A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Laos Plain of Jars

Xiang Khouan

Plain of Jars and Muang Khoun 16th August

We had an excellent sleep as it was so quiet. The next day we went to find breakfast- in a building opposite and apparently only consisted of badly cooked bread rolls, bright pink savoury jelly (as horrible as it looked), weak soup and over-cooked coffee- all not good. Anyway, we met ate some and went to meet our guide. First he asked if we could go to the market (partly because he’d been asked to buy something and partly to show us). We were
sceptical (as we’d seen a lot of markets by then) but were surprised at how much new stuff we saw and learnt about.
In the early part were reams of different rice and noodles- cooked. We saw the typically Laos sticky rice (aka glutinous rice) with its opaque grains and low amylase; transparent cellophane noodles made from mung bean starch and water; rice noodles; and khao pun made from fermented rice dough which we saw being squeezed through a sieve and boiled. After this was the vegetable area- bamboo shoots, neem (a bitter vegetable), morning glory (convolvus family), garlic, mushrooms, rattan shoots and galangal (a ginger-like tuber), followed by fruit (peach, plum, passion fruit). Then the fish and meats including tiny birds and bats, sausages of something spicy, bamboo rats and all sorts of fresh water life (including some blue shelled crabs). Almost everything was presented in plastic bowls! Just after were the breakfast stalls, many with loyalty cards!
We saw the rice desserts wrapped in banana leaves and all types of crisps- even rice. Past this were the medicine stalls. The medicine was usually a liquid infused with something odd (e.g. bee, bat, snake) and a small beaker was how it was dispensed. The glass beaker would be used to measure up to 3 doses (1 for each arm, 1 for the body, 1 for the legs). The shaman/ medicine man will test the potion first on an if it doesn’t kill me (or even makes me feel better) it must be OK basis. The infusion would relate directly to the ailment e.g. a snake one will stop poison, bees with give me strength.
Around the corner were the non-food items including knock-off DVD/ CDs, household and cooking utensils. The brooms, shovels and gardening equipment were recycled materials e.g. shovels made huge tin cans cut open. There were ethnic stalls with embroidery (Hmong), war scrap utensils, umbrellas of mulberry paper and baskets everywhere. The baskets, mainly made by men, were the bamboo (or rattan) shoulder baskets we saw on our drive to Xieng Khouang.
A special drink is Mastake Whisky made from Hed Wai, a highly valued mushroom from the pine forests of Xieng Khouang.
It was only a short drive out to the first Jar site (known as Jar Site 1). The main road went through the town (which is very small), past a building site (which is going to be a swimming pool and leisure centre) on tarmac roads, then into a small car park where we parked and waited to take an electric road-train to access the site up a track. Some Laotian tourists came with us and walked up the path after we were dropped off just in front of us. This did mean that they got to the first set of large jars just in front of us and wanted to take pictures of each other. Eventually I managed to get a photo without them in it, after they insisted I took a photo of them all!! Surprisingly we suddenly saw a plane fly over and land, and realised the strip of land opposite was Phonsavan airport! We noticed the large ponds (bomb craters filled with water) and the houses dug into the land (to escape detection by American bombers during the war).
We walked on down to the main site with its hundreds of jars (mostly without their lids which had long been taken by locals). Only the largest jars remain; many of the smaller ones were taken in antiquity.
To our left we walked towards a cave. Although the cave was certainly used in antiquity; it may well have been a crematorium associated with the jars; it was still clearly revered today. It is surmised that bodies (probably of the elite) may have been dried out in the jars and subsequently burnt. It is still visited as it has a small shrine inside and was much used during the Secret war as a hiding place. In fact our guide’s parents met in the cave; the Pathet Lao tried to persuade people to move from the area when the bombs started but many didn’t want to leave the land so they hid in the caves at daytime and farmed at night.
All around the path were a variety of large and smaller bomb craters. The paths all had small concrete blocks at regular intervals inscribed MAG to signify that the path had been made safe from UXO.
plain-of-jars-site-2_48886380516_o.jpgOur guide pointed to the hill opposite where we saw two trucks parked and said they were the bomb clearance squad and were clearly dealing with something. We walked back to the main site, past a particularly attractive group under trees and to the top of a small hill (all the jar sites are on raised ground) to look at the jars up there. Then back down the other side to collect the electric train back to the car. Our guide said currently Sites 2 and 3 were inaccessible as he’d checked with the local guides who said the tracks to them were waterlogged clay (slippery and dangerous). One person had tried in a big 4x4 and had to turn back. As we’d heard that they were smaller versions of Site 1 we said not to worry about the other sites, so we drove on.
The stone jars are similar to traditional Southeast Asian Royal mortuary practices and maybe functioned as 'distilling vessels'. In contemporary funerary practices of Thai, Cambodian and Laotian royalty the corpse of the deceased during the early stages of the funeral rites is placed into an urn (while undergoing gradual transformation from the earth to spiritual world). The ritual decomposition is followed by cremation and secondary burial. The royal burials are located across watercourses from the habitation in a geographically high, prominent area. It is interesting to note that the Black Thai/Tai Dam people who have been in the region since the 11th century, cremated their elite to release their spirit to heaven, while commoners are buried, leaving their spirit to remain on earth.

