Wat Xieng Thong

Wat Xieng Thong is a Buddhist temple (wat) on the northern tip of the peninsula of Luang Phrabang, Laos. 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 art. There are over 20 structures on the grounds including a sim, shrines, pavilions and residences, in addition to its gardens of flowers, ornamental shrubs, and trees.

Built during the 16th Century by King Saysetthathirath, Wat Xieng Thong temple is one of the most interesting examples of Buddhist art and architecture in Luang Prabang and arguably one of the most beautiful temples in Asia. The ornate carved and gilded funeral vehicle of the former king is kept in one of the buildings in the temple grounds. This temple was used for the most important royal ceremonies and houses the bones of King Sisavangvong.

Luang Prabang’s best-known and most visited monastery is centred on a 1560 sim that’s considered a classic of local design. Its roofs sweep low to the ground and there’s an idiosyncratic ‘tree of life’ mosaic set on its west exterior wall. Inside, gold stencil work includes dharma wheels on the ceiling and exploits from the life of legendary King Chanthaphanit on the walls. During 1887 when the Black Flag army sacked the rest of the city, Xieng Thong was one of just two temples to be (partially) spared. The Black Flag’s leader, Deo Van Tri, had studied here as a monk earlier in his life and used the desecrated temple as his head-quarters during the invasion.

Dotted around the Sim are several stupas and three compact little chapel halls called Hor Tai, shaped like a tall tomb, was originally a ‘library’ but now houses a standing buddha. The other two sport very striking external mirror-shard mosaics depicting local village life and the exploits of Siaw Sawa, a hero from a famous Lao novel. The Hor Pa Maan (‘success’ Buddha sanctuary) remains locked except during the week lollowing Pi Mai. The Hor Tai Pha Sai-nyaat (reclining Buddha sanctuary) was dubbed La Chapelle Rouge-Red Chapel by the French. It contains an especially rare reclining Buddha that dates from the construction of the temple. This one of a kind figure has an exquisitely sinuous upper body with a right hand seeming to gesture ‘Oh, whatever!’ The constrastingly rectilinear feet emerge on die-straight legs from beneath monastic robes that curl upward like rocket fumes.

Fronted in especially lavish gilt work, the Hong Kep Mien is a garage for a ceremonial carriage designed to carry the huge golden funeral urns of the Lao royalty. This glittering vehicle is festooned with seven red-tongued naga snakes that contrast amusingly with the prosaic Bridgestone tyres of its undercarriage.

Open daily
Time: 08:00am-05:30pm
Entrance Fee: 20,000 kip

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