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Visitors discover the hidden charms of Attapeu province
Welcoming Visit Laos Year 2018, Vientiane Times is publishing a series of feature articles and photographs inviting you to experience the authentic nature, culture, history and hospitality of South-East Asia’s Simply Beautiful Laos.

Attapeu province is located in the southernmost part of Laos, about 830 km by road from the capital Vientiane, but tourists have been impressed by its hidden charms and numerous wonderful tourist sites.

Nice waterfalls in Attapeu province.

It is also one of the provinces that I can’t seem to stop speaking about.  I have visited well-known tourist sites in many countries, such as the Great Wall of China, Uluru in Australia and Gyeongju and Haeundae beach at Busan in South Korea. They are very beautiful and have specific characteristics associated with a particular country.
Laos has several wonderful tourist sites across the country and every province has its special characteristics. Attapeu too has wonderful tourist sites which are visited every day by domestic and foreign visitors. Vat Sakhare, Nongfar (the blue lake), and several nice waterfalls such as Tad Smongphark, Saepha and Saeponglay are among the well-known sites.
One special place which attracts a large number of tourists and worshippers is Vat Sakhare, also known as Vat Ongsensoukhalam. Vat Ongsensoukhalam has become a popular tourist attraction for Lao and foreign visitors alike, with at least 100 people travelling there every day to pay obeisance to the Buddha image.
A senior official of the Attapeu provincial Tourism Department said many people have had their wishes fulfilled after visiting this statue, which is called Pha Ongsen, meaning it is especially large.
He explained that during every Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year), members of the Yahern ethnic group, which originally brought the Pha Ongsen to Sakhare village, hold ceremonies to consecrate the Buddha image in order to increase its sacred powers. The Yahern hold these ceremonies during April 14-16.    
When I visited Attapeu province, I had a chance to worship the Pha Ongsen at Vat Sakhare, as the locals are more likely to call it. Sakhare temple is a bit far from the provincial capital.
After travelling from the provincial capital, I waited for a ferry to take me across the Xekong River. While I stood on the river bank, I saw the reflection of Vat Sakhare ripple on the surface of the water even though it was more than 300 metres away.
The Xekong River has several nice spots where tourists can take photos. 
As we boarded the ferry, the fascinating  rural landscape set our cameras in action. This was a magnificent scene, with tall trees standing like sentries along the river, guarding the ferry’s passage through Attapeu province. 
Vat Sakhare is located in Sakhare village of Samakhixay district, about 30 km outside the main town. There are two routes to reach the temple, along Road No 18B or Road No. 11.
The village has been here for as long as people can remember and is home to more than 500 families, according to the provincial Information, Culture and Tourism Department.
The temple is situated on the river bank, more than 100 metres above the water, and visitors have to climb about 80 steps to reach it. Halfway up, it is easy to feel tired but the views soon lift your spirits and spur you on.
A lot of people take a break at this point and pull out their cameras again, posing for photos against the panoramic backdrop. The river below runs green and fresh, with the boulders emerging from the waters a sure attraction for anyone with a camera in their hands.
As I gazed around me, I watched the locals fishing, using longboats fashioned out of the remnants of war in which they brought in the catch of the day.
My visit coincided with one of the four monthly Buddhist holy days, when worshippers carry lustral water to the temple in bowls to ask for blessings from the monks.
A large group of tourists were visiting to admire the Buddha image in the sim (temple hall), long revered by the local people. The locals believe the Pha Ongsen is sacred and has special powers, and that they will be successful in their endeavours if they call on the image for help.     
The sim is small and old; the elderly men who were observing the holy day told me they were aged about 80 and the temple had been in existence since they were boys.
They recalled how, in the 1970s, American missiles had hit the village but, at that time, there were no solid houses like there are at present.
When the missiles fell, the villagers hid in the sim, and everyone was safe. They showed me the exact spot close to the temple where one of the bombs had exploded. Some parts of the sim were  damaged during the bombing and one of the walls had developed cracks.
The men said many Buddha images in the temple were destroyed at that time. Today, the sim is the only original building still standing.
The temple has strict rules for those wishing to go inside. Before entering, women wearing trousers have to change into a traditional long skirt. Villagers and the local authorities have skirts available for women; without one, they may not enter the temple.
No woman is allowed to enter the sim, and only men are given the privilege of gazing upon the sacred Buddha image. However, women may walk up as far as the fifth of 12 steps leading into the building, but that’s as close as they can get.
The high visitor numbers at the temple are testament to increasing interest in places of cultural and archaeological importance in Attapeu province.
How to get to Attapeu province:
If you would like to visit the province, you can take a bus from Vientiane to Attapeu. The southern bus station is on 450 Road. If you are travelling from Vietnam and Cambodia, you can cross the border to Attapeu. The province shares borders with both countries.

By Phon Thikeo
(Latest Update October 19, 2017)

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