We headed to the old Phuan capital at Muang (=Town) Khoun (previously the city was called Xieng Khouang and had its name changed by the victorious Pathet Lao), driving 28km along pretty and little populated countryside. The small villages economic structure was mainly rice grown in large fields, often with a small bamboo watch hut in the centre. I questioned the size of the field and was told it was usually an extended family or small clan that used it- each person would know which part was theirs but they would all help each other when it came to planting and harvesting. We passed a particularly pretty village (Thuang) by a tranquil lake. A drive for a further 15km and over Nam Ngiap Rv saw us arrive in Muang Khoun. We stopped outside a busy wat, filled with cars, people carrying offerings and the smell of incense. The shoes left outside were several layers deep! Around the back was a huge (ancient) Buddha statue inside the red brick columns of a long-gone temple. The statue had a pleasing lopsided smile and an unusual local Lao style. This is the ancient Wat Phiawat. This town (and temple) was the Phuan ethnic group’s capital and they remain the dominant group in the town today.
Wat PiaWat was built in 1372 in the reign of King Larn Khum Kloung (King of Muang Phoun). The sim (holy building) additions were made in 1882. King Larn Khum Kloung was a great patron of Buddhism and established religious relationships with Burma. The King put the Buddha statue on the back of an elephant and swore he would build a temple where the elephant stopped in Muang Khoun. It stopped at the spot where Wat Peer Wat (Pia Wat) stands. The temple was given the name Wat Peer Wat (Wat Pia Wat) and it was the first temple of Muang Phoun. King Larn Khum Kloung gave instructions to create a big Buddha image in the same style as the golden Buddha statue he brought back from Burma. This statue was granted the name Phra Puttharoub Oung Tuee, and is the statue, which you see today. In 1925, Muang Phoun fought the Muslim Chinese who damaged Phra Putharoub Oung Tuee by cutting the right hand off. In 1953, Wat Peer Wat (Pia Vat) was destroyed by the French. Prince Suthakumarn (Chao sai Kham) encouraged people to contribute towards the restoration of Phra Putharoub Oung Tuee and Wat Peer Wat (Phi Vat). Then in 1968 the vat was destroyed by T28 aircraft gunfire, and now only the pillars of the building and stately Buddha remains. Right by it was That Foun Buddhist stupa aka That Chomsi. It measures 30 m and was built in 1576 the same time as the original That Luang in Vientiane. The stupa was erected to cover ashes of Lord Buddha brought from India. The Lanna-inspired structure stands tall over the town and can be entered by a cavity left by the Chinese marauders a century ago after they looted the stupa and seized the Buddha images enshrined within.
That Chomphet: Built in the same period as That Foun and located nearby. That Chomphet means Jewel Pinnacle (due to a shiny diamond that king Chao Kha Khad installed at its top). That Chompeth was heavily damaged by Haw invaders in 1874 and almost completely destroyed in 1969 during the war.
We walked across the road to the old ruined French Hospital. Apparently the French governor of this province was enlightened and built a hospital for both French and Lao. It had been burnt down (there are no records as to when) but was being kept as a reminder of what was there. There were lovely tiles on the floor and balcony areas. The guide said that a local noble (from the old ruling family) had wanted to make it into a palace. Opposite was a lovely French style building. A huge pipe instrument (7 pipes of different lengths) sat on a nearby stage. Goodness knows how someone would play it-
must have had the lungs of an ox!
We continued walking up a track to the foliage covered That Foun pagoda. It is supposed to have part of Buddha’s breastbone inside, which may be the reason for the hole put right through it. We walked around and through the pagoda to the cows opposite. We noticed the second, more ruined pagoda on a higher hill close by.
Walking back down we went to a local Phuan restaurant for lunch. Outside were large bomb casings- normal for houses/ restaurants in the town. The restaurant was attractive inside with the usual huge heavy redwood chairs- our guide said his father’s house had them & he would not sell even though valuable. Our hostess came back from the temple carrying a large silver offering urn. She showed us a bombie-cup (literally a cup made of a bombie) before our lunch came.

