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Laos : Museums, Wats, Mekong and views

Luang Prabang 14th August

We woke at a sensible time and had a leisurely breakfast. I decided I really wanted to see the TAEC, so we got a lift into town. I asked to be dropped of at the museum, but they assumed I meant the Palace museum! Luckily it was only a walk around the corner back to the Dara Market, then
left up a short hill to TAEC (Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre)- really interesting http://www.taeclaos.org. We loved this small museum- it was brilliantly presented with LOADS of English information on the main ethnic groups of the area with costumes, customs, display, AV etc. Attached was Le Patio café serving traditional dishes of the 5 main minorities- Hmong, Tai Lue, Akha, Khmu and Tai Dam.

After finishing at the museum we walked back into town, past Wats Pak Khan and Siphoutthabath and right along the Nam Kham river (stopping for a cool beer at the riverside and watching the dragon boats practice), then round to edge to the Mekhong.
Nam Kham, junction of Nam Kham and Mekong, upstream Mekong

At the point there was a monk (ubiquitous in Luang Prabang) and a set of stairs (the back of Wat Xieng). As we watched a boat owner approached us on the steps and offered a (reasonable priced) boat ride down Mekong. An American girl asked if she could buy my elephant jumpsuit locally; but I said no, only in the UK. We agreed a price for the boat trip and off we set. Quite interesting- we were about half an hour in (no, not really any snakes; yes, lots of villas to see; yes, that was a dragon boat hiding in a boat shed away from spies; yes, some people had just left their half sunken boats) when our boat broke down. Ooh er. We watched a local fisherman jumping in and out trapping fish, whilst the boatman kept on hammering his engine into submission. When after 20 mins it restarted we were quite pleased. We got to a turning point where the central river rocks got larger (as did the sand banks) and headed back.

On getting back we set off back down the main road, past Wats Sene, Nong Sikhounmuang, Choum Khong and Pa Huak.
Wat Choum Khong (Chum Khong, Chom Khong Sourintharame/ Sulinthaham), Monastery of the Gong, is a small attractive wat northeast of the Royal Palace. The name comes from the raised centre of a bronze gong. It was founded by Phakhu Keo in 1843 (King Sukaseum). The doors and windows were added by the Venerable Houmpheng. The wat has a common wall with Wat Xieng Mouane, and the sims of the two share similar patterned pillars and facades. Choum Khong has a double-sectioned roof with, unusually no ornamental dok so fa (nhot so fa) on the ridgepole. The sim veranda has 3 doors and is supported by gilded vermillion lotus-topped columns. There is a single stairway in the veranda and one on each side. The facade has an elaborately carved wooden lambrequin (Dok Huang Pheung) beneath the carved central tympanum and carved lambrequins on the facade frame the doors. Above each door of the nave there is a triangular segment that mimics the triangular sections between the columns. There are elaborate carved and gilded doors. The grounds of the wat are attractive with containered flowers. There is a fine garden area in front with gilded statues, stupas, a drum tower and chapel. Of some significance are two carved Chinese stone statues in front of one of the kutis. In 1861 they were presented to King Chantharath (1850-1872) by the Chinese ambassador. Reflecting elements of yin and yang, the statues represent two primary bodhisattvas of Chinese Buddhism: Vajra the lightning or thunderbolt of masculine principles and Ghanta representing the bell of feminine principles (and also the name of the wat).

Wat Pa Huak (Pa Houak), Monastery of the Bamboo Forest, was founded by Phaya Si Mahanam in 1861, during the reign of King Chantharath. The name comes from the bamboo forest previously on the site.
luang-prabang_48884965928_o.jpg The sim is located at the northeast entry to Mount Phousi, across from the main entryway to the Palace. The small sim is in Vientiane or Thai style and has tall unadorned octagonal columns. Pa Huak shows its years of neglect; the bare wooden carvings and heavily weathered. Inside there is an elaborate carved, unpainted wooden facade of Indra riding Airavata that formerly had colourful mosaics. The 3-headed elephant, Airavata, at the rear of the building has remnants of its gold leaf. The interior 19th century murals contain the story of Buddha’s taming of the haughty King Jambupati, with Buddha as King rather than monk. They deal also with Luang Prabang as a heavenly city whose resplendent citizens receive Chinese, European and Persian visitors. There are elephants, horses, tigers, birds and flora.
We saw some more dragon boats practising for the races as we walked on round Mekong until we were back at Coconut Garden where we had lunch (pumpkin in coconut soup). Then we headed back along Phothisalath Road, and called in on the adjoining wats Hua Xiang and Mahathat. Very interesting, and little visited. We thought they were better than many of the more popular ones. Then we turned left past Wat Tat Luang and back to the hotel.
Wat Sene, Wat Choum (2), Wat Pa Huak, Wat Xieng Mouane

