A Travellerspoint blog

Laos Vientiane

Wats and Buddha Park

Xieng Khouang to Vientiane 17th August

We got up early enough to at least get some breakfast- although a couple of large families were hoovering all up in front of them. Then we were collected and driven to Phonsavan airport QV402 12:20-12:50. A bit of wait ensued. Unbelievably they still use TYPEWRITERS to deal with flights/ ticketing there. Anyway we were told that the flight would now go via Luang Prabang because not enough people wanted to go to Vientiane (which was odd because EVERYONE on the plane was going there). They DIDN’T tell us we’d have to get off at Luang Prabang and recheck in- oh no, they just stopped at Luang Prabang and said everyone off & no further information which would have been more than useful. Cue a variety of non-locals wandering around an airport (security!!! ha ha) wondering what to do. Then, having hung around for a couple of hours we then reboarded the same plane we’d got off (which had not even been cleaned) for Vientiane Wattay airport.
When we FINALLY got back on the exact same plane with the exact same people we had a pleasant flight to Vientiane. As we stayed quite low we were able to see a lot of Laos from the air- over LP, the hills/ mountains, the rivers and river deltas and down over the Mekong into Vientiane airport at 1.50 (so an hour wasted).

The guide who met us (seriously middle class) explained Laos had a communist political system but capitalist economic system (with no trace of irony in his voice!) and god forbid anyone thinks they are remotely like North Korea- clearly they have a serious dislike of NK. He was scathing on corruption in government & fairly outspoken, but clearly deeply admired Kaysone.
It was a much busier town compared to Luang Prabang, but still not a long drive. The place was bustlier, more traffic, more modern buildings, until we arrived at the old quarter where our hotel was (the Lao Orchid, Chao Anou Road). This was really nice hotel with a fountain outside, the Mekong only 1 min walk and a golden temple opposite (Wat Ong Teu). We settled in to a very pleasant room (view so-so and teeny tiny safe), then went to find a late lunch. We’d had so much Asian-fusion we wanted something different and only 5 buildings up from us found a nice pizzeria (the Gondola).

Wat Ong Teu Mahawihan (Temple of the Heavy Buddha) is one of the oldest in Vientiane as the site was first used by Settathirat in the 16th century although it has since been rebuily (19th/20th century). The original Luang Prabang I style has been kept, including the rectangular sim. The bronze Phra Ong Teu Buddha is the largest in the city. It is on a cardinal point with three other wats. As with all wats, the complex contained a sim (ordination hall), ho rackhang (bell tower), ho kong (drum tower), that (stupa) and kuti (monastic house). It was a typical wat of Laos with its highly decorated complex. The green background of the entrance and temple had carved and gilded vine leaves (similar to lotus leaves). There was the typical double archway with its six Buddhas and the guardian nagas (although they pre-date Buddhism, they are often seen as representative of Shiva). Often nagas in Laos were multi-headed, but this one was singular.
Then we walked around the block, finding an outdoor restaurant we booked for the next evening (though their English was very limited, unusual for a hotel) and came around back to the Mekong front. It was odd to realise that the opposite bank, whose buildings and even cars we could see so well, was in fact Thailand! We walked along the attractive front watching the locals activities- outdoor Zumba, badminton, jogging etc. As the sunset we looked back to watch it dip into the river for a glorious colour.

Carrying on along the riverfront we stopped when we got a huge statue of Chao Anouvong. We turned back and walked through the park of the same name until we arrived at the Night Market as dusk fell. Not a patch on the market in LP and much more expensive and so much tat! After a snack in the hotel we strolled along to the final end of the night market, which was close to our hotel, then wandered back the opposite way past the shops and temples (there are a LOT in Vientiane).
In 2012 Vientiane completed a massive redevelopment along the riverside. Previously home to rustic sunset shacks and simple eateries, the river was higher, as the Chinese had not yet damed upstream on the Mekong. The western strip of Fa Ngum was a small dirt road, lined with ramshackle restaurants out over the water. At the far east end of the park is a large statue of King Settathirath, the king who established Vientiane as the capital in the 16th century and is revered today.

