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Wat Phu Temple Complex in 360°

Wat Phu (or Vat Phou) is an ancient Khmer temple-complex in southern Laos, declared as a Unesco World Heritage site since 2001. It is located 6 km from the Mekong river, right at the foot of  holy mountain Phu Kao (or Lingaparvata). This mountain gained its spiritual importance from the natural linga-shaped rocks on its peak. Local tribes have paid respect to the spirits associated with the sacred mountain since the 5th century. Ancient Khmers associated the mountain with the home of Shiva and the river with represented the ocean or Ganges River.

1. In danger

Despite its historic significance, Wat Phu is still an endangered archeological site due to water erosion. Ancient Khmers built two canals to lead water away from the central structures. The southern canal has recently been restored but the equally important northern one has completely collapsed. Thus, terraced steps of the northern part of the site still crumble.

2. What to see

Nearby ancient city of Shrestapura was at the banks of the river, 6km away from the temple. Not much of the city is to be seen, compared to the surviving structures of the temple complex dating from the 11th to 13th centuries, the reign of the Khmer Empire. Like most in the empire,  Wat Phu was also converted to Theravada Buddhist use in the 13th century.

2.1. Water reservoirs and processional causeway

Approached from the former city, the first monuments of the lower section of the temple are three barays (water reservoirs). One of them still functions as a reservoir, while the other two are only partly filled by water occasionally. These latter reservoirs are separated by a processional causeway lined by re-erected stone-markers.

2.2. Pavilions

The middle section of the temple-complex features two quadrangular pavilions built during the 10th or 11th century. Their style resembles architecture of Koh Ker in Cambodia. Purpose of the pavilions are unknown, they are sometimes referred as men's and women's palaces without any historical evidence. Each of them consists of a rectangular courtyard with a corridor and entrance on the side towards the axis, and false doors leading to the east and west.

2.3. Nandi Hall

Nandi Hall, a small building dedicated to Shiva's sacred vehicle right behind the southern pavilion. Once upon a time, a royal road led from here through to Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

2.4. Dvarapala figures and Yoni pedestal

Leaving Nandi Hall, visitors passed through a gopura to climb up the hill. Only two unusually large, headless half-buried dvarapala figures and a yoni pedestal remained from this structure.

2.5. Terrace with ruins of six shrines

The processional way led to a terrace once containing six small shrines.

2.6. Shrine

The uppermost section of the temple-complex is the shrine itself, a mixture of a sandstone front and a brick rear part. The front section is now occupied by four Buddha images, while the rear part, which formerly contained the Shiva linga, is empty. A sophisticated water system led once water from a sacred spring behind the temple to this cell and the Shiva linga was bathed in water.

Behind the shrine is an image of Trimurti, the Hindu Holy Trinity carved in stone.

East of the shrine, a winding pathway leads north to a crocodile stone, an elephant-stone and finally to a meditation cella.

3. When to see

Wat Phu temple is open daily 8am-4:30pm.

4. Location

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