Thursday, 14th April 2016
Visiting Xieng Thong Temple
The best preserved temple in Luang Prabang is Wat Xieng Thong, making it well worth a visit. When the city was sacked in 1887, it was spared by Deo Van Tri, a Tai leader in post-war French Indochina, because he had studied at the site when he was a junior monk. Both its exterior and interior complete with reclining Buddha are stunningly beautiful.
Welcome to Xieng Thong Temple
Also known as the Golden Tree Monastery strategically located at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, the Xieng Thong Temple is a welcoming gateway to Luang Prabang. Over the years it has served as the site of many coronations for the kings of Laos and still hosts a number of important annual festivals to this day.
King Setthathirath initially commissioned the temple, which was completed in 1560, and over the years it had several near-misses in terms of occupation, but stayed largely intact. It was not until the 1960s that major renovation work was carried out to maintain the original roof and repair the gold lacquer and gilding decoration.
Wat Xieng Thong is a fantastic example of Laos temple architecture, partly due to its age, and has the iconic two-tiered roof that is so typical of the style. The complex includes a drum tower and central ordination hall, as well as the Triptaka library, which was added in 1828.
Tree of life
On the rear temple wall is a Tree of life mosaic rendered out of glass pieces. It is said to represent the founding of the monastery, which occurred when two hermits chose a spot next to a large flame tree at the point where the two rivers met.
The temple’s stunning interior decoration includes dharma wheels painted in gold on the ceiling. These represent the teachings of Buddha, which are said to be like a wheel moving from country to country, changing with the conditions and the inclinations of its population.
An incredibly rare reclining black Buddha is among the relics that have remained inside the temple. It was added to the Red Chapel by King Setthathirat himself and despite a brief visit to Paris in 1931 to be put on display, can still be seen in this auspicious setting.
It’s almost impossible to visit the Xieng Thong Temple without seeing the funeral carriage, mainly because of its impressive size. It was traditionally used to parade the ashes of deceased royal figures through the streets of Luang Prabang. Urns containing these remains are located not far from the carriage and are guarded by a naga, the statue that represents the serpent king.
The temple is open between 8am and 5pm daily and a small entrance fee is charged. Visitors should respect Wat Xieng Thong as a sacred place and dress accordingly. Sarongs can be hired before entering to cover shoulders and legs.
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The iconic temples of Laos (15th December 2014)
Pass an afternoon exploring Vientiane's Buddha Park (26th February 2015)
The top things to do in Luang Prabang (12th August 2015)
A guide to the etiquette of Vietnam (27th May 2015)