Kingdom of Vientiane- Vientiane was originally a Mon city named Chandapuri or City of the Moon. The Lao changed the name to Vieng Chanthaburi Sisattanak or “Walled City of Sandalwood and a Million Nagas,” later shortening it to Vieng Chan (Vientiane). The kingdom was formed in 1707 as a result of the split of the Kingdom of Lan Xang. The kingdom was a Burmese vassal 1765-78 and a Siamese vassal 1778-1828 when it was annexed by Siam. The Kingdom of Vientiane was formed as a result of the succession dispute between Sai Ong Hue (backed by the Vietnamese court at Huế) vs Kingkitsarat (backed by the Tai Lü kingdom of Sipsong Panna). The kingdom was at various times rivals with the kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Champasak. By the mid-18th century, the Lao kingdoms were simultaneously paying tribute to Burma, China, Siam and Vietnam. Following the Rebellion of Chao Anouvong in 1828, Vientiane was destroyed and the kingdoms of Vientiane and Champasak annexed by Siam.
● Setthathirath II 1707–1735 aka Ong Lo/ Sai Ong Hue/ Trieu Phuc; nephew of Souligna Vongsa (1698–1706). Sethathirat II was the king of Lān Xāng. He spent his early years in exile at Hue while his uncle King Souringa vongsa was King of Lan Xang. His father, Prince Som Phou, fled to Vietnam when nobles placed his younger brother Vongsa on the throne. On the death of Vongsa, a noble, Tian Thala ascended the throne, but was deposed by Prince Nan Tharat, King of Lan Xang (1695–1698) and grandson of Vickhsai (King of Lan Xang 1633–1638). In 1698 Ong Lo attacked Vientiane, the capital of Lan Xang, and with help from Vietnam ousted Nan Tharat. Ong Sethathirat II and in 1705 he moved the Prabang Buddha from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. His cousin Prince Kitsarath, grandson of King Vongsa, refused to recognise him, asked for Siamese help and was granted independence from Lan Xang, which was thus divided into rival kingdoms of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Another grandson of Vongsa, Prince Nokasat Song also saw the opportunity to break away from Lan Xang and was granted independence by Siam to form the kingdom of Champasak. King Sethathirat II’s sons Sadet Chao Fa Anga Lankaya (Ong-Long) and Sadet (Ong-Bun), succeeded him in Vientiane.
● Ong Long (1730–1767) (Burmese vassal, 1765–1768)
● Ong Bun (1767–1778) (1st reign) (Burmese vassal)
● Interregnum (1778–80) General Yaksin (Phraya Supho), Siam’s governor, drove Ong Boun into exile and held hostage his three sons, Nanthasèn, Inthavong and Anouvong.
● Ong B(o)un (1780 - 1781) (2nd reign) returned as a Siamese vassal, but in 1782, King Rama I (Siam) ordered Prince Nanthasèn to take his father's place.
● Nanthasen (1781 -1795) ruled as a Siamese vassal until 1793 when he rebelled, but was defeated. He was imprisoned in Bangkok and Prince Inthavong (Phrachao Xaiyasetthathirath) took his place, with Anouvong as his assistant.
● Intharavong Setthathirath III (1795 -1805)
● Setthathirath IV 1805
● Chao Anouvong (1805 -1828)
Chao Anouvong (regnal name Setthathirath V) led the Laotian Rebellion (1826–9) as last monarch of the Kingdom of Vientiane.
Vientiane had a tributary relationship with the Vietnamese at Hué, a relationship that, in the wake of the failed Laotian Rebellion for independence (1826–1829) of Anouvong, the last king of Vientiane, became a casus belli for the Siamese– Vietnamese War (1831–1834). Anouvong succeeded to the throne 1805 on the death his brother, Chao Inthavong Setthathirath IV, who had succeeded their father,
Phrachao Siribounyasan Xaiya Setthathirath III. In the first Burmese–Siamese War (1548/9), the upper Mekong had been subject to Burmese and Siamese corvée labour, slave raids and forced migration. Pra Chao Siribounyasan (Ong B(o)un) had sought a
middle ground, but only succeeded in angering King Taksin of Thonburi (Siam).
On the death of his brother 1805, Anouvong ascended the Vientiane throne. Prince Anou recognised the suzerainty of the Siamese and assisted them against Burma. In 1819 Champasak's aged ruler died. With the support of Krommeunchetsadabodin (later King Rama III), Anouvong persuaded Rama II to appoint his son, Ratxabout, to the throne in Champasak. Anou intended to invade Thailand and repatriate the ethnic Laos but failed
with a mutiny among the non-Lao. Rama III ordered Vientiane sacked. Anouvong gained Vietnamese assistance and recovered Vientiane. However, the Thai army defeated and captured Anouvong, before completely destroying Vientiane apart from the Buddhist temple Wat Si Saket. Anouvong was taken to Bangkok where Rama III kept him in an iron cage, until his death the following year at age 61.

