WHS: Vat Phou, Laos

Once you’ve seen the heart of the Khmer empire down at Angkor and all, an interesting followup once you visit south Laos is the World Heritage Site

Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape

Vat Phou, Laos


The Champasak cultural landscape, including the Vat Phou Temple complex, is a remarkably well-preserved planned landscape more than 1,000 years old. It 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. Two planned cities on the banks of the Mekong River are also part of the site, as well as Phou Kao mountain. The whole represents a development ranging from the 5th to 15th centuries, mainly associated with the Khmer Empire.

Phou Kao Mountain there was reputed to be the home of Shiva in the ancient days, and the temple complex was constructed here because of the sacred water coming from the spring it was built by.

Not completely unlike Preah Vihear, most of this site is the remnants of causeways and staircases leading up the mountain,

Vat Phou, Laos

and when you puff and pant your way to the top, you’ll find that it’s still an active Theravada Buddhist site — it’s really quite amazing in these parts how worship at these temples outlasts by over a thousand years the cultures that built them!

Vat Phou, Laos

And as a reward for the climb, finally there is the sacred spring. Very holy indeed we trust we were by the time we were full.

Vat Phou, Laos

That’s pretty much it, really, so if you were feeling ungenerous it might occur to you to grumble “Wat Phou? What For indeed!” as getting here is decidedly non-trivial; you have to make your way to Pakse, at which the #1 attraction is the Golden Buddha overlooking the town and Mekong here,

Pakse, Laos

and then arrange some local transportation, which can be a bit of a trick as this really isn’t a heavily touristed part of Laos.

As it happens, we were visiting Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand from which this is a comfortable day trip … if you know locals who can arrange Laotian transport to meet you at the border. So there’s our pro tip for the easiest way to get here.

The thing we actually recommend the most to do while you’re here is have lunch on the Mekong, and when we say on the Mekong we mean on the Mekong —

— our driver asked while on the way back to Pakse if we wanted to stop for lunch, which indeed we did, and promptly turned off into what appeared to be just a parking lot at the riverbank, nowhere to eat in sight. Which seemed odd, until we were pointed over said riverbank, and will you look at that,

Dining on the Mekong

there was indeed a steep stair down leading to a restaurant floating on the Mekong. And yep, on the lists of things there’s nothing quite like, having your fresh fish lunch floating on the Mekong and watching the fishermen at work,

Fishing on the Mekong


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yep that’s got a good spot on the list. So while we wouldn’t claim that this site is a must for your bucketlist, if you do happen to find yourself in the Pakse region, it definitely makes for an off the beaten tourist track experience!

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