Champasak: Visiting Wat Phu


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January 31st 2013
Published: January 31st 2013
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From Tad Lo we continued on to Champasak. It was a fairly straightforward journey but not really what we had expected. We were able to get a bus from Tad Lo to Pakse easily enough but then we ended up taking a Sorngtaaou (Truck with benches in the back) to Champasak. The tuk-tuk driver in Pakse wouldn't take us to the proper bus station so we paid our 20,000 Kip and made it to Champasak in about 40 minutes.

From Tad Lo we continued on to Champasak. It was a fairly straightforward journey but not really what we had expected. We were able to get a bus from Tad Lo to Pakse easily enough but then we ended up taking a Sorngtaaou (Truck with benches in the back) to Champasak. The tuk-tuk driver in Pakse wouldn't take us to the proper bus station so we paid our 20,000 Kip and made it to Champasak in about 40 minutes.

We stayed in Champasak for two nights since the only thing we wanted to see was Wat Phu. Wat Phu is a temple complex that was built in the 10th century by the same Kingdom that built Angkor Wat. It hasn't had the same kind of restoration as the more popular Angkor Wat but the ruins were really amazing! The temple is about 9km outside of Champasak so we decided to rent a couple of bikes and make a day of it. After a few really frustrating bicycle rentals we were sure to test drive the bikes thoroughly including checking tire pressure, brakes, and ensuring the pedals weren't going to fall off. With two semi-decent bikes we were off. The woman at our guesthouse said that it was paved all the way. This of course meant gravel with tar, not the pavement we are used to at home. Some sections got pretty sandy but all in all the bike ride wasn't that bad. It took maybe 40 minutes to get to Wat Phu which is impossible to miss. Once we arrived, we parked our bikes, bought our tickets and headed towards the mountains. The temple itself is set back quite a ways from the road so golf carts are available to transport people back and forth in the hot weather. We decided to save some money and walk. The road follows a huge pond lined with trees, just over a ridge at the end of the pond you can start to see the ruins. There is a causeway that splits the pond in two that was used for rituals and offerings. The ruins are split in two areas, the lower and upper. The lower area starts at the edge of the pond and has an ancient stone pathway lined with carvings that runs between two palace ruins. Currently they are under restoration and you are not allowed inside but the carvings and style of the palaces definitely reminded us of Ankor Wat (even though they pre-date Angkor by about 200 years). From the lower ruins there is a very steep stone stairway that leads to the upper temple. While the stairs can seem a bit more like a climb than an easy walk up they are quite breath-taking; intricately carved with flowers, over grown by tree roots and lined with Fragipani trees it is quite a picturesque part of the ruins. At the top is the main temple area. The views from here are amazing. They afford a panorama of the whole Mekong Valley with Champasak and the Mekong River off in the distance. Originally the temple was built as a Hindu sanctuary for the god Shiva, but sometime later it was converted into a Buddhist temple. The carvings that cover the temple are extremely intricate and easily rival some of Angkor's (not quite on the same scale though). Behind the temple is a natural spring coming from the rocks that used to run into the temple, constantly washing the temple's main Shiva statue. 100 meters from the temple on the same plateau is a series of gigantic boulders, some with ancient carvings. With a bit of searching we were able to find the 'Elephant Stone' (with an almost life-size carving of an elephant) and the 'Crocodile Stone'. Those carvings are estimated to date back to the 6th century.

The entire area feels as if it hasn't changed in a thousand years. It's as if there were people living here and they suddenly left; the temple and other buildings were left alone. Nature took its toll and what was once impressive and rich is now faded, ancient and overgrown.

After climbing down the stairs we stopped at the information centre to learn a little more history of Wat Phu. The building houses many spectacular carvings recovered from the ruins and it makes it easy to see both the Hindu and Buddhist influences. It also explains that there used to be a small town at the base of the mountain where the temple is and there was a road that went directly from Angkor Wat to Wat Phu.

When we finished exploring we rode back to our guesthouse in the hot hot heat. Despite our rigorous bike testing, Tyler's bike chain came off about 300m before our guesthouse and got extremely jammed up. With dirty hands and some help from a local we returned and had a quiet evening before our departure in the morning. Champasak is a nice enough place. It's on the Mekong, it's quiet and quaint and a perfect place to wander. There is some beautiful old architecture in town and outside of town the rice fields grow all the way to the base of the nearby mountain. A lot of people skip Champasak on their journey through Laos but we were really happy we got to see Wat Phu. The Angkor Kingdom reigned in this area for such a long time and we continue running into little parts of its history. Wat Phu is another great reminder of what a prosperous region this was so long ago.

With less than a week left on our visa we continued south to Don Det, one of the 4,000 islands (Si Phan Don)

xoxo Ty+Becs


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