Vat Phou at the foot of Mount Phu Kao is a ruined KhmerHindu temple complex in Champasak Province in the southern part ofLaos. As long ago as the 5th Century there was a temple on the site but that is long gone. The city of Shrestapura was here, the capital of both the Chenla then the Champa Kingdoms. The mountain was thought to be the home of Shiva to whom the temple was dedicated and the spring water was regarded as sacred.
The structures on view today are dated between the 11th and 13th Century associated with the Koh Ker and Baphuon periods. It is an important site for Buddhist worshippers today, especially on significant dates in the Buddhist diary, notably early in February. Wat Phu is now a World Heritage site.
There are considerable efforts which include the locals to preserve and restore the site and provide effective management of Wat Phu to ensure it remains on Laos travel packages and indeed Indochina tour packages.
How to get there
Wat Phu is close to both Cambodia and it is indeed seen as an extension to Angkor Wat and Thailand with border crossings close by. There are bus services to reach this Heritage site. Those on holiday in Laos should always include Wat Phu and the recent attention it has received makes the future more optimistic than it was a few years ago.
Best time to visit
The dry season starts in November and goes through until April by which time temperatures have started to rise. The rain season follows and that is very much low season but certainly not without tourists completely. Much of the decisions on timing are dependent on the accessibility of the sites included on the proposed itinerary.
At the first part of the temple there are a series of reservoirs but only one now holds water.
Two palaces are on a terrace on either side of the axis, known as the north and south palaces or men’s and women’s. Each has a courtyard with entrances at the side. One was built with sandstone, the other laterite. The north palace is in better condition and the style is early Angkor Wat (Cambodia) style.
The small shrine on the next terrace is in poor condition and there are further terraces with ruins, many of which were shrines that were looted and hence badly damaged. Years ago water was channeled from the nearby spring to the sanctuary which was built well after the palaces were completed. It meant that it was possible to bathe in the rear section at one time.
The carvings are interesting; elephant and crocodile where it seems sacrifice was done in the 6th Century before the present day complex was started.
There are some nice hotels a few kilometres from Wat Phu in Champasack with some on the banks of the Mekong. Laos tour packages will include all the travel and accommodation arrangements with clients offered a choice of accommodation before confirming a booking.