A visit to Wat Phu is more than paying tribute to Laos’ most impressive archaeological site. It is above all a fun trip. The best part is definitely the crossing of the Mekong, either in a tiny roll-on ferry, made of two canoes linked by a few wooden planks or on the “regular” ferry, where you can observe local women trying to sell just any food to passengers: noodle soup, coca-cola, cooked bananas and what not… After the heavy rain recently, the Mekong was spreading as far as the eye can see.
Wat Phu Champasak is a religious complex of Khmer architecture about 30 kilometers south of Pakse, across the Mekong. The first temple on this site was built as early as the 5th century. Nevertheless, the existing temples were built during the Khmer empire between the 11th and the 13th centuries, using some of the stone blocks from the original structure. This originally Hindu temple later became a centre of Theravada Buddhist worship, which it remains today.
Considering its age, parts of it are in an incredible good condition, especially the two palaces. The most intriguing part is the stairway leading up the hill. Not two stones used to build the stairs are alike. Elements of the stairs seem to be caving in and a few are richly decorated. For the short climb up exotic trees provide shade. The view over the whole temple complex, the nearby rice paddies and the Mekong in the distance is simply stunning. It is really the location that makes the place so spectacular.
The major part of the complex is still overgrown with vegetation, since restoration seems to be slow. Although it started in 1993, there is little evidence of it. The most obvious one is that the little pillars lining the path are standing again. Wat Phu Champasak has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
When he was there for the first time, Gilles had the place for himself. Unfortunately, it was drizzling then… A few days later, we went there together, since Heidi needed to be chauffeured on the motorbike. This time we had blue skies, which completely changed the impression we had of this place. There were no more than four or five western tourists and a Lao family visiting the site. On top of that, we could see a few people who seemed to be restoring and maintaining the place. This emptiness added a special feeling.