If in doubt, add a UNESCO World Heritage Site to your itinerary

We considered many places to visit in Laos. Our traveling companions, Cliff and Ruth, threw in suggestions, and we added more. We’re all slow travelers, preferring to stay in a destination for what seems an inordinately long time to most tourists. So, for our visit to Laos, we decided to split our 4-week stay between Luang Prabang (in the north) and little Don Khon Island in the 4,000 Islands (to the south). To go from north to south, we flew to Pakse, and that’s when this adventure began.

Cliff wrote that while we were in Pakse, before heading to the island, we really needed to visit one of the most important sites in Laos, Wat Phou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. That was enough to convince us this would be a worthwhile site to visit.

None of us knew anything about Wat Phou but discovered it’s an important Khmer site in proximity to Angkor Wat, in neighboring Cambodia. Indeed, a road connected the two sites. Wat Phou predated Angkor Wat by 100 years. The original buildings are mostly gone, and the buildings we viewed had been rebuilt in the 11th and 13th centuries. At the end of the rebuilding, the kingdom and temple were converted from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist use.

The similarities to Angkor Wat were immediately apparent – in history, religion, exploration, architecture, art and layout.

After passing the large pond (baray), we walked up a long, lined path to get to the “palaces” on either side of the path. The buildings may have been for cleansing before proceeding up to the wat (as our guide suggested), but Wikipedia says the purpose was unknown.

The south building’s entrance was suitably imposing.


A critical difference to know when visiting: while Angkor Wat is situated on relatively flat terrain, Wat Phou is on a mountainside. We started to climb the very steep steps.

Each step’s rise was higher than we’re used to and the tread too shallow. With no railings, it took awhile to make it to the top.

The main wat was in disrepair.

Still, many of the carvings were in remarkably good shape, probably due to the fact they were inset and protected from the elements.

We approached the doorway to see what remained of the inside and saw that the wat is still used today as a place of worship, though the roof is missing.

Our guide showed us all the features we probably would have missed on our own. We traced the water (believed sacred) back to where it flows out of the mountain rocks, and we walked a short way to see a very large boulder carved to resemble an elephant, and yet another nearby that looked like a crocodile.

A helpful museum was back near the entrance. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed there.

Can you ever stay long enough to see everything? Our guide pointed to his watch after we’d been there well over 2 hours. More was ahead. Still, we are a group of slow travelers, and this was a UNESCO site. No amount of time ever seems quite long enough.   With reluctance we continued on, slow travelers turned into tourists for one day.


February 2018


About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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7 Responses to If in doubt, add a UNESCO World Heritage Site to your itinerary

  1. Glad the slow-travel worked out so well. You are teasing me with the question of perspective in that last photo. Please don’t tell me if those rocks in the foreground aren’t for sitting-on!

  2. I’ve rarely been disappointed by a visit to a UNESCO WHS and most times, frankly bedazzled by some amazing places, so I agree wholeheartedly with your advice. Like you, I find it difficult to follow someone else’s clock, especially when a place is as fascinating as Wat Phou. The more posts I read in your Laos series, the more I’m thinking it should be my first stop when I return to Southeast Asia! Anita

  3. Joe says:

    Losing oneself in such a marvelous place without concern for time. Such is a benefit of slow travel.

  4. Sometimes you just have to fit in with someone else’s timetable.

  5. When you slow down, you have more time to absorb what is around you.

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