Home Sightseeing Wat Phu (Champasak)

Wat Phu Temple: Ancient Heritage in Southern Laos

How to get there: bus

Wat Phu temple
is a complex of Khmer temples in southern Laos situated in the shadow of Phu Cao Mountain in Champasak Province, just 6 km from the Mekong River. The first temple at this complex dated back to the 5th century, but the structures that remain today were built from the 11th to 13th centuries. The elements of the compound are focused around a holy place where a linga was bathed in the flowing water of a stream. Wat Phu is now a place for Buddhist worship and it remains a splendid, though isolated, architectural wonder in the Mekong Basin. The temple includes elephant, alligator and horse statues that local people still worship today.

Wat Phu Temple: Ancient Heritage in Southern Laos

Champasak is a major province in southern Lao with forested plains and highlands. The province has rich soil for agriculture and is regarded as the primary food production region in Laos. Champasak has very strong potential in the service and tourism industry because it is home to many famous landscapes like Wat Phu Temple – a world cultural heritage, as well as Khone Phapheng Waterfall – the biggest in Southeast Asia, and Dong Hua Sao Conservation Area.

The capital city of Champasak, Pakse, meaning “estuary city”, is centred on a spit of land where the Se Don River joins the Mekong. The city roads are pleasant to walk along and provide many local diversions. Buddhism plays a vital role in public life in Laos, and each of the frequent festivals has its own religious legend. In the morning, tourists can see monks walking along the streets begging for food. Local temples feature curving roofs and are often painted yellow. The cremated remains of Buddhist luminaries are placed in small towers called stupas which are built around the temples; many temple compounds are lined by hundreds of stupas. The stupas vary considerably in shape and are decorated in different colours.

The most famous landscape in Champasak is Wat Phu Temple which was listed in 2001 as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Wat Phu was regarded as one of the most sacred temples for the Khmer empire centuries before the construction of the Angkor complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia. According to historians, Wat Phu is the oldest temple in Laos, originally being devoted to the Hindu god Shiva. Around the 13th century, under growing Lao influence, it became a Buddhist site and remains so today. Wat Phu holds many elements from the long history of Lao culture, and visitors can see hundreds of beautiful, skilfully carved Buddha statues at the entrance of Wat Phu Temple.

Entering the compound along a one hundred meter path marked by solid stone boundary posts, you will come to impressive stone buildings with moss-covered walls. Behind the temple, there is a large cliff with images of Buddha engraved on the cliff wall. The construction of the temple is truly a wonder, considering the need to transport massive blocks of stone to the mountain, the sculpting work and combining them to create this architectural masterpiece. While Wat Phu was damaged over time and has not been restored, its state of partial ruin makes for a mysterious, ancient scene which is memorable for travellers from around the world.