Xieng Khouang, which used to be the old capital of the muang, or territory, of the Tai Phouan people was completely wiped out by the end of the Secret War in 1973. At the end of the war the town known as Xieng Khouang became today’s Muang Khoun while ‘Xieng Khouang’ is now the province. Originally famous for its 62 golden stupas, only the Buddha statue of Vat (temple) Piavat and the Taht (stupa) miraculously remain standing. Everything else is recent. Muang Phouan was once “a large and beautiful city protected by wide moats and forts occupying the surrounding hills and the opulence of the sixty-two pagodas and their stupas, of which the flanks concealed treasures, obtained the capital a fame that spread wide and far”.

Xieng Khouang was the seat of the old Tai Phouan family, which ruled for centuries over the territory of the Plain of Jars. The Tai Phouan are one of the Tai ethnic groups chronicled as descending from Khun Borom (Khun Boulom) whose offspring founded Tai principalities throughout the region- the Tai Lao, Tai Phouan, Tai Shan, Tai Siamese, Tai Lue, Tai Dam, Tai Daeng, Pou Tai. The first written evidence of Tai Phouan are inscriptions in the Buddhist cave, Tham Phra. The dates inscribed on the walls are 6th/7th century AD as is That (stupa) Foun; its shape is early ‘Phouan’ architecture. This surviving remnant of a substantial structure gives testimony to the advanced civilisation at the time. The Phouan people prospered from overland trade in salt, metals and forest products.

Muang Phuan/ Xiang Khouang 1651-1899 polity was based in modern Xiangkhouang Province. The Phuan are a Buddhist Tai-Lao ethnic group that migrated to Laos from southern China in the 13th century to form the independent principality of Muang Phuan at the Plain of Jars, with a capital at Xieng Khouang (Muang Khoun). In the mid-14th century, Muang Phuan was incorporated into the Tai-ethnic Lan Xang Kingdom under King Fa-ngum. The Phuan (Pu’on) monarchy claimed descent from Khun Borom. Muang Phouan became the second of the four (not the historically incorrect ‘three’) kingdoms of Lan Xang, with Champasak and Viangchan following in the early 1700s; all four ‘houses’ intermarried. Although they paid tax/ tribute to Lan Xang, they retained a high degree of mandala-model autonomy. During the 16th century the capital was dotted with temples in a distinct Xieng Khouang style; simple low roofs with a characteristic ‘waist’ at the foundation. To maintain independence Muang Phouan would pay off one or two stronger neighbours; at one time in the 1800s the whole family got carted off for an extended ‘visit’ to Vietnam. With the Lan Xang succession dispute, Phuan took the opportunity to reassert its independence (1707). This Golden Age ended in the 1770s when Muang Phouan was weakened by its own succession issues. It was twice devastated by Siam (1777-9, 1834–6, 1875-6) who deported large numbers to dig the famous klongs of Bangkok. As a result there are more Phouan in Thailand than Laos. Later Haw raiders from China laid waste to the countryside. With the French arrival and occupation of Indochina, Muang Phouan was restored as a principality with the ruling house appointed as governors (not princes unlike 16th/17th C when the Phouan family ruled as kings under the Vietnamese while paying tribute to Luang Prabang). The Franco- Siamese treaties of the 1890s placed Xieng Khouang under colonial rule as part of French Indochina until after WWII. 1949 it became part of the Kingdom of Laos).

  • Kham Sanh 1651–88, father to Ken Chan the Pearl of Tran Ninh
  • Kam Lan 1688–1700, son of Kham Sanh
  • Kham Sattha 1723–51, grandson Kam Lan, tributary to Vietnam, Luang Prabang, Vientiane
  • Ong Lo 1751–79
  • Somphou 1779–1803
  • Noi (Southaka Souvanna Koumar) 1803–31, nephew of Somphou, executed by Emperor Minh Mạng
  • Vietnamese control Xiang Khuoang annexed as Tran Ninh province in Vietnam 1832
  • Po 1848–65, son of Noi, vassal to Siam and Vietnam
  • Ung 1866–76, son of Noi, Haw pirates invade Xiang Khouang in 1874
  • Khanti 1876–80, son of Ung, vassal to Siam
  • Kham Ngon 1880–99, French protectorate ends autonomy


