Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang



Wat Xieng Thong, the principal temple of Luang Prabang, Laos.

Wat Xieng Thong is regarded as the most beautiful temple, not only in Luang Prabang but one of the most exquisite in all of Laos. Its name means "Monastery of the Golden City". Located close to the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsula, where the Nam Khan flows into the Mekong River, Wat Xieng Thong was built by King Setthathirath in 1560, during the golden years of Lan Xang Kingdom. It gracefully sloping roof and glass murals epitomise the classical Luang Prabang style of temple architecture.

During my trip to Luang Prabang, I visited Wat Xieng Thong as many as three times, on my first, second and third day in the heritage town. Wat Xieng Thong indeed presents a kaleidoscope of photographic opportunities rivalling the best of Angkor and Bagan.

Wat Xieng Thong was the principal wat in Luang Prabang. It was patronised by the monarchy right up to 1975, when the monarchy was dissolved. It was here that the kings were crowned and granted their power. The sim of Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most richly ornate in Laos. The front façade and the columns within are richly stencilled with gold leaf. At the rear of the sim is a golden Buddha image. Going to the back of the sim, you can see a mosaic depicting the Tree of Life.

Adjacent to the sim of Wat Xieng Thong is a smaller building which the French called La Chapelle Rouge, and thus was translated into English as the Red Chapel. Housed within it is a unique reclining Buddha image with the robe curling outward at the ankle. This Buddha figure had even been exhibited at the Paris Expo in 1931, after which it was taken to Vientiane, and was only returned to Luang Prabang in 1964. On the outside of the Red Chapel is an interesting mural showing rural life in Laos.

In the course of my research, I have also come across documents stating the Wat Xieng Thong was named after a bodhi tree, one that stood behind the Red Chapel. However, I do not recall a bodhi tree behind it.

A short distance diagonal from the sim, and facing the same courtyard, is another ornate structure. The façade is richly carved and layered in gold leaf. This structure houses the funerary chariot of King Sisavong Vang, built in 1960. The funerary chariot occupies almost the whole of the interior. On the carriage are replicas of the casket of the king, queen and the king's brother. At the back of the building are a few Buddhist figurine in the standing pose.

The main entrance into Wat Xieng Thong is on the northwest at Thanon Manthatourath (Souvanhakhampong Road), facing the Mekong River. Alternatively, one may enter Wat Xieng Thong through Thanon Phothisalat (Sakarine Road), the main road in Luang Prabang, through a white stucco archway.

Entrance Fee
There is a 5000 kip admittance fee for foreign tourists to Wat Xieng Thong which we had to pay when we were not part of a guided tour. Although I have visited Wat Xieng Thong when I was with the group, I had to pay the fee on our own when I was Luang Prabang on our free day.

The stucco entrance to Wat Xieng Thong from Sakarine Road.

The heavily ornate lacquer and gold stencil frontage of the sim.

The inside of the sim of Wat Xieng Thong.

The maroon lacquered columns stencilled in gold holds up the roof of the sim with a serene Buddha image at the rear.

The ornate interior of Wat Xieng Thong.

A small stupa in the courtyard of Wat Xieng Thong.

A pavillion housing a Buddha image.

The Red Chapel beside the sim.

Murals with rural scenes on the Red Chapel.

The chapel that houses the funerary chariot.

Close-up of carving on the pediment of the Chariot Chapel.

Buddha figurines in standing poses at the rear of the structure holding the funerary chariot.

The funerary chariot with replicas of the caskets for the king, queen and the king's brother.


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