Vientiane- Wats and Buddha Park 18th August

We had an excellent breakfast on the outdoor veranda, then met our guide for the day. First we drove a short distance to Wat Sisaket - an old and interesting temple close to the river. Amazingly the cloisters (fairly unique to this area) are filled with double statues of Buddha in niches. When it was being built the king asked people to put Buddhas in and many couples did just that. In front of the wall were lots of larger Buddha statues in various positions, of various styles and dates and of various materials. Some were very old, others more modern. As before we saw two long naga-decorated poles (hanging horizontally), which were used to carry out the Buddhas to parade them and ceremonially wash them during New Year celebrations. The central sim was being restored, with artists recreating the wonderful wall paintings of animals (especially elephants) and foliage. Outside were several stupas. I asked how one got to be buried by an important temple and was answered that it was generally head monks or rich people who had donated a lot (even today). The most modern still had their photos on the stupa’s exterior.
Wat Sisaket (Wat Sisaketsata Sahatsaham) is Vientiane's oldest surviving monastery. Built by King Anouvong in 1818, the Siamese style perhaps saved it from the destruction that came with the Siamese armies in 1828. It is located near the Presidential Palace. A restoration took place in 1935. The inner sanctuary contains an extensive display of Buddha images from the 16th to the 19th century--6840 such images. The grounds are richly planted with a variety of vegetation as a restful retreat.
Buddhist sculpture in Laos The earliest Buddha images found in Laos are those of the Mon and Khmer kingdoms of the first millennium. Dvaravati-style Mon Buddha images are carved into the rock face at Vangxang, north of Vientiane, and several sculptures have found their way into museums, the most noteworthy being housed at Ho Phra Keo in Vientiane. According to legend, Laos’ most famous Buddha image - the sacred pha bang - was cast in Sri Lanka, but its typically post-Bayon Khmer features betray its real origins. The design of the earliest indigenous Buddha images dating from the period 1353-1500 is heavily influenced by that of the pha bang, but by the early 16th century a distinctive Lao style had begun to develop. From the reign of King Wisunarath (1501-1520), Lao Buddha images began to display a characteristic beak-like nose, extended earlobes, tightly curled hair, and long hands and fingers. At this time there also appeared two mudras (gestures) found only in Lao Buddhist sculpture - ‘Calling for Rain’ (in which Buddha stands with both arms held stiffly at the side of the body, fingers pointing downwards) and ‘Contemplating the Tree of Enlightenment’ (in which Buddha stands with hands crossed at the wrist in front of the body). The period 1500-1695 is regarded as the ‘golden age’ of the Lao Buddha image, and many magnificent examples of religious sculptural art from this period may still be seen in Ho Phra Keo, Wat Sisakhet and Luang Prabang National Museum. However, with the demise of Lan Xang and the growth of Siamese influence during the 18th century, Lao sculptors fell under the influence of the contemporaneous Ayutthaya and Bangkok (Rattanakosin) styles. By the French colonial period decline had set in, and Buddha images were cast less frequently. The Laos Buddha sculpture uses a variety of mediums, including bronze, wood, gold and silver and precious stones. Of these, bronze is by far the most common and was used to create many important Buddha statues, including the colossal images at Wat Manorom in Luang Prabang (14th century) and at Wat Ong Tu and Wat Chanthaburi (Wat Chan) in Vientiane (16th century). Smaller images were often cast in gold, silver or precious stone, while wood and ceramics were popular for the tiny, votive images found in cloisters or caves.
Just across the street from the Presidential Palace is Vientiane's oldest surviving monastery, Wat Sisaket. The temple was built between 1819 and 1824 by King Anou. According to tradition, this was where the Lao lords and nobles came to swear allegiance to the King. When Siam sacked Vientiane in 1828, they spared this temple, perhaps because it is built in a style similar to Thai temples. The French restored the temple in 1924, and again around 1930. The main feature of the temple is a square cloister that encloses the sim (ordination hall). This is a common feature of large Thai temples, but uncommon in Laos. A very unusual feature in any temple is the thousands of small niches in the outer wall, each of which houses a small Buddha image. On shelves in front of the wall are three rows of larger Buddha images, in various styles and materials. In a converted entrance portico west side of the cloister is a sort of "Buddha bin" holding hundreds of broken images discovered during excavations in support of one of the restorations. At the centre of the cloister is the ordination hall (sim). An outer gallery is lined with inward leaning 12-cornered columns, topped by elaborately carved wooden brackets and fretwork. Inside the hall, the walls are painted at eye level with scenes from the jataka, a series of stories about the past lives of the Buddha. The life illustrated is an unusual choice. It is the story of Prince Pookkharabat, who appointed an "honest thief" as chief minister and defeated enemy armies with the assistance of a magic fan. Above the murals are more small niches holding Buddha images. West of the cloister, straddling the outer wall of the temple, is the former library where the palm leaf manuscripts documenting Buddhist philosophy were once held. The square building houses a massive cabinet that once held the books. Although now faded, the cabinet was once finished in black lacquer with delicate golden designs. Behind the library, between the wall of the cloister and the outer wall of the temple, is a dirt path lined with small stupa containing the ashes of cremated temple devotees. Although ostensibly a museum, Wat Sisaket is still a working monastery, with several monks and novices in residence.
We walked across the road to the former presidential palace. The beautifully manicured gardens were filled with flowers, birds and butterflies with the palace to the right (not open to the public) and the royal temple Wat Hor Pha Keo/Kaew. A huge Golden birdwing butterfly fluttered past us. This impressive temple has a long flight of steps up and is now filled with a variety of mismatched artefacts, sadly with no labelling whatsoever.Haw Phra Kaew was built 1565/6, on the orders of King Setthathirath. The temple housed the Emerald Buddha figurine, which Setthathirath had brought from Chiang Mai, then the capital of Lanna, to Luang Prabang. When Vientiane was seized by Siam in 1778, the figurine was taken to Thonburi and the temple was destroyed. After it was rebuilt by King Annouvong of Vientiane in the 19th century, it was again destroyed by Siamese forces when King Annouvong rebelled against Siam in an attempt to regain full independence. The revered Buddha now resides in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok. The temple was rebuilt for a third time by the French between 1936 and 1942, during the French colonisation of Indochina.
We then drove down the wonderful French boulevard Lane Xang to the Patouxai Monument. This is a Lao take on the Arc de Triomphe, decorated inside in true Lao fashion! The coloured glass mosaics shone in the sunshine. We walked up the stone steps inside to the top, up one side and down the other. Originally it was designed to house an unknown soldier monument, but now almost every level we got to was filled with gift shops. We got an elephant and a silver Lao zodiac bracelet before coming back down.

