The ancient ruins of Vat Phou, also known as Wat Phu; Lao: ວັດພູ, in Laos are considered one of the great wonders of Asia. More than a thousand years ago, this site was a Hindu center dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Vat Phou is located in southern Laos, mostly within the boundaries of Champasak Province, at the foot of Mount Phu Khao. There was a temple on this location as early as the 5th century, but the current buildings date from 1020-1238 AD. The site has one-of-a-kind constructions that lead to a sanctuary where a lingam dedicated to Lord Shiva was bathed in water from a mountain spring.
The site later became a center of the Buddhist warrior’s worship. The remains of Champasak kings are kept here, as well as some 200 Buddha statues. It is one of the most important spiritual places for the people of southern Laos.
Vat Phou History
The city of Vat Phou was originally linked with the city of Shrestapura, which was located on the banks of the Mekong directly east of Lingaparvata Mountain (now called Phou Khao). By the latter years of the fifth century, Vat Phou served as the kingdom’s capital, according to texts and inscriptions.
Around this time, the first building on the mountain was built. The lingam-shaped prominence on the summit gave the mountain spiritual significance. Shiva’s residence, therefore, became known as Mount Shivalight Mountain, and the river representing either the ocean or the Ganges. Naturally, Shiva’s temple was dedicated to him, while water from the spring behind it was revered.
Vat Phou was a part of the Khmer Empire centered on Angkor to the southwest, at least by the reign of Yasovarman I in the early 10th century. Shrestapura was supplanted by a new city built directly south of the temple during the period. The original structures were subsequently replaced, reusing some of the stone blocks; however, after 11th-century Koh Ker and Baphuon periods, significant modifications were made. During the following two centuries, minor changes were made to other temples before they also were transformed to Theravada Buddhist use.
Visiting Vat Phou
The remains have been well-preserved, and they are being better kept every year. The route to the site’s entrance is bordered by lush vegetation. Another structure may be seen at the top, which was utilized for expiatory activities (the “Lustral Lodge”).
It has an ornate facade decorated with three large windows and three doorways; inside there are many stone gongs whose use is unknown today.
The main temple, in front of which is a huge Naga serpent, is characterized by five towers that represent Mount Meru. These buildings, constructed of sandstone and then covered with stucco bas-reliefs on the outside, depict Hindu mythology scenes. According to Hindu mythological texts, particularly the “Ramayana” epic poem, they were restored in keeping with tradition.
A magnificent temple built on a mountain slope stands proudly in the sunshine. It was constructed at the foot of a mountain, so there are a lot of steps to climb… but it’s worth it! The road has been cleverly cut into the side of the mountain; it begins from behind the temple, which initially travels along stone steps carved into rock before turning into a concrete road with wooden bridges. The view over all of these buildings is amazing!