Anyone who has ever been lucky enough to visit Laos will tell you just how beautiful this country is. It’s lush and green, with scenic beauty everywhere you look. In the South of the country in Champassak Province, the Might Mekong River carves a brown path through the greenery. The nutrient rich water is heavy with life bringing red-brown soil that washes down from the mountains in the monsoon season. It fertilizes the flood plains every year and creates a wonderful landscape, in which local flora and fauna thrive.
The Mekong is more than just a river, it’s a major arterial route, a life sustaining ecosystem and home to millions of people. It travels through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam on its way to the Eastern Sea, but it is in Laos, where it spends most of its time. In the south of the country the river passes through the delightful town of Pakse, and just 20 miles south of Pakse and only 4 miles from the riverbank, you’ll find the ruined temple of Vat Phou.
Vat Phou sometimes known as Wat Phou is a Khmer built temple complex, now in a state of ruin. There has been a temple here for almost two thousand years. It sits at the base of a mountain, called Phu Kao. The countryside here is stunning. Lush greenery runs right up the mountain, the thick jungle terrain providing a wonderful backdrop for the temple. The temple itself is in a flat valley where the jungle thins out to rich grassland.
Vat Phou was part of the ancient city of Shrestapura, which was capital of an ancient kingdom, connected to both the Chenla and Champa peoples. It is heavily influence by the old beliefs in ”linga”. The Lingam or Linga means mark, but is a phallic symbol which features strongly in the representation of the Hindu deity Shiva. The male linga is often represented alongside the female ‘yoni’ which represents the goddess Shakti. Scholars have long since interpreted the ling and yoni as the male and female genitalia, whilst practising Hindus believe they are more the essence of male and female personalities. It is inescapable though that the designs draw upon phallic and yonic references. The nearby Phu Kao Mountain has a natural linga on its peak.
The temple itself, like most Khmer temples is oriented to the east. As one approaches from the ruins of the ancient city, the temple is a series of barays. These reservoirs are familiar in many Khmer temples built in Southeast Asia. Of the ones here only one still holds water.The axis that holds these barays runs right through the complex. There are two palaces, one on either side of this axis. These are known simply as the North and South Palaces.
Although in a severe state of ruin, parts of the incredible carvings and relief work still exist. Intricate lintels depicting Vishnu and Krishna can be readily seen. Carvings of animals, such as crocodiles are seen lying around, separated from where they once stood.
It is a fascinating place in exquisitely beautiful surroundings. It is well worth taking a river boat down from Pakse, to explore for yourself.