Wat That Luang
We then drove to a huge car park and walked through Saysettha Park (with Wat Neua That Luang on our left) and past the huge statue of King Sayasetthathirath down to Wat That Luang- a huge golden temple. Inside were cloisters on all four sides and a golden central sim. The sim itself, quite large, was built literally on top of the earliest sim (which is still there). The temple was originally built to house (yet another!) breastbone of Buddha.
All spaces outside of Pha That Luang (gardens, temples / Wat, monuments, statues, Palace) are free with open access. The Palace Wat Neua Thatluang has an impressive facade, but inside there is hardly anything outstanding. Most striking are the small temples around Pha That Luang.
Pha That Luang, according to Lao story, is a 3rd century Hindu temple. Buddhist missionaries (inc Bury Chan, Praya Chanthabury Pasithisak and five Arahata) from the Mauryan Empire were sent by Emperor Ashoka, with a holy relic (breast bone) of Buddha to the stupa. It was rebuilt in the 13th century as a Khmer temple, which fell into ruin. Recent excavation has found the original temple is actually inside the new temple, intact as the new one was built around/ over it. In the mid-16th century, King Setthathirat relocated his capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane and built Pha That Luang in 1566. It was rebuilt four km from the centre of Vientiane at the end of That Luang Road and named Pha That Luang. Its base is 69m, its height 45m, and it is surrounded by 30 small stupas. A covered cloister ran all round. In 1641, an envoy of the Dutch East India Company, Gerrit van Wuysoff, visited Vientiane and was received by King Sourigna Vongsa at the temple in a magnificent ceremony. He was very impressed by the enormous pyramid covered with gold leaf. However, the stupa was plundered by the Burmese, Siamese and Chinese Haw. Pha That Luang was destroyed in a Thai invasion in 1828. In 1900 the French restored it to its original design based on the detailed 1867 drawings by French architect-explorer Louis Delaporte. During the Franco-Thai War, Pha That Luang was heavily damaged in a Thai air raid. After the end of WWII, Pha That Luang was reconstructed. The architecture includes many references to Lao culture and identity, as a symbol of Lao nationalism. The stupa consists of three levels, each conveying a reflection of Buddhist doctrine. The second level is 47x47m and the third is 29x29m. From ground to pinnacle, Pha That Luang is 44m high. The encircling walls are 85m long and contain large numbers of Lao and Khmer sculptures including one of Jayavarman VII.
We left the cloisters on the right to the buildings at the back of the wat, whose gardens were filled with beautiful statues with Lao Buddhist (and Hindu) themes. Many had stories attached.

Hindu and Buddhist stories
In Hindu Vaishist mythology Vishnu defeats Indra (although Brahma remains the Supreme Being). His consort is Lakshmi and is generally seen with his mount, Garuda the eagle. Vishnu is often seen as a previous incarnation of Buddha, and has many avatar forms, as does Lakshmi. Followers of Shiva, however, regard Shiva as the Supreme Being rather than Brahman. Indra, who may or may not remain defeated depending on local traditions, is often seen riding his 3-headed elephant, Airavata. Other stories commonly known in Laos include deities of Hanuman (Monkey god), Rama (an avatar of Vishnu), rakshasi (demons like Ravanna) and other lesser gods.

