Vat Phou conservation experts meet to review progress

|     Phomphong Laoin     |

CHAMPASSAK, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) – At this time of the year when the weather is fine, plenty of people arrive at Vat Phou Champassak to explore this extensive temple complex and wander among the ruins.

Their enjoyment of the site will be able to continue long into the future thanks to an international team of experts who are constantly working to restore and preserve the many structures that make up the temple complex.

Last week, I attended the ‘5th International Coordination Meeting Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champassak Cultural Landscape”, supported by the Embassy of the Republic of India to Laos.

At the same time we toured the site to learn about the history of Vat Phou Champassak and its inscription by the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) on the list of World Heritage Sites in 2001.

Vat Phou, meaning “temple of the mountain”, is situated in the south of Laos on the banks of the Mekong River, about one hundred kilometres north of the Cambodian border.

The Vat Phou Champassak World Heritage Site. – ANN

Vat Phou is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and is one of the most significant architectural sites anywhere in Southeast Asia, on par with Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

The Lao are especially proud of this site, but its value goes far beyond the modern-day borders of Laos and it truly belongs to the common historic heritage of all people in the region.

Vat Phou was a key location in the emergence of the region’s ancient kingdoms.

An important city, one of the capitals of the ancient Khmer Kingdom long before Angkor was founded, flourished on the banks of the Mekong during the 5th Century.

And yet many vestiges are only visible today by observing certain details which are familiar to archaeologists.

The monumental Vat Phou complex was built mostly on the slopes of a mountain which was considered sacred and dominates the valley. However, the remains of the buildings still visible today mostly date from the 11th and 12th Centuries.

Today the temple ruins are carefully preserved and various parts are being restored.

The government and international organisations are closely involved in conservation efforts, particularly in cooperation with India and the Republic of Korean.

At last week’s meeting, Laos’ heritage officials and technicians from India, Korea, France and other involved sectors met to discuss ongoing projects to conserve and restore the temple ruins.

The conservation and restoration of Vat Phou Champassak is continuing and will be carried out in the long term.

Under the Vat Phou Champassak Restoration Project, experts are currently restoring the southern and northern palaces with the support of the Laos-India Cooperation Project.

The first phase began in 2015 and teams will continue with the second phase of restoration.

Authorities are also continuing the Lao-Korean cooperation project to preserve and restore the Hong Nang Sida temple which is located about one kilometre from Vat Phou.