Wat Mahathat or Wat That, officially Wat Pha/Si Mahathat, Monastery of the Stupa is one of the more attractive wats. It was founded in 1548 by King Say Setthathirath (ruling from Chiang Mai) who also erected the imposing Lan Na style 'that', or stupa, around the back of the sim. This stupa-prasat style has a tiered square base surmounted by the stupa with square, octagonal and round tiers above. The Thai influence can be seen in the golden umbrellas at the peak of the stupa. The wonderful sweeping stairway from Thanon Chao Fa Ngum Road and its silver coloured seven-headed naga is impressive. The adjoining wat to the northeast, Wat Ho Xiang, has a similar stairway. The present sim, or viharn, was rebuilt in 1907-10 by Chao Maha Oupahat boun Kong to replace the one destroyed in a typhoon. The murals in the portico depict the legends of King Thao Sithoanh and the Nang Manola, the kinnari (divine half-woman/ half- bird reputed for its kindness) in addition to stories from the Phra lak phra lam (Ramayana). The sim's double-tiered roof has 15 segmented Dok So Fa (nhot so fa), a metallic ornament at the centre of the roof beam, symbolising the universe and Mount Meru and is found on most Laotian sims. There are statues of the Earth Goddess, wringing water from her hair, recalling the story of when she saved Buddha from an army of evil spirits. The water from the meritorious deeds in his previous lives, drowned the entire Maran army. Wat That is an important wat in Luang Prabang. During the New Year, leaders of important Luang Prabang wats (along with Mai, Xieng Thong, Aham and Vixun) solemnly visit it by palanquin. The wat houses the ashes of Prince Phetsarath (believed to have invincible powers as a half-deity, half-royal khon kong), who declared Laos independent after the Japanese surrender in 1945, and Prince Souvanna Phouma, his younger half-brother, who served as prime minister.

Wat Ho Xiang/ Siang (Sieng, Sian, Xieng) Voravihane, Lottery Pavilion, adjoins Wat That on a small hill southwest of Mount Phousi. A naga stairway gives entrance. The wat was named in honour of a 1548 ceremony, presided over by King Setthathirat, to choose the site of the viharn of the now adjoining Wat That. Ho Siang was formally founded by Khouane Sene Muxa in 1705/6, though there were earlier buildings on the site. The sim is simple with a central pillar less hall and highly decorated doorway. Murals of Buddhist lore and punishment for evildoers cover the walls.

Wat That Luang (Tat Luang) Rasamahavihane, Monastery of the Royal Stupa. Legend says an early 3rd Century BC monastery on the site was the result of a visit by Buddhist missionaries sent by Asoka, a proselytizing Indian king. Early 12th century artefacts have been found. The town's earliest monasteries, Wat Pasamamm (the first wat in Lan Xang) and Wat Keo Fa, no longer extant, were located in this area. That Luang is elevated overlooking the esplanade. The present sim or vihan was built partially from them branches of a bodhi tree near Wat Keo Fa on a small hill in 1818 by King Manthaturat. The sim has a central 2-sided roof and gables. There are 3 entry doors, and a large hall divided into 3 by a double row of large square columns with flaring gilded lotus capitals. The large bronze Buddha in the nave came from the now defunct Wat Aham Mungkhun. The open field was used for royal cremations. There are two large stupas on the grounds- the golden funerary stupa in front contains the ashes of King Sisivang Vong and the 1818 Grand Stupa, which towers over the rear is said to contain relics of Buddha. There are smaller stupas that contain ashes of royal family members. The wat has a number of traditional living quarters (kuti) on the grounds.
Wat Mahathat and Wat That Luang

We had a chill out until 5.30pm when we got a lift to Phousi Hill as we wanted to walk to top for sunset. The entrance steps, opposite the Royal Palace was past Wat Patouah, 130 steps to the ticket counter, then another 190 to the top with its twisty staircase and small Wat Chomsi at the top.
We took a few panoramas, watched the birds and the sunset around 6:30.
Phou Si/Chomsy Hill — the main hill in the city from which you have a good view of the whole area. It's not a steep climb from the bottom and sunrise/ sunset are rewarding times to go up. There is a panoramic view from the top. There are 2 entrances from ground level: 1 north on Sisavangvong Road, facing the Royal Palace, and another East, on Sisavang Vatthana Road.
view-over-luang-prabang-from-phousi-hill_48884992413_o.jpgThe north entrance has 130 steps up to the ticket counter, and another 190 steps to the top. The eastern entrance is twice as long, less steep and has more points of interest along the way, which are perfect excuses for stopping for a breather on the climb. Entrance 20,000 kip.
We headed down and decided to revisit the Blue Lagoon (cocktails inc Blue Lagoon own) for dinner. The owner came to talk and we ended up discussing Switzerland- he was from Zurich so didn’t know Geneva so well. He took our photo for us too! Then the chef wanted to talk too, and the friendly cat came to say hello. After we went back to the night market where we got a naga ring for Emma, a pair of earrings for me and some silk scarves.

