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Wat Phou Temple (Champasak, Laos)

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Temple in Champasak, Laos.

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      07.07.2012 15:27
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      Well worth the visit

      Wat Phou Temple, Champasak, Laos

      This temple is Laos' version of Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex. Sadly Laos' has been more damaged and is really not the same spectacle as Angkor but is still interesting none the less. Like Ankor this temple is an ancient Khmer ruin from a similar time period but has not been so well preserved for a variety of reasons.

      WHERE IS WAT PHOU?
      Wat Phou in southern Laos under Mount Phu Kao, and is about 6 km from the Mekong river in Champasak province.

      THE HISTORY
      Wat Phu (or Vat Phu) means "temple on the mountain" in the Lao language and it is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Laos . There was a temple of some sort on the site as early as the 5th century, but the bits that remain today date from the 11th to 13th centuries.

      Mount Phu Kao is considered very spiritually important and has a linga-shaped protuberance ( rather phallic) on its summit. The mountain is supposed to represent Shiva while the spring that comes from behind the temple is also considered sacred as it is supposed to represent the Ganges River.

      It was most recently a Buddhist temple and in 2001 the temple became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Investment and voluntary restoration work has begun with contributions from many different countries around the world all working with Laos but independent of each other. We noticed several notices saying which country was working on that part of the site but I would say that they have a lot more to do.

      OUR VISIT
      We arrived and it was drizzling but hot initially and our first port of call was the toilet. These were clean and we were quite taken with the pictures on the doors to say which were male and which female; they were very Laos and most attractive.

      The next stop was to the ticket office and then onto a little golf cart train that took us to the temple site. I was quite pleased to have the little ride as it was pretty hot and although the rain had stopped it was humid and we still had some walking to do.

      We first walked around the 'lake' towards the temple. This lake was the central baray. This still contains water and was originally the middle baray of a number that existed originally. This one is on the temple's axis. There are a number of linga around the baray in varying conditions of decay but quite obvious what they represented.

      We then came to two temples or places on the right and left. The one on the left we could not go in but despite the fact that there were also people working on the one on the right we did go in there and wandered around the archaeologists working there.

      We continued upwards along the central causeway which was quite tricky to walk on with uneven cobbled stones. It was very attractive as we had trees in flower either side of the causeway which was really beautiful and really added to the contrast with the ruins around.

      I am not an archaeologist so I tend to visit these places and enjoy them for the experience, the atmosphere and the spectacle of the place as a whole. I find I tune out to being told of thousands of dates and just look around me enjoying the place as it is when I visit.

      So to continue we climbed up some pretty none 'Health and safety' stairs which were high, narrow and uneven. I had to climb some of them and when we came down I sat on one step to get onto the next! It was quite a challenge and anyone with any health and mobility problems would really have struggled.
      Upward s again and past more ruins and as we look back the view of the temple complex over the water feature or baray was really very spectacular. We could also see all the way to the Mekong river so you do get a very good view of the area.

      Once we got near the top we passed a few locals with stalls selling offerings such as flowers and incense sticks not really something we wanted but others were buying them so they obviously did sell well.
      We finally made it to the top and the sanctuary building. Unfortunately there was a school party of French young people dashing around which and shouting to each other which slightly spoiled the calm atmosphere but after about half an hour they took their picnic down to a grassy area and left us in peace.

      This sanctuary building had lovely carved friezes on the lintel above the doorways and the walls which are definitely more Hindu looking as I recognised some of the Hindu gods in some. The front part of this building is built of stone and has four Buddha images, while the back was built of brick and fairly dilapidated. There is no roof left at all but the front part is now covered with a kind of make shift roof. It was interesting to look at all the carvings and imagine what it must have been like in its hey day.

      We left the building and went round to the back on the left hand side to find the little spring which is meant to be a really sacred spiritual place. It actually was a tiny spring coming from under a rock shelf and around the area were offerings left by devotees. It all looked a bit shabby in my view which was a shame. There was someone sitting at a table guarding the area but I am not sure why as there was no one anywhere else.

      I enjoyed clambering over the rocks to find the rather more quirky things. The first one we were shown was the huge rock with carvings that made it look like an elephant. At first it was hard to see but once you saw the face and trunk it was obvious.

      The next animal in the rock was a lot more obvious to me but my husband struggled to see it. This was a crocodile on a rock on the ground which our guide said may have been used for human sacrifices in pre -Angkorian times. It was impressive but made me a bit goose bumpy thinking of what might have happened on that stone.

      Buddha's footprint was less obvious but you had to use your imagination a bit to see it. However I would not have noticed it had our guide not pointed it out so sometimes it is good to have a guide even though you do get more information than you might want, at least you don't miss things like this.

      THINGS TO REMEMBER
      You have to walk a long way even with the golf buggy ride to and from the temple complex.
      It is all very uneven and difficult to walk on even with proper shoes so do not attempt to go in sandals or open shoes.

      The stairs are lethal, really hard to climb up and scary to come down even for people like me with no fear of heights.

      You really need a guide, in fact I am not sure if you can go without one as she bought our tickets and guided us from place to place and I don't speak Lao so not sure what went on when she was talking to the people in uniform there.

      It is HOT so you need plenty of water and you need to take your own.
      Visit the toilets on the way in and out as they are clean and thissite is a long way from most places in the car.

      THE MUSEUM
      After you get back in the golf cart train thing you are dropped off at the museum. This is very modern and well laid out with items collected from the site and valuable enough to need preservation inside.
      Some of the exhibits are from other places in Laos but once again I can't say I am an expert in the exhibits and personally I found the site itself much more interesting than the museum but others may find the exhibits fascinating and they were very displayed with signs in both English and Lao so we could at least read what they were.

      Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
      ©Catsholiday

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