Vat Phou - History and Facts | History Hit

Vat Phou

Alex Spencer

29 Dec 2021

About Vat Phou

Vat Phou is an ancient Khmer temple in southern Laos. It was one of the major components of the Khmer Empire from 9th century.

Originally a Hindu and later Buddhist pilgrimage site, it has however been occupied by multiple religions over the centuries including animism, which is reflected in Vat Phou’s architecture.

Vat Phou history

Vat Phou was built on a mountain ridge near the Mekong, close to where it joins the Phou River. The spring it is built over has a mythical creation story. Due to this, its constructions are characterised by its relationship to water. Many of its structures are related to water in some way.

Its geographical position means it is surrounded by mountains and rivers. The fertile ground around it means that Vat Phou had access to an evergreen food supply. This made made it a vital trading site with the surrounding area.

Although originally occupied by the Khmer empire (9th to 13th century), it soon became a contested region. Vat Phou’s resources attracted raids from both local and foreign invaders. This became problematic as it was defenceless due to the lack of an apparent military presence.

Around 1427 Vat Phou was occupied by Cham invaders, who they had to pay off in order to prevent it from being pillaged. It remained remained under Khmer control until the 15th century when it came into the territory of Ayutthaya, another powerful kingdom at Vat Phou’s doorstep. Vat Phou was under Ayutthaya until its decline in the 18th century when it was brought under Laos’ control. It has remained in their territory ever since.

Vat Phou today

Today the site is open to the public for religious activities and tourist visits. Hours are 08:00–18:00, and the entrance fee is 50,000 LAK for foreigners (£3) and 20,000 LAK for locals (£1).

The site features a museum which houses artefacts of the temple complex of several centuries, such as statues of Shiva, Vishnu and Nandin, as well as Buddhist statues. The museum building has been limited to a specific size to minimize altering the underground site and the view.