Patuxai is literally Victory Gate, and formerly Anosavari (memory) Monument, was known by the French as Monument Aux Morts). It is a war monument built 1957-68 and dedicated to those who fought in the struggle for independence from France. Aka Patuxai, Patuxay, Patousai, Patusai, Patuxai Arch or the Arc de Triomphe of Vientiane as it resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. However, it is typically Laotian in design, decorated with mythological creatures such as the kinnari (half-female, half-bird). The monument has gateways on four sides towards the four cardinal directions. In front of each gate, there is a pond. The four ponds represent the open lotus flower. The four corners of the gateways are adorned by statues of a Naga King (mythical symbol of Laos), with a depiction signifying spraying of a jet of water (nature, fertility, welfare and happiness). Two concrete staircases wind up from inside the main structure, passing through each floor, right up to the top of the monument. Viewing galleries are provided on the upper floors. The first floor has mainly the offices of the management of the monument; the kiosks dealing with tourist paraphernalia (artefacts, souvenirs and refreshments) are also housed on this floor. The next level is an open space with four corner towers decorated with frescoes of foliage. The small towers, with temple like ornamentation, are Laotian style and provided with spires. Each tower has a stairway. Another central larger tower above this floor has a staircase, which leads to the top floor that has the viewing platform from where a panoramic view of Vientiane can be seen.
We collected our car and drove to Nong Chan market- finally a shopping mall! Our car dropped us off. Inside it was upmarket stalls and we headed upstairs to the jewellery area where at last I managed to buy a golden elephant charm. To the right side and behind was the old Khua Din Market, which was being slowly moved into the new mall. We had a wander, but it was not very impressive, so we found our car again.
We went past a large school and I asked about schools. Our guide said that although he lived in the suburbs, his daughter went to this city centre school because it was the best (parent power- no league tables) in his opinion and in Laos you had the choice of where to send your children, as long as you paid (this was the most expensive). All schools have a uniform set by the head and some curriculum freedom within a set framework. Our guide said in Vientiane he’d noticed families getting smaller (he had no plans for another child) and that far more women worked (this was in marked contrast to LP where our guide said hardly any married women worked).
We arrived at Kualao restaurant (one of the best in Vientiane) where we ordered their regal meal (we were told 1 between 2 was fine and they were right!). Our guide told them 1 spicy and 1 not (mine) and the fish was brought in 2 different bowls, thank goodness. We tried some unusual vegetables like Midnight Horror, turkey berry, yanang, acacia and scarlet wisteria. The pudding was sweet purple sticky rice (which we’d had before)- a Lao speciality. http://www.kualaorestaurant.com/gallery.html

