, and when you get to the ferry they tell you it is not and you have to pay it).
- Bus from Pakse to Champasak: 50000 kips (ferry not included)
- Ferry in Champasak: 15000 kips
- Bus from Champasak to Nakasan (to go to 4000 islands): 60000 kips (ferry included)
- Vat Phou entry ticket: 50000 kips
- Bicycle rent: 10000 kips (1 euro approx)
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