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Wat Phu in Champassak, Laos is listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO.









Wat Phu, a protected Lao Heritage and World Heritage Site

Wat Phu (or Vat Phu) which means "temple on the mountain" in Lao language and it is one of the oldest archaeological site in Laos, located in Champassak province along the Mekong River in the southern most part of the country. It is 670km from the capital Vientiane and 50km from Pakse.
           
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The area of Wat Phu encompases the islands of Siphandone, where there's 4,000 islands on the Mekong River. In Lao language, "si phan" means 4,000 and "done" means island. The water in this part of Laos is very clear and fresh.
           
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Champassak is one of ten districts in Champassak province. The district has much evidence of past civilisation, including sandstone palaces, buddhas and an ancient town that is part of the rich history of Laos. The Mekong River can be compared with an ocean of wealth, with nine mountains surrounding this historic town of Champassak which is filled with an eternal graceful and warm nature.
           
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Linkhaparavata Mountain

Champassak, the southern city was the place where the indigenous Lao, Mon-Khmer and Lua (or Lawa) people lived. Hinduism was a major influence in the third century. Archaeological sites are focused in the south east, with this centre a Champhukaow (or Summit Mountain) stretching on the east and west of the mighty Mekong River.
           
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On top of Champhukaow were stones which were similar to the hairstyle shape which were worn by Lao women who the Hindus worshiped. Lao people like to call this mountain "phu nom" meaning "breast on the mountain" because the mountain also looks like a womens breast. Siva Linga is the emblem of the Hindu's most respected god, called in sanscript "Linkhaparavata" (or monk). Sivatheps Linkha Mountain is 1,400 metres high, sandstone palaces were built at its foot for worship and religious activities.
           
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Wat Phu Sandstone Palaces

Before walking up the sandstone palace, one can notice large tanks called "sa taow" and "sa nang". In Lao language, "sa taow" means a bathing tank for men and "sa nang" is for women. These were to wash in by worshiping pilgrims. At the bottom of Wat Phu is the first step, and has two palaces done in sandstone. Features such as window frames were carved and were based on the event Siva tap. The eastern Palace is called the Mens Palace, the western one is the Womens Palace. The activities inside the two palaces is unclear at this stage. Before reaching the two palaces, one passes through a 280 metre long causeway. There are stonely columns between the Palaces which give the form of a linear blooming lotus, this is the emblem of the Linkha temple.
           
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Along the western pathway at the back of the womens temple is a sandstone palace name the Cattle Pen. The Cattle Pen was used to keep the Royal or nantin cows as a means of regular conveyance of the Queen Paravati and King Pasiva.
           
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On the second step of the pathway, one finds the carved statue of the guardian Phratavaraphan usually called Priyacomata by local people. The standing statue holds a hammer in his right hand, while the left holds the chest indicating respect for worshipers. This sandstone statue has been standing for hundreds of years. Although it is not compulsory, it is customary for visitors to make a small donation and kneel down to pray for good luck and success before climbing up the next set of steps.
           
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Thevalay and Holy Water

On the third step, the entire path is paved with massive stone slabs. The fourth step has three brick worship alters on each side. Before entering Thevalay, pilgrims must climb seventy seven steps. Each platform has eleven steps.
           
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Thevalay is the highest Phatan Palace, some parts were made of bricks, others of stone. Even though the roof structure was ruined, some parts indicate architectural traces, each entrance gate was magnificently carved and decorated. The carving naturally reveal the three-headed elephants, a god was riding upon lahu while lahu held a torch, these artistic carvings reveal the intelligence and skills of the unknown builders of the past. These carvings were probably made by master craftsman Kuka and Papawan.
           
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At the rear of Thevalay, there are three wall carvings. Shiva is in the middle, Nom on the right and Vishnu on the left, both showing respect to Shiva.
           
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To the west there is a spring which flows U round from a stone cliff, it is believed that the holy water from kow Mountain was used to wash the Linkha monk day and night. This spring has been flowing from the mountain for thousands of years and it has never dried out.
           
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Nakhon Sethapura, the ancient town

Most people believe that there are only Stone Palaces but there are other secrets such as the ancient town called Nakhon Sethapura. Nakhon Sethapura, presently a Champassak town of approximately 400 hectares is surrounded by double walls. King Thamanika arrected them in the mid 5th century. After the 11th century, Nakhon Sethapura lost her crucial role as a town centre since other Kings expanded their power in the south and built another town, Angkor Wat.
           
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Wat Phu in the Buddhist Era

In the mid 13th century, buddhism replaced hinduism in Wat Phu and it remains today as one can see the Buddhas in the interior of Thevalay Palace. The sacrificial activities definately changed 500 years ago.
           
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Every year the Wat Phu festival is held in March during the period of the full moon according to the lunar calendar or mid March by the international calendar. During the festival, there are not only religious ceremonies but also traditional sports competitions such as elephant racing, horse hockey, boat racing and others.
           
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Down the years the groups of Champassak archaeological palaces were not paid protective attention, they were quite dirty. Soil erosion resulted from thousands of years of pouring rain water from the mountains. As a result the palace was ruined and parts have vanished. It is clear the need for cultural heritage management and protection in this archaeological site. The government of Laos in co-operation with Lao project 86/006 of UNESCO and UNDP has researched the evidence related to the history and background of the sandstone palaces and ancient towns. The Lao project has defined four management and protective zones such as the cultural heritage protection zone, the religious environment protection zone, the archaeological research protection zone and the archaeological site management zone. The credible evidence about Wat Phu, as well as the present state of the historical, archaeological and anthropological research has been mentioned. There will be challenging search for more evidence goes on.
           
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Wat Phu and its surroundings were certified as a national heritage site in 1993. Since then Wat Phu has been registered by UNESCO on the 14th of December, 2001.
           
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The official certificate handover ceremony took place on the 25th of December, 2002. One can say that Wat Phu and the ancient town of Sethapura are not only the cultural heritage of the people of Champassak province and Lao people throughout the nation, but the precious heritage of all human kind in the world.
           
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One can go sight seeing to the ancient site by various routes, such as by air from Vientiane to Pakse, or by bus. One can also travel from Ubon Ratchathani in Thailand, from the Kingdom of Cambodia or through the Socialist Republic of Vietnam via the Lao border. Well furnished hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and other services are ready to welcome you. One can easily find accomodation in Pakse or Champassak district at any time. The people of Champassak welcome you.
           
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