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.
Kietngong is famous for its 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 idea either and you’ll hear some wild and crazy theories from those who should know better.
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.
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.
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.
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!