Elephant Stone at Pat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

The elephant stone behind the sanctuary, equipped with accessoires for praying, worshipping and - the unavoidable donation box. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The Axis Way of Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

The main axis way of Wat Phou. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The Sanctuary of Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

The entrance to the sanctuary. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The Eastern End of the Northern Palace by Asienreisender

The eastern end of the northern palace. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Naga at Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

A naga, recently remade by a stonemason. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Buddha Footprint and Elephant at Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

A Buddha footprint and an elephant carving below. Seen in the quarry behind the sanctuary. That's clearly from a newer time and has nothing to do with the medieval Khmer buildings. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Wat Phou Champasak, Stairway by Asienreisender

The upper part of the axis pathway, leading to the stairway. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Wat Phou Champasak, upper Axis by Asienreisender

The upper axis seen from above. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Temple Guard at the Sanctuary of Wat Phou Chamasak by Asienreisender

A temple guard at the sanctuary entrance. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Wat Phou Champasak, Nandi Hall (Library) by Asienreisender

The Nandi Hall, the library of the temple. Unfortunately there is nothing written left from the Khmer civilization; also in Angkor itself all the literature, all the writings are bygone with the time. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Burning at Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

The southern slope next to the sanctuary: the vegetation is burnt down. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Wat Phou and Champasak Cultural Landscape / Laos



Wat Phou Champasak

There are only two UNESCO World Cultural Heritages in Laos: it's Luang Prabang and Wat Phou / Champasak Cultural Landscape (Phonsavan with the 'Plain of Jars' is applying for heritage status as well, but it's pending since long). The status was awarded to Wat Phou / Champasak in 2001.

Wat Phou Champasak Cultural Landscape by Asienreisender

Part of Wat Phou / Champasak Cultural Landscape. The two 'palaces' are to see (south is right hand), the main axis, four barrays (the two behind the palaces are mostly dry. I guess there was a third big barray at the right, the axis is pointing to the former middle barray and continues behind the barray all the way down to the Mekong River. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The site is situated in the south of Laos, some fourty kilometers south of Pakse.

Wat Phou (means: temple mountain) Champasak is more than an extraordinary medieval Khmer temple. It's the core of a whole landscape, stretching from the Phou Kao mountain (ancient name: Lingamparvata, Lingaparvat) on a west-east axis down for ten kilometers to the banks of the majestic Mekong River. Beside Wat Phou there were several more temples around, of whom Sida Temple (Sida = Sita, the female hero from the Indian Ramayana epos) some one kilometer south is only one more side temple. The most of the ancient temples and settlements are nowadays barely to recognize from the earth, but well to see from aerial views. There was also an ancient main road connection between Champasak and Angkor, via a number of other temples on the way.

Lintel of Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

A lintel in Wat Phou Champasak. It's a recently restorated piece. In the ancient times all the frescos were (probably nicely) coloured. Image by Asienreisender, 2013


Ancient Concept

The concept of the place changed over the thousand years of it's history several times. I guess not only Hinduism and Buddhism were changing, that were only two main paradigms, but many more smaller changes were of significance. The architecture as we find it here now represents clearly the Hindu vison of the relationship between nature and humanity. This concept is following a geometric pattern of temples, shrines, waterworks, terraces and a central axis, leading from the top of a mountain down to the river banks of the Mekong River, where two planned cities were arranged as the base of the idea. That's where the humans live. The other end is therefore mount Meru, where the gods and deities live.

Map of Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

A map of Wat Phou Champasak. The ornamental entrance at the great barray(s) is completely gone, no trace left to see for the visitor anymore. The former galleries look like remaining walls and the Gopura Gate is down as well.



Wat Phou Champasak, Entrance South Palace by Asienreisender

The gable of the western entrance to the south palace. Hindu iconography is dominating the sites architecture everywhere. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The history of Wat Phou, it's predecessors, the other temple sites and the settlements on what is now Champasak Cultural Landscapes range from the 5th century over a thousand years until the 15th century, which marked the downfall of the classical grand civilization of Southeast Asia, the Khmer Empire of Angkor (the capital Angkor Thom was sacked in 1431 AD by Siamese troops from Ayutthaya). Although there were earlier predecessors worshipping in temples at this place (namely there are remains of the city of Shrestrapura which is dated on before 600 AD), it became dominated by the Khmer Empire from the 10th century on. The present, remaining structures represent buildings from the 11th to the 13th century, including early and classic Khmer style. Since that time there were no significant changes done anymore.

After the breakdown of the Angkorian Empire the site does not show any traces of maintenance. Nevertheless it was occupied in the aftermath by a variation of other occupations. It was overgrown by tropical forest when the first Europeans arrived here in the 19th century.

The first civilizations who were connected with the place were both the Chenla and the Champa (the old antagonists of the Khmer Empire in south Vietnam). The reason for the choice of the place lies clearly in the remarkable shape of the mountains summit. It looks like a Hindu 'linga'. When I saw the peak the first time I really believed it would be man-made; but it's a natural summit, must be a pointed rock formation (elevation: 1,416m).

Wat Phou Champasak, Sanctuary by Asienreisender

The sanctuary of Wat Phou. In the background is the stone quarry to see, where the building materials came from. Right side there is a Buddha figure, made up by local people, put in yellow cloth and got equipped with a yellow umbrella. Image by Asienreisender, 2013


The Buildings

Wat Phou Champasak, South Palace by Asienreisender

The wing of the southern 'palace', made of sandstone. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The two biggest buildings along the causeway are called the 'palaces', the north and the south palace or, sometimes, the men and the women palace. There is no historical evidence for this term here. Their original purpose is unknown. The huge courtyards of both are built from laterite stone. The southern palace is built partially from sandstone.

Smaller in size, but most interesting is the sanctuary on the top of a longer, steep stairway. The architecture is impressive and some of the lintels are very well restorated. The roof is broken, as always, and partially replaced by an ugly tin roof. In the interiour is a modern Buddha statue together with a lot of other, smaller idols placed. That's the same stuff one finds in any cave, temple or place which is considered anyhow sacred in Laos or even more in Thailand. It has absolutely nothing to do with the history of Wat Phou.

Wat Phou, South Palace by Asienreisender

Wat Phou's south 'palace'. The left part is the wing (built in sandstone), behind the wing is the courtyard. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Wat Phou Champasak, North Palace by Asienreisender

Wat Phou's north palace with the wing and the courtyard behind (both built in laterite stone). In the background is the linga-shaped summit of Phou Kao (Kao Mountain or Lingaparvat) to see. Image by Asienreisender, 2013


Around the Sanctuary

Crocodile Stone at Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

The crocodile stone behind the sanctuary at the foot of the quarry. It's supposed that here might human sacrifices happened. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

The surrounding of the sanctuary is in fact the ancient quarry, a steep, vertical mountain wall over several meters. A number of big rocks, partially processed are lying around. In sketches of the place the quarry is sometimes called the 'cliff'.

There is also an elephant stone and a crocodile stone around. The crocodile stone is supposed to be a place where humans have been sacrificed. There was a stream coming down from a spring in the mountains, leading to the main linga and bathing it, but now (in hot April 2013) there is no water.


Development of Wat Phou Champasak

I didn't see any archeological activity at the site at the time of my visit. Some good stonemason work has clearly been done in making new lintels, some of them already integrated in the palaces or the sanctuary, some are still lying on the ground waiting for their integration.

Khmer Windows at Wat Phou Champasak by Asienreisender

Typical Khmer windows, here at the courtyard of the northern palace. Image by Asienreisender, 2013

Maybe the project is 'out of money' at the time. It's, after all I know, increasingly difficult in the time of the world economic crisis to get funds for archeological and other cultural purposes. Therefore it seems that all the states in the world can affort a huge military budged. Destructive, alarming, ruinous, wasteful military armament happens in great style everywhere in Southeast Asia and the whole world. Particularly in the crisis. Global number one are since World War II the USA.

So, at the end everything in our neoliberal constituted globalized economy has to align with profit-making. But how can culture does that? Well, it's about marketing, it's about bringing many people inside an attraction and charging them as much as possible. But who pays for culture? That's difficult. Nobody want's to pay for it, it's rather a luxury. So, then culture has to be a status symbol. Then it's 'sexy' and sells. So, I am afraid, they might make it up as an Asian variation of 'Disney Land' to attrackt the 'new middle class', which is just emerged from the rural life. Finally it might get made up as just one more of the usual fairs, with disco dancing and karaoke...?!

I hope that I am just too pessimistic about that. But, culture needs support. And there would be much to do here.

Behind the elephant stone a small path continues. A sign shows 'no entry'. Anyway, just a few meters further there is one of these notorious waste disposal sites where the locals litter and burn. On the southern side the slopes were all burnt down and more, although not so much, litter was around.

Asienreisender Up to the top!

Published on April 11th, 2013


Last update on May 3rd, 2014