After lunch we set off out of Vientiane along the banks of the Mekong. Two shopping malls were being built on the outskirts and we noticed some very
smart houses along the banks. The tarmac road became a very rutted and bumpy track along to the Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan). We loved this park, filled with a variety of images spanning Hindu and Buddhist as well as Lao stories. The laying Buddha was the one of the most significant, but we saw plenty of Ravannas, Hanumans, Sitas, Ramas, Ganeshas to mention just a few. The most ambitious was a Tree of Life. It was by far the largest and we were able to climb inside (also carved) and sit on the top.
It was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, a monk who studied both Buddhism and Hinduism. This explains why his park is full not only of Buddha images but also of Hindu gods as well as demons and animals from both beliefs. The most outstanding ones include Indra, the king of Hindu gods riding the three-headed elephant (aka Erawan and Airavata), a four-armed deity sitting on a horse and an artistic deity with 12 faces and many hands, each holding interesting objects. They are all equally impressive not only because of their enormous size but because they are full of interesting details and interesting motifs. As we drove back we stopped to admire Friendship Bridge. This was built quite recently between Laos and Thailand. Our guide said many in Vientiane would use it as a day trip to Thailand. Next week he and his family would use it to go and buy school supplies (schools in Laos expect children to provide everything themselves). For a trip a Lao family would go to the bridge and present their passports (this took about 30 mins-1 hour depending on queue lengths), then drive an hour to the shopping centres at Udon. Since it would be lunchtime by that time most families would now stop for a lunch or picnic before commencing an afternoon shop. Then they would return.
As we stopped for me to take a photo of it the driver leapt out and pay a man on a bicycle. I wondered why until I realised he was a mobile baguette seller! I asked if we could go back via the Black Stupa and the driver kindly detoured so we could stop and have a look.
Black Wat That Dam Stupa (built before 1828) That Dam (Black Stupa) reportedly houses a seven- headed dragon that protected local citizens during the 1828 Siamese-Lao war that destroyed much of the city. The protective 7-headed naga water serpent supposedly had the power to protect Vientiane from invaders; perhaps its failure to do so is why this stupa receives no upkeep!
We now drove back to the hotel. After a rest we went for stroll to the wat directly opposite- Wat Chantha(buri). As we walked through we listened to the beautiful chanting. In the grounds was a wooden burnt-looking Buddha, which was clearly popular with worshippers. Wat Chanthaburi or Wat Chan is a magnificent Buddhist temple built in the middle of the 16th century. It was destroyed during the Siam invasion of 1928, but has since undergone numerous restorations. The temple is highly rated because of its elaborate decorative features such as carved wood designs, as well as for the well- known huge seated Buddha sculpture made of bronze in the 16th century. The image is said to have survived numerous calamities.
We walked up the old quarter and arrived at a restaurant area filled with what was for them, ethnic restaurants e.g. Vietnamese, Japanese, German, French, etc. We were peckish, so we stopped for a Danish and Lao coffee- iced, local style at the Scandinavian Bakery the opposite side of the fountain in this pedestrianised square. The food was lovely, but there was no air con and it was way too warm, so we left as dusk fell. The changing lights on the Nam Phou fountain had been turned on and it looked pretty. Nam Phou fountain is the most famous fountain of Vientiane not so much for its beauty but for its unbeatable location in the heart of the Laotian capital. The square with the fountain, Plaza/Square Nam Phou, is one of the most popular restaurants of Vientiane zomas.
As we walked down towards the Mekong a massive storm brewed with massive shots of lighting (but no thunder). We landed up at Lane Xang hotel, hoping for a show but only got a few dances before all the audience started joining in. We drank our beer and left for our dinner at La Signature. We sat outside and had an amazing French dinner, including a wonderful salmon. It began to rain so we asked for a plastic bag so we could get back without getting our cameras wet. Then after a long day, bed!

Lao folk songs are passed on by word of mouth and rarely written down. The basis of Laotian music is the Khene: a series of bamboo sticks of different lengths, consisting of around 14 bamboo tubes connected to a mouthpiece. Other traditional Lao instruments are: Khouy (Bamboo Flute), Saw (aka Saw-Oh or Saw- Ai) violin, Nang Nat Row (bamboo xylophone), Khong Vong (series of 16 cymbals struck by a cloth covered mallet). Traditional folk music, invariably associated with dancing, or drama, is most commonly referred to as Lam or Maw Lam, where Maw is the word for expert. The oldest and most well known dance is the Lam Vong, the Circle Dance. Lam Salavan style has recently appeared. Classical dance or court dance was performed for the royal family of Laos, and dancers act out classical stories from famous Lao legends. Some ethnomusicologists believe that Laos has preserved the ancient art music of the Khmers. Folk music maintains a distinctly Lao flavour, bawdy and informal, pelvis-gyrating, foot-stomping music. In general, Laotian music has a happy and energetic sound and most people absolutely love to dance to it. Dancing to Lao music involves rotating your hand in a circular motion to the beat of the music while keeping rhythmic time with your feet. Laotian music generally speaks about rice farming, flirting with each other while farming rice, and falling in love.

