Monday, March 31, 2014

A climb up a Wat, in southern Laos near Pakse in the Champasak region,WAT PHU (or Vat Phou)

 So we left Don Khong island and the ferry ride across the Mekong to the mainland and traveled on.

Oops, alomost forgot.  Kakada offered us a taste of grilled water buffalo meat (street food).  I declined.
Fish ponds along the road--often with tilapia

Tree orchards....not sure what kind
 As we got to a bit more urban/suburban area, we saw more of a variety of homes.

 And a regional college:
 The Mekong was quite wide here, even in the dry season.
 And we saw rice fields--you can see the divisions between plots.  The top ones have the second crops of the season.  The one below is dried out from the first crop.  We never got a clear answer as to why in a similar area both exist.

We stopped for lunch at a covered, outdoor hotel restaurant on the edge of Pakse:

A small statue in front of one of the rooms, where we could use the bathroom.
Unusual variegated flower

On our way to our home stay, we stopped at Vat Phou (Wat Phu) in the Champasak region (whose capital is Pakse. Over 700,000 people live in this region.)
Entrance (where one pays the fee) to the ancient Wat

I don't remember seeing a museum here, but I did buy a pretty pair of earrings for my daughter-in-law here.

This site, under an unusually shaped 1400-meter-high mountain (almost 4600 feet),  has been sacred to three cultures.  The oldest known temple on this site was here in the 5th century.  From the 6th to 8th centuries the  Chen La Kingdom worshiped this site and appeased the gods by sacrificing one teenage by and one girl (ages 12 to 14) annually.  A pre-Angkor Khmer civilization built most of the building we saw, starting in the 9th century and continuing into the 13th century.  .  Later the buildings were changed from Hindu temples into Buddhist shrines of the Theravada tradition.  (Information paraphrased from Insight Guides:  Laos and Cambodia, a wonderful series!)  What Phu begins at river level and rises three levels to reach the foot of the mountain.  There is a large lake/reservoir that we drove/ walked by to get to the Wat.

Van that we road on for a mile from the entry to get closer to the Wat

 It used to be a site of boat races and our guide told us he had gone there as a child with his father.  Ritual bathing or just regular bathing and fishing continue.

Map of Site

The limestone for construction was from nearby but the volcanic rock had to be brought from far away. There was a road 240 km straight to Angkor Wat, the center of the Khmer empire for a time. 

At the bottom before the climb are two areas of buildings, on the left and right.   Originally one side was to prepare the the male teen being sacrificed and the other for the female teen being sacrificed.
Along the way, one sees pieces of basalt rock that from destroyed parts of the temple or unused.
Some work is being done on the building--slowly.
Close ups of some of the ornate carving on the walls:

Steps up to the front area are quite steep.  The 2 Marks were quite helpful!

 Area inside one of the bvuildings--you can see how high the roof once was when you look at the photo below. The room was quite long, probably divided into several rooms at one time?
Ornate bars on the windows....newer?

Close up of the carving at the bottom of the picture below

Back end/door?
We walked past the first buildings and saw other areas of ruins.

Trio of trees growing out of ruins

Frangiapane, the national flower of Laos

Foot on left, torsos and legs of statues
  We then started our hike up to the main temple area, which is 100 meter (330 feet) up the hill.  This is definitely NOT a climb for people with health problems or unsteady feet/legs/balance.
Easy part of climb

Shrine--many statues are "clothed"

Women who make flowers for shrines--they are really lovely
Getting a bit harder

Big steps up--easier for me to go up than go down though
View from the top--notice the steps

Panoramic view from trop--a new tool I tried on my camera
Then I turned around and saw the temple on the right:

To the left was a pretty view and also a cave-let with special sacred water that has been there for 100s of years..

One of the few places I saw litter--it probably was cleaned up right away
A shrine was on the way--my water bottle to show size of carving

Water dripping down from holes in pipes
Exit for water where pilgrims can get a little and apply it to their faces (?)
Just beyond the water area were piles of stones that pilgrims built for a good future, I believe.

 As we walked past the right of the temple,  we saw an unusual rock.  It was considered special too so there was a small shrine in front of it.
The elephant rock
Walked through a more jungle-like area--path was bumpy
Saw more downed pieces of temple, etc.
 Then arrived at the area where in early times 2 young teens were sacrified annually to appease the mountain gods.  You can see where the girls arms were put on the right  (or the boys legs--he was on top her her)with a place for her blood to flow to the right of her head.  The boy was put on top of her.  Yes, I agree.  It was not pleasant to see. 

More recently made stone piles
View from near the top looking down again
It was harder for me to go down, so I took my time.
Along the way, we saw more completed flower sculptures for pilgrims to buy to put in front of Buddhas.  They were quite pretty.
I was very impressed by the geometric design.
More frangiapane flowers, the national flower of Laos
An unusual color of Bird of Paradise growing on the mountain.

The site/hike up was worthwhile in spite of it being a warm day.  The somewhat overcast weather helped to lessen the intensity of the heat. 

You can read more about Wat Phu at:
         (which is a bit harder to follow)

A short time later before heading off to our homestay on an island, our local guide left us and we soon got a new one.  Many of us tipped the local guides several dollars a day.  Here Marcy was asked to give the guide the money in an envelope from the group.

The next entry of the blog will be about the homestay, one of the highlights of our trip!