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Learn about the History of Wat Xieng Tong, Laos’ Most Important Temple

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Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most important temples in Laos.  It is situated in Northern Laos amidst a beautiful garden on the banks on the Mekong River, near the juncture where the Nam Khan River meets.

Wat Xieng Thong is one of the country’s oldest temples.  Its sim (ordination hall) was constructed in 1560 under the reign of King Setthathirath.  There were several legends regarding the spot in which the temple was built on.  One legend told of two hermits who set boundary stones near a tree (which is depicted in the rear façade of the ordination hall).  Another legend depicted a betel merchant who built a palace on this site, eventually becoming the first king of Luang Prabang.  Finally, a third legend indicated that the juncture where the two rivers meet was home to two notable nagas (serpeant deities) who were the guardians of the rivers.

Up until 1975, Wat Xieng Thong was a royal temple and a place where the former kings of Laos were crowned.  The temple went through many restorations and expansions throughout its history, so it is difficult to determine how it originally looked like.  Fortunately though, the temple was spared destruction by the Black Flags during the Haw Wars.  This was because the leader of the Chinese bandit group, Deo Van Tri was a novice monk and former student at the temple.  Instead of sacking it, he used it as a headquarters.

The sweeping roofs of the ordination hall define the typical Luang Prabang architectural style.  The front ends of the canopy are decorated with complex gold designs on a dark, burnished color background.  The columns are a rich lacquer-like black with gold stenciling.

The atmosphere inside the ordination hall is dark yet impressive.  The walls inside the sim also contain black and gold patterns while the beams are red ochre with more gold stencils.  There is a large smiling golden Buddha statue, surrounded by smaller images that overlook the area.

Next to the ordination hall is a small wihan (monastery) where a black reclining Buddha statue rests.  The image is believed to be as old as the temple itself, and is highly revered by the locals.

There is a large elaborate structure across the sim which houses the funeral chariot for King Sisavong Vong, who passed away in 1959.  The carriage takes up almost the entire interior with its throne-like gilt frame.  In addition to the king’s, there are also caskets for his wife and his brother.  There are several standing Buddha images scattered around the room watching over the royal family.

As well as being the oldest temple in Luang Prabang, Wat Xieng Thong is also one of the most beautiful, making a stop to this site a must if you are in Luang Prabang.  You can visit this historic temple along with others in our Essential Luang Prabang tour.  You will discover the country’s distinctive charm and beauty as you immerse yourself in the splendid natural landscape and cultural sights of Laos’ former royal capital.  You can also see our suggested Laos tour and Laos day trip pages for other memorable trips into this fascinating country.  If you would like to tweak any of our tours, feel free to contact us.

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