Leaving- August 18th

We left after a late breakfast to arrive at the airport with plenty of time. It was a comfy, unbusy place, but what amused us most was a “student” trying her best to get us to fill in a questionnaire designed mostly to make us say what a great place Laos is. The funniest multiple choice was “Do you agree/ disagree that the LDR has a transparent democratic government?” We chose not to answer!
The Kingdom of Laos was a constitutional monarchy 9/11/1953- 12/1975 when its last king, Savang Vatthana, surrendered the throne to the Pathet Lao, who abolished the monarchy in favour of a Marxist state called the Lao People's Democratic Republic. Given self-rule, the new Constitution of 1947 did not stipulate a ruler. In the years that followed, three groups led by The Three Princes, contended for power: neutralists under Prince Souvanna Phouma, right-wingers under Prince Boun Oum of Champassak, and left-wing Vietnamese-backed Lao Patriotic Front (now Pathet Lao) under Prince Souphanouvong and future Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihane. Sisavang Vong Sisavang Vong succeeded his father as King of Luang Prabang 1904. He united the provinces of Houaphan; Houakhong, Xiengkhouang, Vientiane, Champassak and Sayboury. He supported French rule in Laos, refused to cooperate with Lao nationalists and was deposed when the Lao Issara declared the country independent. 1946, the French reinstated as king. When he became ill, he made his son Savang Vatthana regent. His son succeeded on his death in 1959. He was cremated and buried in That Luang. Sisavang/ Savang Vatthana (full name Samdach Brhat Chao Mavattaha Sri Vitha Lan Xang Hom Khao Phra Rajanachakra Lao Parama Sidha Khattiya Suriya Varman Brhat Maha Sri Savangsa Vadhana) was the last king of Laos (1959- forced a abdication 1975). He was active in Lao politics, trying to stabilise his country after the political turmoil started at the Geneva Conference 1954. Neutralist Prince Souvanna Phouma from Vientiane claimed to be Prime Minister and was recognised by the USSR; Prince Boun Oum of Champassak in the south, right-wing, pro-USA, dominated the Pakse area, and was recognised as Prime Minister by USA; and in the far north, Prince Souphanouvong who led the left wing resistance movement, Pathet Lao, claimed to be Prime Minister with the backing of the North Vietnam communists. All sides dealt through the pro-western King Savang Vatthana. 1961, the National Assembly voted Boun Oum into power and King Savang Vatthana left Luang Prabang. He wanted the Three Princes to form a coalition but it collapsed. 1964 a coup resulted in the Pathet Lao on one side and the neutralist + right wing factions on the other. Pathet Lao refused a coalition and Laotian Civil War began. August 23, 1975, Pathet Lao forces entered Vientiane and Sisavang Vatthana was forced to abdicate after the Pathet Lao abolished the monarchy. He was given the meaningless position of Supreme Advisor to the President. He refused to leave the country and in 1976, fearing he might escape house arrest and lead a resistance, the Communist authorities arrested him, the Queen, Crown Prince Vong Savang and the older princes and sent them to internment (re-education) Camp Number One, where important political prisoners were held. He was 70. 1978, it was reported that he, Queen Khamphoui and Crown Prince Vong Savang, had died from malaria. On hearing the news, the King's youngest son Sauryavong Savang (who had escaped by swimming across the Mekong to Thailand) became the head of the Laotian royal family, and acted as regent to his nephew Crown Prince Soulivong Savang, who had escaped Laos in 1981. However, others say Vatthana really died in 1984, age 77. Soulivong Savang (b1963) lives in Paris.
Sukhothai Kingdom (Sukhodaya) 1238-1438 was based in the area around the city Sukhothai (now in Thailand). The area included modern Luang Prabang. Prior to the 13th century, Tai kingdoms in the northern highlands included Ngoenyang (centred on Chiang Saen- the predecessor of Lanna Kingdom) and Heokam (centred in Chiang Hung, modern Jinghong in China), both run by Tai Lue people. Sukhothai had been a trade centre and part of the Kingdom of Lawo, a Khmer vassal. Historians believe the secession of Sukhothai from the Khmer c1180 AD took place during the reign of Pho (=father) Khun (=King) Sri Naw Namthom (ruler of Sukhothai and the peripheral city of Sri Satchanalai). Two brothers, Pho Khun Bangklanghao and Pho Khun Phameung took Sukhothai from Mon hands in 1239 AD. Bangklanghao ruled Sukhothai as Sri Indraditya (founding the Phra Ruang Dynasty) and by the end of his reign 1257, Sukhothai covered the entire Chao Phraya River area. Pho Khun Ban Muang and his brother RamKhamhaeng expanded the Sukhothai kingdom, subjugating the kingdom of Supannabhum and Sri Thamnakorn (Tambralinga) and adopting Theravada Buddhism as state religion. Phrae and Muang Sua (Luang Prabang) became vassals. He helped the Mon under Wareru (who had eloped with Ramkamhaeng’s daughter) to free themselves from Pagan control and established a kingdom at Martaban (later Pegu) as a Sukhothai tributary. Relations with the Yuan commenced and Sukhothai sent trade missions to China. After the death of Ramkhamhaeng, the Sukhothai tributaries broke away. Ramkhamhaeng was succeeded by his son Loethai. The vassal kingdoms; Uttaradit in the north, Laotian kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane (Wiangchan) liberated themselves. In 1319 the Mon state to the west broke away, and in 1321 Lanna placed Tak, one of the oldest towns of Sukhothai, under its control. The powerful city of Suphanburi broke free, reducing the kingdom to local importance only. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya rose in strength, and in 1378 King Thammaracha II submitted to this new power when Ayutthaya invaded. In 1424, after the death of Sailuethai, two brothers, Paya Ram and Paya Banmeung fought for the throne. Nagarindrathirat of Ayutthaya intervened and divided the kingdom between them. Their sister married Borommaracha II of Ayutthaya and produced a son, Prince Ramesuan. When Borommapan died in 1446 without an heir, the throne passed to Ramesuan/ Trailokanat. Ramesuan was also crowned King of Ayutthaya in 1448, thus uniting the Kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya.
Political Organisation
The Mekong River formed the political and economic artery of Lan Xang, so much so that the Chinese for the river Lán Cāng is synonymous with the Lao kingdom. The river provided the means for people, commerce and armies to move. It was a geographic and defensive barrier with major rapids between Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak. The Khone Falls and Si Phan Don region were not navigable and provided a natural defence for Lan Xang. The major cities of Lan Xang were Luang Prabang, Vientiane (inc the towns in Nong Khai), Xieng Khouang, Muang Sua (Muang Champa Nakhon/ Champassack), Nong Khai, Sikhottabong (later Thakhek, Nakhon Phanom, Sakhon Nakhon), and Xiang

