Photo: Incredible detail.

Wat Phu

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Located 10 kilometres from Champasak, UNESCO World Heritage-listed Wat Phu is one of the most impressive Khmer temples outside of Cambodia. A highlight of southern Laos, the temple complex demonstrates the dominance and religious commitment of the Khmer Empire.





The site originated long before Angkor. Inscriptions from the fifth and sixth century mention the sanctuary, and it’s believed it was originally connected with the first Khmer state of Chenla, then with the Champa kingdom from the 7th century on (source: Wat Phu museum). The complex we see today was built in the Angkorian period early in the 11th century, with additions constructed in the 12th and 13th century.

Some walking involved. Photo taken in or around Wat Phu, Champasak, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Some walking involved. Photo: Cindy Fan

The location and orientation of the temple is far from arbitrary. The natural landscape held enormous spiritual significance and its position at Phou Kao mountain, with its peak naturally in the shape of the linga (phallic symbol representing Shiva) and a permanent spring at its foot, were likely reasons the sanctuary was built there.

As noted by UNESCO: Wat Phu “was shaped to express the Hindu vision of the relationship between nature and humanity, using an axis from mountain top to river bank to lay out a geometric pattern of temples, shrines and waterworks extending over some 10 km.” In other words, the existing natural landscape, the Hindu religion, Khmer architecture and ingenious engineering all came together in this one spot, demonstrating the worldview of a mighty empire.

Spectacular setting. Photo taken in or around Wat Phu, Champasak, Laos by Cindy Fan.

Spectacular setting. Photo: Cindy Fan

The wat, which runs along a east-west axis, starts from a plain with two large barays, artificial lakes that hold both religious symbolism (the ocean) and practical purpose (reservoir). The reflection of the mountains onto the water is lovely. A shuttle, included in the price of the ticket, can save visitors from the lengthy walk past the barays to the start of the long causeway lined with sandstone posts that sweep up to a terrace with two symmetrical ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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How to get there
Wat Phu is located 10 kilometres southwest of Champasak. It takes 15 to 20 minutes to reach by tuk tuk. Most are happy spending two hours on site, which includes the tiring climb to the top of the hill where most of the interesting features are.

By bicycle or motorbike, the route is straightforward and the road is sealed though devoid of any shade. Head south on the Mekong river road—from the roundabout it is 5 km before the road veers right. Follow this road straight for another 5 km to reach the site entrance. This way passes through the ancient 5th century pre-Angkorian city, though the walls and monuments can barely be seen on the ground and are only revealed through aerial photos. There are plenty of shops along the way selling drinks and motorbike repair shops.

Alternatively, you can take the new highway which is one street back from the Mekong river road. It heads inland diagonally, eventually connecting to the road to Wat Phu. There are less shops and infrastructure along the new road.

It is possible to do Wat Phu as a day trip from Pakse. Travel agents can arrange the tour by private van and will advertise trips already booked so others can join and share costs. Check the agency in the lobby of the busy Pakse Hotel, which usually has enough volume for at least a trip a week.

Finally, it is also possible to do it as a day trip by public transport. In October 2016 there was no reliable bus using the new road between Pakse - Champasak (on the same side of the river), only a songthaew. So for now a travel agency can sell you a through-ticket from Pakse (public bus down Route 13 to Ban Muang pier, boat and transfer to Wat Phu), then the reverse, in time to catch the VIP bus coming from Si Phan Don to Pakse, stopping to pick up at Ban Muang at around 13:30-14:00.

Enthusiasm quickly fades when temperatures soar—the site is big and exposed, with little shade. Going first thing in the morning or late afternoon is recommended. The site is open daily 06:00-18:00, museum open daily 08:00-16:30. Admission is 50,000 kip. Before 08:00 or after 16:30, admission is 55,000 kip. Ticket includes museum, a pamphlet and shuttle to the foot of the site. Motorbike parking is 5,000 kip. Guided tours can be arranged at the entrance: 100,000 kip for Wat Phu and museum; 200,000 kip for Nang Sida and Thao Tao; 400,000 kip for Muang Kang pagoda and Um Tomo.

Wat Phu
10 km from Champasak
Daily 06:00–18:00
Admission: 30,000 kip, motorbike parking: 3,000 kip

Location map for Wat Phu

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