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Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang in 360°

Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most important of Lao monasteries, definitely the most significant temple in Luang Prabang, a monument to the spirit of religion, royalty and traditional style of a fascinating city. It consists of more than twenty structures on the grounds including shrines, pavilions and residences, in addition to its gardens of various flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees.

1. What to see

Construction of Wat Xieng Thong began by King Setthathirath who founded it in 1560 to commemorate Chanthaphanith, the legendary first king of Luang Prabang ruling during the 8th century AD. This temple, along with Wat Suwannaphumaham, survived without any significant damage the Black Flag Haw sacking of the city in 1887. This was because their leader, Deo Van Tri, had studied here as a monk in his early life, and used the desecrated temple as his headquarters during the invasion of Luang Phrabang. Wat Xieng Thong temple was extended and rebuilt by the king and his family during several centuries and remained under royal patronage until 1975, the end of the monarchy.

Due to the numerous changes in its layout, it is now impossible to tell how its original form looked like. Like most Lao monasteries, it includes a series of typical buildings: an ordination hall (sim), a manuscript library, a bell- and a drum tower, monks' living quarters (kuti) and numerous stupas.

1.1. Ordination Hall (sim)

The most impressive structure of the monastery is the ordination hall (sim) with its multi-tier roof sweeping low to the ground. Both its exterior and interior have been decorated with a rich grandeur over the centuries, since its foundation in 1560.

The ornate facade of the portico is a marvelous combination of maroon, black and gold utilizing gilded wood in graceful swirls. The rear wall of the sim features an impressive ‘tree of life’ mosaic set in a red background.

Inside, eight richly decorated massive wooden pillars support a ceiling decorated with dharma wheels. A  large central Buddha figure towers above a variety of other statues and other objects of veneration in the middle of the hall.

1.2. Royal funerary carriage house

Royal funerary carriage house was built to house and preserve the 12m high funeral carriage of King Sisavang Vong (1885-1959), King of Luang Prabang, 1904-46, and King of Laos, 1946-59. Compared to other structures of Wat Xieng Thong, this is a new building dating back to only 1962. Gilt panels on the exterior depict scenes from the Ramayana epic. Inside you can find various religious and ceremonial relics and  historic puppets that were once used in performances of a traditional small puppet show.

1.3. Red Chapel and Library

The Red Chapel is famous for a rare statue of a reclining Buddha that is kept within it since the foundation of the temple. Exteriors of both buildings are adorned with brightly colored glass mosaics added in 1957, to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's death and achievement of nirvana. Scenes of the mosaics illustrate both religious activities and everyday Lao life.

2. When to see

Wat Xieng Thong temple is open daily 8am-5pm.

3. Location
4. Where to stay

There are plenty of hotels to select from in Luang Prabang. Just to name a few of the renovated mansions that were converted into hotels: Villa Santi Hotel, Mekong River View Hotel, Sayo River Guest House and finally our selection, Phousi Guesthouse. Each of them has numerous reasons why to stay there: Villa Santi is just on the major road connecting Wat Xieng Thong  with the royal palace, Mekong River View and Sayo River Guest House face river Mekong, Phousi Guesthouse is very close to the royal palace in a side street.

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