Wat Phou

Wat Phou

Wat Phou Overview
Wat Phou, 8km southwest of Champasak, should be at the top of your southern Laos must-see list. 
It’s not hard to see why the lush river valley here, dominated by an imposing 1500m-tall mountain, has been considered prime real estate for nearly two thousand years by a variety of peoples, in particular the Khmer. 
The surrounding forests are rich with wildlife, including the rare Asiatic black bear. The pristine state of the environment – it is without question one of the most scenic landscapes chosen by the Khmer for any of their temples – was a major factor in UNESCO’s decision to name the area a World Heritage site to locals to preserve and restore the site and provide effective management of Wat Phu to ensure it remains on Laos holiday packages and indeed Indochina holiday.
Wat Phou History
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 the tropical forest when the first Europeans arrived here in the 19th century.
The first civilizations who were connected with the place where 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 mountain's 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 climate and best time to visit

The best time to visit Wat Phou is during the dry season from November to March, when temperatures are cooler. March to May is the hot season and the temperatures can reach 40ºC or higher, making the climb up to the temple less than enjoyable.

That said, the flowers that bloom in the complex in April and May make the site especially beautiful. The wet season runs from May to October and can create problems on the roads in the area.

The dry season starts in November and goes through until April by which time temperatures have started to rise. The rain season follows and that is very much low season but certainly not without tourists completely. Much of the decisions on timing are dependent on the accessibility of the sites included on the proposed itinerary.

Wat Phou Transportation
By bicycle & Tuk Tuk: 
If you spend a night or two in nearby Champasak town (10 km away), which I’d definitely recommend if you have the time, you can also reach Wat Phu by bicycle or by tuk tuk.

By boat:
The temple is located on the West bank of the Mekong river, some 45 kilometers South of Pakse. Perhaps the most comfortable way to get there is by taking a 3 day Vat Phou Mekong cruise, that also stops at several other destinations. Travel agents in Pakse offer day trips to the temple by minivan.
To get to Champasak from Pakse, take a songthaew from the Donruang Market for 20,000 Kip (generally only available in the mornings from 9-11am). You could also bike all the way there. From Si Phan Don, travel agents can arrange a combination of boat and bus for 50,000 to 60,000 Kip.
Things to do and see in Wat Phou
Wat Phou: 50,000 Kip; 8am to 4:30pm; leave yourself at least several hours to explore; early mornings are the best time to go as you will have the place almost to yourself.
Don Deng: island in the Mekong just across from Champasak town; only accessible by boat (40,000-50,000 Kip each way); locals live a very traditional Laotian lifestyle; accommodation available in a community lodge (closed in the off-season) or with a local family (both cost 20,000 Kip plus 15,000 per meal)

You’ll need to book ahead at the Visitor’s Center in Champasak or by calling the Provincial Tourism Authority in Pakse (031 212 021); for now, this is a great experience and still very authentic for Laos trip so the government is trying to keep it that way and hopefully they will succeed;
Wat Phou Travel Tips
Hire a motorbike for a day-trip or take a songthaew or ride a bike to Champasak and spend the night; avoid the all-inclusive tours from Pakse or elsewhere.
In fact, every night you spend in Champasak (or on Don Deng) instead of Pakse will save you quite a bit of money
there is an ancient city between Champasak and Wat Phou; see Nela’s comment below for more information on this: she says it’s easy to miss, which I believe, since we didn’t notice it.

Eating and Drinking :

You won’t find any night life here, but you can get a Beer Lao at any number of places, many of them overlooking the Mekong. You can eat at any guest house, at a number of restaurants in Champasak town or grab something from one of the many food vendors lining the road to Wat Phou.
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