The guide came to pick us up at 4:30 am and it was so dark that it was actually difficult to find the way from our bungalow to the reception area where he was waiting. We were in Champasak, southern Laos, in a wonderfully located hotel, the River Resort, on the banks of the Mekong.
Our destination was close by: the ancient ruins of Wat (or Vat) Phou, a khmer hindu temple complex whose origins date back to the 5th century. What we see today was built later, mainly during the 11th century. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. Read more about it here: http://www.vatphou-champassak.com/index.php
When we arrived just before 5 am it came as no surprise that the ticket office was closed, there was absolutely no one around, the parking was empty. Silence reigned. We entered somewhere, I don’t know exactly where since I couldn’t see much. We started walking in the darkness (luckily our guide had a torch), it felt a bit eerie, unreal, to be alone. Eventually we approached the long steps leading up to the sanctuary and started the climb on the high, very uneven and sometimes very narrow thousand year old steps.
We sat down next to the sanctuary (of which we could see only the contours) and just then the sun started to rise.
It was a magical moment.
Some goats were grazing next to us, there were a couple of cows in the direction of the sanctuary – we heard their bells. It was incredibly peaceful.
As the sun rose we started walking around the sanctuary area. Our guide had been a monk for seven years and knew everything there is to know about the hindu gods, rituals, temple structures, stories and legends.
Can you spot the intruder in the photo below?
The cow (and I’m sure also the goats) enjoyed the flower decorations on the sanctuary altar.
The view was spectacular (yes, we had climbed many stairs in the dark …)!
As we started going back, I noticed that the Frangipane trees that were in bloom everywhere made the stairs quite romantic.
We were still totally alone and it felt a great luxury to be able to admire the beauty and to soak up the very special atmosphere of the temple complex.
A few hours later, as we slowly approached the exit, we noticed that we weren’t totally alone any more: there was a man frying bananas. It was a welcome sight since we hadn’t had any breakfast yet and were getting quite hungry.
But did we just sneak in without paying?? Yes, we obviously did, but by the time we had had our delicious fried bananas the ticket office had opened so we could pay as we left this amazing archeological site.