Attraction Wat Xieng Thong Khem Khong Luang Prabang Laos Published on: 13-11-2015
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Why Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple) is special ?
Wat Xieng Thong is very old, built around 1560 by King Setthathirat, a patron of Buddhism, who ruled Laos from 1548 to 1571. The temple is located in a beautiful garden on the bank of the Mekong River where the Nam Khan, a smaller river runs into it.
It was considered as the architectural reference of Luang Prabang with a very pointed vihan which comes down very low (more information on this subject in the article on religious architecture.)
There are many legends about the place where the Nam Khan enters the Mekong. It is believed to be the site where the two hermits, who founded Luang Prabang, placed the boundary stone for the new settlement. Another story tells about a betel merchant with the name of Chanthapanit who built a palace on this site, making himself the first king of the new capital. It has been said that he was the first founder of Wat Xieng Thong.The union of the Nam Khan with the Mekong is also said to be the home of two nagas (water spirits in the form of large snakes), the guardians of the river. A shrine to the nagas existed at the site until recently.
What to explore at Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple)?
Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most important of Lao monasteries and remains a significant monument to the spirit of religion, royalty and traditional style of a fascinating city. There are over twenty structures on the grounds including shrines, pavilions and residences, in addition to its gardens of various flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees. Many of the structures are notable, in addition to the magnificent sim, several deserve special attention.
In the peaceful atmosphere of the compound garden are several shelters, housing rare Buddha images and the gilded royal funerary carriage. If you visit too many temples in Laos you may get tired of them as many of them are very similar; it is best to visit only a few and only the best and general consensus is that if you only explore one temple in Laos it should be this one. Bring a guide book or hire a local guide so that you get an idea of the significance of what you are seeing. In the evening, the light reflects beautifully off the glass and gold of the walls and the monks are called in to prayer by drums.
The main sim of the wat boasts three tiered red roofs sweeping down to almost touch the ground. The exterior is black with elaborate gold stencilling while the base is covered with glittering turquoise and silver tile. The back of the sim has a truly stunning mosaic of the tree of life, a motif that reoccurs throughout Southeast Asia. It has become an iconic symbol of the entire wat.
The interior is dark, intensifying the gold stencil work. Myths, jataka tales (tales of Buddha), depictions of heaven and hell, and the stories of legendary King Chanthaphanith decorate the walls. The sim is surrounded by turquoise-mosaic covered lotus buds, as well as several chapels and stupas.
La Chapelle Rouge, or the Red Chapel, hasa reclining Buddha which, in 1931, was taken to the great Paris Colonial Exhibition before being moved to Vientiane. It was eventually returned to Luang Prabang in 1964. The exterior glass mosaic mural depicts the heavens at the top and earthly scenes of people, animals and trees at the bottom.
Another highlight at the wat is the Chapel of the Funeral Chariot. This hall houses the funeral chariot of King Sisavangvong, crowned in 1946, died in 1959. The exterior is covered with elaborately carved and gilded decorations.
- Classic architecture
- One of Asia's best temples
- A lot of history in this Wat
- Superb Wat complex
- Most colorful of all Wats
Wat Xieng Thong Khem Khong Luang Prabang Laos
Tips for you
I regret not reading more on this wat before my visit. There are plenty of details to be relished. Such as the Royal Funerary Urns Carriage. The Urns and carriage have highly intricate carvings on them. Even the carriage house has mythical scenes carved on the frontage, all in Golden colors. Take time to take it in. The main wat is small, like most of the old ones. The walls and pillars are either painted black or red, completely filled with gold images on them. The door frames and lintel are carved intricately in Golden colors. The roof spots the standard design of wats found in Laos, with multiple gold spires arranged in a certain fashion in the center. There's a smaller red wat nearby with colorful paintings on the outer walls. Inside, the reclining Buddha is said to have been exhibited in Paris and Vientiane previously before being brought back here. There are many smaller stupas in the compound for you to admire. There are some subtle differences in wats in LP versus those in Vientiane. If you have a keen eye, you will notice them. At least you have a free hand in taking photographs in LP. Take time and enjoy the details in the architecture.