What Phou is a ruined Khmer temple complex near the Mekong River in Champasak province in Southern Laos. The name means “temple mountain” and refers to its location on the side of a mountain overlooking the ruins of an ancient city, with the Mekong in the distance. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 2001 and makes a great day trip from Pakse.
Best Time to Go
The best time to visit Wat Phou is during the dry season from November to March, when temperatures are cooler. March to May is the hot season and the temperatures can reach 40ºC or higher, making the climb up to the temple less than enjoyable. That said, the flowers that bloom in the complex in April and May make the site especially beautiful. The wet season runs from May to October and can create problems on the roads in the area.
Getting to Wat Phou
The best way to see Wat Phou on a day trip is by motorbike, which can be rented in Pakse from 60,000 Kip per day. Alternatively, you could visit the temple complex as part of a tour, which are offered all over Pakse.
If you spend a night or two in nearby Champasak town (10 km away), which I’d definitely recommend if you have the time, you can also reach Wat Phu by bicycle or by tuk tuk.
To get to Champasak from Pakse, take a songthaew from the Donruang Market for 20,000 Kip (generally only available in the mornings from 9-11am). You could also bike all the way there. From Si Phan Don, travel agents can arrange a combination of boat and bus for 50,000 to 60,000 Kip.
Champasak town has a few guest houses for those looking to spend a night near the temple (it’s about 10km away) and getting an early start. It’s a nice little town and accommodation is much cheaper than in Pakse, so I’d definitely recommend doing this. You won’t have any trouble finding a place to stay if you just show up and look around.
If you prefer to plan ahead, the Thavisab Hotel is the cheapest you’ll find online. It offers very basic accommodation for $5 per night. I’d spend a bit more ($12 for a single) and stay at the Anouxa Guesthouse, right on the Mekong.
The most popular hotel in the area is the Inthira Champasak and it probably deserves to be. You’ll pay over $30 for a room, but you get a lot for your money. You also have the opportunity to stay in a luxury hotel right on the Mekong for very little money (relatively speaking, of course). Rooms in the River Resort start at around $65.
Eating & Drinking
You won’t find any night life here, but you can get a Beer Lao at any number of places, many of them overlooking the Mekong. You can eat at any guest house, at a number of restaurants in Champasak town or grab something from one of the many food vendors lining the road to Wat Phou.
Things to Do
- Wat Phou: 50,000 Kip; 8am to 4:30pm; leave yourself at least several hours to explore; early mornings are the best time to go as you will have the place almost to yourself
- Don Deng: island in the Mekong just across from Champasak town; only accessible by boat (40,000-50,000 Kip each way); locals live a very traditional Laotian lifestyle; accommodation available in a community lodge (closed in the off-season) or with a local family (both cost 20,000 Kip plus 15,000 per meal)—you’ll need to book ahead at the Visitor’s Center in Champasak or by calling the Provincial Tourism Authority in Pakse (031 212 021); for now, this is a great experience and still very authentic—the government is trying to keep it that way and hopefully they will succeed;
Money Saving Tips
- hire a motorbike for a day-trip or take a songthaew or ride a bike to Champasak and spend the night; avoid the all-inclusive tours from Pakse or elsewhere
- in fact, every night you spend in Champasak (or on Don Deng) instead of Pakse will save you quite a bit of money
- there is an ancient city between Champasak and Wat Phou; see Nela’s comment below for more information on this: she says it’s easy to miss, which I believe, since we didn’t notice it