Wat Phou

Originally published on Wish You Were Here.

SunsetThe Wat Phou is a ruined Khmer Hindu temple that forms part of the Champasak Cultural Landscape, which is a well preserved landscape more than a 1,000 years old.

According to UNESCO’s website, “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.” [1]

It resides at the base of Mount Phou Kao, a curious formation with a natural linga at the top that is supposed to represent the phallic symbol of Shiva. Personally I think it looks more like a nipple than a penis, but that’s just my opinion.

The original temple dates back to the 5th century, however the remaining structures are circa 11th to 13th century. At the top of the temple is a fresh water spring where it is believed that Shiva used to bathe. The spring water flows through wooden troughs and into large stone vessels pictured below. Visitors splash their faces with the water as a type of blessing, or for good luck.

The structures within Wat Phou are built on seven terraces and, as is typical of most Khmer temples, it was constructed facing towards the east. The uppermost terrace contains the main sanctuary and offers fantastic views over the surrounding area. Sitting up here at sunset is an incredibly peaceful experience, however do not try to climb down in the dark as there is a good chance of a sprained ankle.

Like most Angkorien temples Wat Phou is adorned with all manner or Hindu deities and creatures such as Indra riding the three headed elephant Airavata (pictured below) or the deity riding the Kala (a monstrous serpent usually depicted with no bottom jaw) pictured in the images at the bottom of this post.

Indra riding the three headed elephant Airavata
Indra riding the three headed elephant Airavata

Every year, during the full moon of the 3rd lunar month, there is a three-day festival called Boun Wat Phou Champasak. Thousands of Lao people attend to pay their respects and bring offerings to Buddha.

Wat Phou04

Wat Phou is constantly under renovation and some of the structures may be off limits when you visit. Needless to say, it is definitely something to add to your ‘must see’ list in Laos.

[1] UNESCO – Vat Phou – http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/481 Accessed 26th November 2015

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