Champasak’s Buddhist Temples & Shrines

Champasak’s culture intertwines with Buddhism, especially along the Mekong.

 

In Pakse Town, wander around Vat Luang on the Xe Don riverbank. A short walk from Vat Phou leads to the ancient Temple of Nang Sida. Close by, you can inspect pre-Angkor Vat Tomo and the 13th-century Vat Thao Thao. View Vat Hin Siew’s sacred stone, and the colonial-style Vat Vieng Thong containing cremated remains.

Temples around Vat Phou

Vat Nang Sida: Inspect the ruins of the 800-year-old Vat Nang Sida on the ancient Angkor Wat Road. Much of this once sizeable temple complex with a baray (reservoir pool) has crumbled, but you can still see plenty. Standing columns and cross members stand along its entrance hallway, leading to a sanctuary topped by a tower, which is now a pile of sandstone blocks. An old Khmer stone carving sits near the pile.

Location: To reach Vat Nang Sida, walk on the Old Angkor Wat Road south of Vat Phou for about 30 minutes. The trail cuts through fields as it follows the base of forested Phou Kao Mountain.

Vat Thao Tao: Explore the 13th-century Vat Thao Tao with its tower in a central courtyard surrounded by a wall. You can access the compound at the centre of the eastern wall. The sandstone-and-laterite sanctuary has crumbled, and its baray has been filled.

Location: The temple is about 1 km from Vat Nang Sida, with difficult access down a trail.

Vat Tomo: Investigate the relatively intact entrance and walls of the pre-Angkor Vat Tomo (Oubmong). You’ll find several stone Khmer sculptures including a “Mukhalinga”, a symbolic representation of the Hindu God Shiva with a human head. The two-tier temple compound sits amid rice terraces on the Mekong Riverbanks.

Location: The temple is about 2 km east of Vat Phou and across from Don Daeng Island. You can also travel south from Champasak Town along the river road by bicycle or vehicle for some 3 km. 

Vat Muang Kang: Visit the sizeable 19th-century Vat Muang Kang and its monks who live on the Mekong in the compound’s wooden houses. A series of tall white pillars support the temple’s steep, 3-tiered overhanging roof, which reflects an architectural blend of European, Siamese, Burmese, and Chinese styles. Next door is an equally large structure with a rooftop, crowned by a small monument. Pleasant landscaping presents a peaceful atmosphere, with the grounds offering views across the river to Don Daeng’s southern tip.

Location: To reach Vat Muang Khang, turn left off the Vat Tomo-Vat Phou Road at Ban Nongvian, and follow the riverside trail for about 1.5 km.   

Vat Pho Xay: Head a few hundred metres north of Champasak Town on the River Road to the small Vat Pho Xay, known for its sacred rock. According to the villagers, “Pha Si Ho” emerged from the earth under a large tree on the temple grounds in 1962. However, others claim it was unearthed by accident, having been buried. Locals believe that those who pay homage to the rock will have good luck and strong health. Those who disturb the rock may become ill and even lose their speech. Also on the compound are three golden sitting Buddhas.

Location: Follow the River Road north of Champasak Town for about 300 metres. 

Pakse Temples

Vat Luang: Wander around Vat Luang on the Xe Don Riverbank near its confluence with the Mekong. Constructed in 1935, the city’s most revered temple features ornate décor, intricate golden murals, a golden Buddha, and a large library. At the temple’s entrance, you’ll find funeral shrines containing the ashes of Lao royalty and a former prime minister. Vat Luang is also a peaceful place to observe monks collecting alms, and it offers great views across the Xe Don River.

Location: The temple is easy to reach by foot from the city centre, as it sits near the Xe Don’s Route 13 Bridge leading to the airport. 

Vat Phou Salao: View Pakse and beyond through the eyes of a large golden Buddha perched on a hilltop across the Mekong. Vat Phou Salao and its Buddha present a platform with a panorama covering the Mekong and Xe Don Rivers converging at Pakse. On a clear day, you can clearly see the Bolaven Plateau. Visit in the early morning to catch the sunrise over the eastern horizon, or enjoy the view in the shade of the late afternoon. Before leaving, step inside the simple and modestly adorned temple.

Location: To reach Vat Phou Salao, take a tuk tuk from Pakse Town to the parking area and two long sets of stairs, or continue driving to the top.

Vat Chomphet’s Stone Buddha Carvers: Start your visit to Vat Chomphet at Don Kho Village on the Mekong, and watch local stone carvers create traditional Buddha images. Then take the short road from the village to Vat Chomphet and its small compound with a 30-metre-high sitting Buddha. The golden Buddha looks out over the Mekong, as do the numerous smaller replicas around Him. Step inside the elaborately golden-trimmed temple to its small, modest chapel, where locals and visitors pray.

Location: To reach Don Kho, rent a car, a van, or a motorbike in Pakse, drive north on Route 13 for 13 km, and turn left at Dong Ka Long. Tour operators offer excursions to Vat Chomphet and further to the weaving village of Ban Saphai.    

Vat Saphai Kang: Head up the Mekong River road from Don Kho Village to Vat Saphai Kang. Though historians cannot zero-in on an age for the original temple, a stone stupa from the Vat Phou era sits on the property. Today’s temple, near a French colonial navigation guide, was reconstructed in 1938, and features interesting, detailed murals. While there, watch Ban Saphai Village’s weavers and have a look at the 150-year-old home of a coffee plantation owner, which is still occupied by his family.     

Location: The temple is located 1 km north of Don Kho Village on the Mekong River Road.

Vat Po Sayalam: Visit a temple, named for the pipal tree that grew on the grounds of a venerated monk. Ajarn Somdeth Lun was a much-respected monk who lived in a forested area on the Mekong. He was cremated at the site of his home upon his death in 1921, after which an unplanted pipal tree started to grow. Nearby villagers in Ban Vernxay later built Vat Pho Sayalam, and believe Ajarn Somdeth’s spirit protects the area.

Location: The temple is located at Ban Vernxay a bit upriver from Ban Saphai.

Don Khong Religious Sites

Take a lap of Don Khong Island, and check out its variety of historic Buddhist temples, sacred stupas, Khmer ruins, and other religious sites.  

Vat Hang Khong: An underground river flows beneath this well-maintained temple, constructed in 1860, and a stupa covers its builder’s remains.

Vat Hin Siou: Buddhists pray for safe journeys at this temple and its sacred stone, and believe its ceremonial waters have medicinal qualities.

Vat Phou Khao Keo: This temple sits next to a Vat Phou-era stupa dating to 1364, and at its base sits carved stones with Sanskrit writing and Khmer designs.

Vat Khong Taiphoum: Don Khong’s foremost temple houses a golden Buddha, and murals of Buddha’s life, painted by locals, decorate a second structure. Photographs are not allowed inside the main temple.

Vat Veun Thong: The grounds of this French colonial-style temple hold an ancient stupa and old monuments containing cremated remains.

Tham Phou Khao Cave: A 6-km trek to Don Khong’s highest peak (150 metres) leads to a cavern with Buddha images, mountaintop stupa, and island views.

Location: Don Khong is located 14 km north of Don Khone, and can be accessed by ferry or a bridge from Route 13.

 

Champasak: Buddhism on the Mekong

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