Towards Laos’ southern tip, away from the congestion of populated cities, lies the ruins of Vat Phou. A site of both historic and religious importance, the region offers visitors a glimpse into a nation’s past.
As the natural landscape gradually reclaims Vat Phou, the site is a synthesis of field and stone, of forest and structure.
With remains of buildings dating from the 11th to the 13th century, Vat Phou represents a region once dominated by the Khmer Empire. Where once the temple was a center for Hinduism, Buddhists now consider Vat Phou a place of holy worship.
Through relatively recent conservation efforts, the temple has been kept in reasonable condition. With an admission price around $4, it will be hard to say no to these unique ruins.
Exploring Vat Phou
Vat Phou Museum
A good starting point for your trip to the ruins, the museum provides visitors with an opportunity to learn about the history of the site before exploring it. You’ll have a chance to read about the history of Vat Phou as well as look at some of the more valuable artifacts that have been uncovered over the years.
But no one goes to a ruins site to hang out at the museum. On we go to the exterior…
Located a short walk from the main entrance, on the upper level of the temple, is the sanctuary. Adorned with Hindu sculptures and carvings, the sanctuary was eventually converted into a Buddhist structure and now has a large shrine standing in its entrance.
The shrine is one of the focal points of the temple and is appropriately represented as such.
As the site was built into the side of a mountain, the sloping ground provided the perfect opportunity to construct terraces. Ascending the hill, the terraces show ample signs of wear and tear. Despite this, visitors will be able to witness any number of sculptures, shrines, and inscriptions.
At the base of the hill, close to the museum, sit the remains of two massive sandstone palaces. While the original purpose of the palaces is up for debate, they are believed to have served as religious structures. Common theory holds that one of the palaces was built for men and the other was built for women.
When To Go
Occurring in February, the annual Vat Phou Festival is a perfect time to visit for those seeking action. Otherwise, the temple can be visited year-round.
Vat Phou’s weather is fairly consistent month by month with lows of 59°F (15°C) and highs of 77°F (25°C). The rainy season occurs from June to September with an average of about 15 rainy days per month.
Getting There & Around
To get to Vat Phou, take a flight into Pakse International Airport which services an assortment of locations throughout Southeast Asia. From Pakse, it is possible to take a bus into the neighboring town of Champasak.
- Mid-range accommodations: $40-70
- Meal: $1-5
- Beer: $0.50
- Take time to learn about Vat Phou before exploring.
- Take off your shoes if entering the temple.
- Find somewhere within the temple to be completely alone with your thoughts.
- Expect to wander Vat Phou at night. The site closes at 6pm.
- Take photos of locals without first asking their permission.
- Engage in a relationship with a Lao. It is illegal for them to do so.
- The Vat Phou site is believed to have been a settlement since the 7th century.
- In seven Olympic Games, Laos has yet to win a medal.
- The white circle at the center of the Lao flag represents unity of the communist nation.
Feature Image Credit: kenner116