The Kingdom of Champassak/ Bassac (1713-1946) emerged in 1713 after a rebellion against Vientiane and comprised the Xe Bang River to the Mun and Xi rivers. The Lao kingdoms remained independent until 1779 when they became vassals to Siam, although they maintained a monarchy and a degree of autonomy.) Champassak became a Lao kingdom under Nokasad, grandson of Sourigna Vongsa, the last king of Lan Xang; and son-in-law of the Cambodian King Chey Chettha IV. The kingdom was on the left bank of the Mekong, but its capital Bassac, was on the right bank, where the Bassac River joins the Mekong. After the Laotian (Chao Anu) Rebellion 1826-29, Champasak was reduced to vassalage; and the Siamese-Cambodian War 1831-1834 reduced the entire region to vassalage, further complicated by the French establishing what was to become French Indochina. Following the Franco-Siamese War 1893, the area fell under French rule, its royalty stripped of privileges. King Ong Keo and Ong Kommandam led resistance against French control of the left bank, which subsumed into the First Indochina War. The parallel right-bank Holy Man's Rebellion of 1901/2 was short-lived. In 1904 the kingdom was reduced to provincial governorship, which included political involvement, by the Na Champasak royal family. The House of Na Champassak ceased to rule in 1946 and the kingdom became a province in the united Kingdom of Laos. 1941–45 Thailand acquired Champasak but it was ceded back to France in 1946 and Chao Boun Oum gave up his throne in order to unify Laos. The Kingdom of Laos (1946–75) was formed under the Luang Prabang line of kings.
● Nokasad 1713–37 King of Champa Nagapurisiri (Champasak), grandson of Sourigna Vongsa (last king of Lan Xang)
Sayakumane 1737–91 son of Nokasat
Fay Na 1791–1811 made king of Champasak by King Rama I of Siam. Son of Phra Vorarat, not royal.
No/Nu Muong 1811-13 (son of Fay Na)
Manoi/ Phommanoy 1813–19 (nephew Sayakoummane)
Chao Yo/ Nho house of Vientiane 1819–26 (son of King Anuvong of Vientiane) 1829–93 Siam annexes Champasak following Chao Anu Rebellion
Huy 1826–41 great-grandson Nokasat
Na(r)k 1841–51 brother Huy
B(o)ua 1851–52 (1851–53 regent, 1853 king, son of Huy)
Interregnum 1852–56
Kham N(hy)ai 1856–58 son of Huy
Interregnum 1858–62
Kham Souk 1863–1900 son of Huy; French divide kingdom in 1893 Ratsadanay 1900–4 son of Khamsuk, king protectorate of French
Indochina; 1904-1934 governor
● Prince Boun Oum Na Champassak prince of Champassak and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Laos 1948-50/ 1960-62. He was the son of Ratsadanay. On the death of his father in 1946 he renounced his throne. He became President and Inspector-General of the Royal Council. Sympathetic to the French, he fought against Japan. He retired from politics to pursue business interests until his exile to France in 1975, the year communist leader Pathet Lao came to power. He died in France 1980.
● Keo na Champassak 1980–present
Laotian Literature Little is known of the history of Lao literature because the parchment deteriorated. The Laotian alphabet has 15 vowels and 30 consonants and was created in the 14th century and is read from left to right. Laotian literature (all non-fiction) dates from the 15/16th century. About 90% of it is Buddhist themed- literature was meant as a teaching tool. Stories were maintained by an oral tradition of folk tales. Festivals The biggest celebration, New Year (Pii Mai), enough takes place in mid-April at the vernal equinox. The Buddha images are washed with holy jasmine water. Then there is the rot nam, where youngsters sprinkle water on their elders and throw buckets of water on everyone else. The New Year celebration is the cleansing of the past year to bless the year to come. Boon Bang Fai (Rocket festival) is an animist celebration with processions, music and dancing, accompanied by the firing of bamboo rockets to prompt the heavens to send rain. The Tat Luang Festival in Vientiane in November has fireworks, music and parades. Festivals in Laos are mostly linked to agricultural seasons and Buddhist holidays. February full moon: Boon Maka Bucha- rice roasting ceremony. May: Boon Visaka Bucha- commemorates the birth, death, and enlightenment of Buddha. July: Boon Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent) August: Boon Khao Phadabdin- offerings to the spirits. September: Boon Khao Salak- harvest. October: Boon Ok Phansa- boat racing. Katin, when the people offer new robes to the monks.