Hun (Jinghong/ Muang Sing) in the Sipsong Panna. These 6 major cities were known as muang or vieng and had substantial fortifications and city walls. Lao chronicles record 5 supporting cities, and 97 border muang:- Say Fong Khmer trading post became a Lao cultural centre, Vieng Khuk was the port for Vientiane 1827. Nong Bua Lamphu (Muang Dan) was a fortified city traditionally administered by Lao crown princes. The cities or muang formed independent city states bound to the regional power of the king in a system known as a Mandala. Each city was headed by a city lord or chao muang. The mandala formed a system of trade and tribute. In Southeast Asia it was common practice for an invading army to forcibly move a population to where it was more accessible for taxation, conscription or corvee labour. War was an important means of generating wealth via tribute, and it was not uncommon in the mandala system to pay tribute to more than one regional power at a time. The succession of monarchs was never based solely on primogeniture, as both Sena (council of senior royal family, ministers, and generals) and Sangha (senior clergy) would choose a suitable successor based on legitimacy and merit. The state bureaucracy was originally designed by Fa Ngum and Samsenthai on a military basis to include social mobility through meritocracy. Over time the bureaucracy became hereditary.

Theravada Buddhism was made state religion of Lan Xang by King Photisarath 1527. In the villages, monasteries and towns daily life revolved around the local temple or wat. The temples were centres of learning, and all males were expected to spend at least some of their life as monk or novice. Kings established legitimacy through supporting the sangha and supporting/ constructing temples. Lan Xang had several powerful Buddha images, which served as royal palladia/ spiritual symbols, including the Phra Bang, Phra Keo (Emerald Buddha), Phra Saekham, and Phra Luk (crystal Buddha of Champassak). Animism was the earliest belief system to the Lao-Tai groups, and its traditions and practices remain a vital part of Lao spirituality. Among ethnic hill tribes of the Lao Sung and Lao Theung, animism is the dominant religion. Lao Loum believe ancient mythical serpents known as ngueak inhabit waterways, carving out the surrounding countryside and protecting key points on rivers. The earliest name for the Mekong River was Nam Nyai Ngu Luang Great River of the Giant Serpent. Ngueak. The nāga, tamed by Buddhism, were believed to bring rain, change shape, and be protection spirits inhabiting the cities of Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Nāga became a potent symbol of the kingdom of Lan Xang, so that when Siam was forced to cede territories to Laos 1893, Siam ordered state seals, which showed the garuda symbol of Thailand feeding on the nāga of Lan Xang as a thinly veiled threat. The natural world was home to spirits, which are part of the Satsana Phi. Phi are spirits of buildings or territories, natural places, etc; and ancestral spirits that protect people. The phi, which are guardians of places or towns, are celebrated at festivals with communal gatherings and offerings of food. The spirits run throughout Lao folk literature.
Economy of Lan Xang
The principle Lao crops are sticky rice and timber. Both were labour intensive and difficult to transport overland. Subsistence farming consisted of root crops, bananas, gourds, cucumbers, yams, water buffalo, chickens, pigs and domesticated animals indigenous to Lan Xang. Forest products traded at a high value. Elephants, ivory, benzoin resin (similar to Frankincense), lac (used in lacquer production), cardamom, beeswax, rhinoceros horn, porcupine quills and skins were commonly traded, especially deerskin, which was in high demand in China and Japan. Lao silk, weaving, gold, silver was in high demand. Villages would specialise in a particular craft or skill (eg tools, weapons, pottery, paper, jewellery, alcohol (lao-lao), elephant training). Iron ore was mined in Xieng Khouang, tin and gems north of Luang Prabang/ Annamite Range. Luang Prabang was the religious and royal capital of Lan Xang, but Vientiane was the most populous (and political capital from 1560).

Posted by PetersF 17:48 Archived in Laos Tagged buddhism laos vientiane wat lan_xang

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