The Traveling Monks at Vat Phou [Mountain Temple]
If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live in peace, in harmony with nature, you have to visit places like Vat Phou, which literally means “Mountain Temple”.
This is one of those experiences that are hard to describe because everyone has their own perception of beauty and serenity. To us, some of the most beautiful things are old. In this case old buildings that exude history, mystery and stories.
Vat Phou has been around for centuries and it was built at the base of mount Phu Kao. To reach the shrine, you have to take on a set of uneven stone stairs that are sinking into the mountain. But first, how to get there!
Visiting Vat Phou in Laos by motorbike
Even when we’re traveling in low season, we always try to avoid crowds and therefore guided tours as well. The internet says that most people go there in the morning, so we rented a motorbike like we prefer most of the times and left in the afternoon.
It was a pleasant 1 hour+ ride from Pakse to the town of Champassak and not too long before we reached the site. We paid 5,000 kip for parking and we went in. A little charming but modern complex decorated with plants was waiting for us. Here you can buy drinks that we later found out are cheaper than the ones offered on a pop up shop at the top of the temple.
We bought our tickets for 50,000 kip each and went for a stroll in the small Vat Phou museum before we walked towards the mountain.
Entering the temple grounds
As we reached the welcoming row of pillars along the path to the temple, we knew we were up for something special. Keep walking, it gets better. More and more ruins started to appear. Short after, a courtyard with two impressive structures at the sides, there are a few stairs, a little walk and then the climb to the top began... and it was not a particularly easy one.
The stone stairs are old, uneven and sinking into the mountain. It was also hot and humid because it’s the afternoon. None of that matters though because the climb between centennial trees, surrounded by nature and the view of the site from higher up, makes up for the effort.
When we finally reached the goal, it was just what we expected. Don’t go thinking you’ll see a big building or a breathtaking piece of architecture and landscapes. This shrine is only a small, humble structure decorated with some religious panels, surrounded by bits and pieces of ruins, trees and rocks. Still, we found it beautiful and the whole atmosphere was peaceful and quiet.
After taking our time exploring the building and the surroundings, watching the monks make their prayers and taking some pictures, the sun started to go down and mosquitoes started to bite. That’s when you know it’s time to leave, hehe! Also, for safety, we try to avoid riding the motorbike after dark.
Meeting fellow travelers - The monks from Myanmar
With us, came down a cheeky flock of monks. They were traveling in a group and taking pictures of everything. One of them even approached us and asked where we were from. Turns out they weren't locals but tourists from Myanmar.
We are so glad we visited Wat Phu. It has been one of our favorite things we’ve done in our travels.
After hearing we like old temples and that our next destination would be Cambodia; a few people were surprised that we weren’t going to visit Angkor Wat (the big, famous Cambodian temple). True, it’s impressive, you can see it all over the internet but it’s also so overly touristy and crowded at all times. So much, they’ve turned the site into a cemented landscape for... convenience? In our opinion it takes away much of the beauty and mysticism from the temple grounds. Not too mention the one day pass price went from 20 to 37 dollars. For budget travelers, that’s an overkill.
All and all, we prefer places surrounded more by nature than by people. Places where we’re more likely to relax, take our time and enjoy our stay with a little bit of peace and quiet. Places like Vat Phou offer just that...