How to be a good Buddhist The minimum requirement for a Buddhist is to follow the five precepts (or truths): not to lie, steal, have improper sexual behaviour, consume mind-altering substances (e.g. alcohol), or take any life. Because people live in the real (material) world, and cannot always follow the precepts (e.g., many people eat meat), ceremonies are important, as a way to gain positive merits. The results in your karma, which determines your rebirth and the nature of your next life. Bad karma results in rebirth at a lower level, maybe even as an animal, or worse-to wander as a spirit without rebirth at all. The best way to get merit is to be kind and compassionate, but you can also make offerings, to monks and Temple (the Buddhist church and clergy are referred to as the Sangha). This can be done daily, as most mornings monks go out on an alms round for food offerings (their sole source of food). On the full, new, first quarter and half moon, the monks stay in. These days; Wan Pra, or Buddha days, are when listening to the monks chanting can bring merit to the listener. Studying the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha, is the best way to religious salvation, and a recommended practice for the true believers.
Vipassana, a Pali word meaning "see things as they truly are", is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation, rediscovered by Buddha 2500 years ago. It is self-transformation through focusing on the connection between mind and body- control of the mind. The concentration to detach from reality, and discover the true nature of the mind and body takes a lot of training and discipline. When a strong emotion arises in the mind, the breath loses its normal rhythm and a biochemical reaction starts in the body- sensation. One tries to keep one's attention for as long as possible on the act of respiration- to calm the mind so it is no longer overpowered by strong sensations.
BACI CEREMONY The Tai Baci (Bai si) Ceremony is celebrated on special occasions e.g. marriage, new baby, house warming, recovery, birthday, journey, ordination of a monk. The main purpose is to bind the personal spirits to a person for good luck. The ceremony is also known as Sukwan/ Hetkwan- the calling of the kwan (the 32 spirits believed to watch over your 32 organs). Sometimes the kwan wander from the body, especially when sick, and it is important to call them back. An older man who was/is a monk, assumes the role of Maw Pawn and leads the ceremony. The main item is the pha kwan, a metal bowl piled high with cones of banana leaves, marigolds, white string, candles and incense, on a low round table. Around the base is food and drink - rice cakes, pastries, chicken, liquor, eggs, sticky rice. Eggs and rice represent fertility and prosperity. Everyone gathers in a circle around the pha kwan and those closest have one hand touching the table. Those farther away touch the person in front - to capture the flow of good energy. The Maw Pawn calls on the spirits to return to the bodies of those present, bringing well being and happiness. Once over, the person has symbolic food placed in the hand, while white cotton strings (sai sin) with 3 knots are tied round the wrists to keep in good luck. The strings should remain on the wrists for at least three days.
● Wat Munna Monastery of Ten Thousand Rice Fields was originally constructed by King Phothisarat (1520-48). The name comes from the tithe of 1 meun (12 kg) of rice from each villager. The name Somphouaram refers to the Sangha (community of ordained monks) and where they meet to discuss secular and sacred matters. Wat Munna is town side to Sisavangvong pedestrian bridge across Nam Khan River. The original sim was simple. Next to the sim was a vaulted chapel and stupa. Recent additions are a bright facade in vermillion/ gold. On the pediments, Indra rides Airavata. On front, variety of plant forms flow from central figure of Indra. Murals on the walls depict various early lives of Buddha.
● Wat Pha Baht Tai combines Thai, Lao and Vietnamese styles with hints of European religious architecture. The wat was built on the confluence of Huei Hop and Mekong rivers, by King Samsenthai 1416. It was here that Naga King Chai Chamnong (a guardian Naga) lived on a rock from which he could protect the rivers. When a huge footprint of Buddha was found here it was evidence of the Naga's permission to build a monastery, which still guards the footprint.
● Wat Long Khun Monastery of Blessed Song/ Willow Stream is sited on a flat area at the top of a stairway leading from the right bank of the Mekong, directly across from Wat Xieng Thong. The monastery had important ties with the royal family; the king spent 3 days there ceremonially bathing before crossing the Mekong to Wat Xieng Thong for his coronation. The Luang Prabang style sim is 18th century. It has interior jataka murals depicting lives of Buddha. Two large bearded Chinese guardians flank the main entry. Legend says the hills opposite the city represent a girl leaning against a lad. Wat Long Khun (=flatland near rivers and female abdomen).

Posted by PetersF 16:06 Archived in Laos Tagged river buddhism laos museum luang_prabang mekong wats

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