The mysterious ruins of Phu Asa, Southern Laos

Phu Asa, or Asa Mountain, is a sandstone outcrop lying close to the village of Kietngong in South Lao’s Champassak Province. The forested hill – part of Xe Pian National Biodiversity Zone – is topped by a flat, bare rock outcrop with a gentle access slope to the northeast and steep drop-offs on the other sides. The mountain’s flat top also houses some curious ruins.

Ruins atop Phu Asa
Ruins atop Phu Asa

Kietngong is famous for it’s elephants and the majority of visitors just see Phu Asa as the destination in their 2 hour elephant trek up the mountain and back. The mahout will probably drop the riders off to stretch their legs amongst the ruins for a bit then bring them down the mountain none the wiser. Mind you a visit with a local guide would probably leave you just as confused since few of them seem to have much ideas either and you’ll hear some wild and crazy theories from those who should know better.

Some of the curious stone towers surrounding the main temple
Some of the curious stone towers surrounding the main temple

The ruins consist of a surrounding rectangle of 108 stone towers, each topped by a large flat rock, and a central main temple or shrine area. 108 is a significant number to both Buddhists and Hindus; for example you’ll count 108 donation bowls at Bangkok’s Wat Pho or 108 towers at the Hindu Bahkeng shrine at Angkor so it’s a pretty good guess that the ruins are that of a temple or religious building. The towers consist of flat stones piled one on top of another like a kind of dry stone walling technique. They were presumably originally linked by a wooden palisade of some sort forming an enclosure wall. The central shrine – also crudely constructed – consists of a 4 entranced stone shrine.

Central shrine at Phu Asa
Central shrine at Phu Asa

Theories range from a stone-age construction to that of a Khmer period temple but the most credible version gives the ruins an early 19th century date when the mountain was supposedly used as a base by local ethnic rebels, led by a King Asa, fighting the King of Champassak’s forces. The ruins are clearly not that ancient since with their poor construction they would have crumbled ages ago and the site is clearly a good defensive position, (a man made water basin to withstand sieges can still be seen next to the temple), so this is probably a realistic solution to the enigma. The remaining ruins certainly formed the temple section of a larger hilltop fortress/citadel.

Hiking on Phu Asa
Hiking on Phu Asa

The ruins are around 1 hour’s easy hike from our Kietngong accommodation – the awesome Kingfisher Eco-lodge – so make for a great morning hike or a couple of hours there and back by elephant.

The stunning Kingfisher Eco-lodge
The stunning Kingfisher Eco-lodge

 

View of the Kietngong Wetlands of Xepian National Park, from the lodge
View of the Kietngong Wetlands of Xepian National Park, from the lodge

Our stay in Kingfisher and hike to the mysterious ruins of Phu Asa was part of our Emerald Triangle tour of Northeastern Thailand and Southern Laos. Cheers!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *