Angkor Wat is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the world, and rightly so; it’s an amazing place. It’s simply unfair, however, that the ruined city of Angkor should get so much attention, while Champasak should get so little.
Champasak is located along the Mekong River right in southernmost Laos, near to popular transport hub Pakse, and not far from the gorgeous 4,000 Islands. It’s a charming town, packed with a mix of French colonial architecture, colorful modern homes and older, well-maintained traditional Lao and Chinese houses.
By far Champasak’s primary draw, however, is its history. Almost 1,500 years ago, it was the dominant site in the lower Mekong region, and it was still extremely important during the Khmer Angkor era. Right up until the 18th century, it was an economic and religious powerhouse in the region, before it began a steep decline which resulted in it eventually becoming the small town it is today.
The most important remnant of that time, and the primary tourist draw today, is Wat Phu. This Khmer temple may not have the size of Angkor Wat, but it follows the same architectural style, and the complex in which it sits still covers a sizeable area of Phou Kao mountain. At the time of its construction, it was clearly an incredibly important religious site, as evidenced by the 200km road which connected it to the city of Angkor. To this day, it’s actually still regarded as a significant Buddhist temple.
Again, we don’t want to talk Angkor Wat down, but the relative lack of fanfare that Wat Phu receives is simply baffling. It was created in the same time period as Angkor, and was an extremely significant site during that time period. Visiting it strongly evokes the amazing history of the region just as a visit to Angkor does.
We hope that, by reading this article, you won’t make the mistake that many visitors to southern Laos do. Even if it’s just for a day, you simply must ensure that you stop off at Champasak, and take in the splendid Wat Phu.