Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, or Wat Mai (which translates into The New Monastery) is one of the largest and possibly the most picturesque temples in Luang Prabang, located on Sisavong Road, next to the Royal Palace Museum. It is an important temple for both its religious purpose and for its beauty.
The temple was built during the late 18th century and was finished in the early 19th century by King Anurat. The sim (ordination hall) was restored in 1821 by King Manthatourat. The double colonnaded front porch and less elaborate back porch were also built during that time. The library, and other structures were added during the 1890’s and early 20th century. The temple went through major restoration works in 1943 and 1962, as well as several other times in recent years.
One of the most striking features of the temple is its gilded relief panels on the front façade which depicts Buddha’s highest incarnation (Vessentara). The gilded doorframes merge into the relief panel, looking like one beautiful golden wall.
The main feature of the temple is its sim. Word has it that the Chinese Haw raiders, who invaded Luang Prabang and ravaged much of the city in 1887, spared the sim because of its ornate beauty. It has a five-tiered roof and its front porch extends out to the nave and protects the bas relief on the front façade. The relief itself depicts scenes from the Ramayan (an ancient Sanskrit epic depicting the duties of relationships and life roles) and the Jakata Tales (stories of Buddha’s past lives). The interior is spacious and its columns are decorated with gold trimmings. There is also a variety of gilded Buddha statues inside as well as a large altar where a large Buddha image rests.
One of Laos’ most sacred Buddha statues, the Phra Bang Buddha statue was brought over from Wat Wisunalat in 1894. It stayed at Wat Mai until 1947 where it was transferred to it current resting pace at the Royal Palace Museum.
During the Laotian New Year, many residents make their way to Wat Mai, where they would pay respects to their elders and perform rituals related to the New Year. In addition, the Phra Bang Buddha image is brought over from the Royal Palace Museum to Wat Mai, where devotees can pay homage to it and give the statue a ceremonial cleansing.
Wat Mai is certainly one of Laos’ most beautiful temples. Luang Prabang itself is one of Southeast Asia’s most beautiful, charming and traditional towns. Exotissimo’s Luang Prabang In Style tour immerses you into the culture and heritage of the UNESCO World heritage City. You can also see our Laos tours page for other memorable trips into this laid-back and beautiful country or contact us for any questions.
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