The Puan State
The Lao, originating from Dai-speaking peoples in modern Yunnan, emigrated south, along the Mekong, and settled the river valleys, where they practiced wet rice cultivation, pushing the Austro-Asiatic indigenous people towards the mountains. In the early centuries AD, tiny kingdoms emerged, consisting of small communities in river valleys and the mountains. City-states were formed, called muangs, with larger ones dominating weaker ones as vassals. The Phuan Principality of Xiang Khuang on the Plain of Jars was a contested area, which at various times paid tribute to several powerful muangs, especially Muang Sua (Luang Prabang), which became Lan Xang. Much of the history of Puan state is characterised by external power struggles to control the area, and internal rivalries, with various contenders for the throne seeking support from larger neighbours; Lan Xang, Siam and Annam. In the 15th century, Muang Phuan enjoyed semi-independent status as a result of having been annexed by Vietnam. The Puan kingdom on the Plain of Jars was reaching its apex, due to the trade route, which flourished, and the abundance of paddy land for rice cultivation. The capital, Xieng Khouang or Siang Khuang (now Muang Koon) was resplendent with golden jewel encrusted pagodas and ornate temples. At the end of the 18th century, there were competing candidates for the Phuan throne, with various factions seeking support from outside. A Vietnamese force intervened on behalf of one candidate, while the Vientiane prince supported another. To complicate things, the Siamese had captured Vientiane 1778/9, and it was now a vassal of Siam. In 1799, the Vientiane/ Siamese army raided and took prisoners, including the Phuan king, Chao Somphou, to Vientiane. One year later, the King of Vientiane tried to directly administer Siang Khuang, but the Vietnamese intervened. Vientiane was persuaded to release Chao Somphou, who later died back in the Plain of Jars. Chao Noi came to the throne at the age of 14. He imposed heavy taxes, used to build a huge palace based on that of Vientiane. Chao Anou, the next King of Vientiane, was more successful at dismantling the royal government of Siang Khuang. He dethroned Chao Noi, the legitimate heir, and reduced Siang Khuang from kingdom to province of Vientiane. Chao Noi took refuge in Vietnam, where he requested assistance. In 1828, Chao Anou rebelled against Siam and was defeated by them. He fled to safety in the Puan Kingdom of Siang Khuang. The arrival of Chao Anou on their doorstep with a Siamese army in pursuit presented the leaders of Siang Khuang with a dilemma. When the Siamese commander issued an ultimatum to surrender Chao Anou the Puan leaders quickly accepted. By the mid 1800s Vietnam ruled directly, appointing local officials as administrators. Siam still held influence in the area, as Siang Khuang was also a vassal of Luang Prabang (Lan Xang), itself a vassal of Siam. The Haw, marauding bandits from China, also known as the Black Flag overran the Plain of Jars, looted and destroyed the beautiful temples and pagodas, stripped the gold and jewels inlaid on walls and roofs, and burnt them to the ground. Siam sent an army up the Ou River to attack the Haw and drive them out. The King of Siam blamed the Puan for having brought trouble on themselves by giving rice, silver, and horses to the Haw. The Siamese army took Puan prisoners and brought them to Bangkok as slaves, including Prince Kamti, the last ruler.
We had a nice lunch and came back along the same road, stopping for a few photos. We stopped at Thuang village to watch the monks and nuns parade. Many of the women were carrying photos of recently deceased family members as is common in their style of Buddhism. They would be saying prayers for them at the nearby temple.
By the time we got back we wanted a nice drink, so we stopped at a cafe for an iced coffee (delic as usual), then found the MAG office. We made a donation and picked up two T-shirts, but the show had been suspended due to lack of numbers.
After a stroll around town we found Nisha’s curry house for a vegetarian curry (our guide turned up too, much to our surprise), then next door to Bamboozle for a pudding. Then we retired to our hotel, the Anoulackkhen Lao Hotel.

Prehistory of Xieng Khoung and the Stone Jars- The original inhabitants were hunter-gatherer Austro- Asiatic people. They traded using water routes through the mountains, including the Mekong and its many tributaries, the chief northern one being Nam (River) Ngum. These allowed them to penetrate deep into the hinterland, from where they bought products such as cardamom, gum, and foods. Because sites of funeral urns similar to those on the Plain of Jars are found in India, and Sa Huynh, it is probable that prehistoric salt traders followed a caravan route from Vietnam to India, through Xieng Khouang with its salt deposits. The Laotian upland is still an important local resource for making fermented fish paste (pla ra), a dietary staple of the region. The Plain of Jars people imported items such as cowry shells and glass beads. The Plain of Jars is an important site in late prehistoric Southeast Asia, when advances in agriculture, metal production, and long-distance trade were transforming local society. The local inhabitants say the jars were made for brewing alcohol to be consumed at a great feast to celebrate a military victory thousands of years ago. A wicked king, Chao Angka, oppressed his people so terribly they appealed to good king Khun Jeuam to liberate them. He fought a battle on the plain and defeated Chao Angka. Perhaps 2,000 years old, the relics are an archaeological wonder. In the 1930s Madeline Colani discovered some jars contained bronze and iron tools, bracelets, cowry shells and glass beads, while the rest had been looted. She concluded they were funeral urns of a vanished Bronze Age people. This theory is strengthened by the recent discovery of underground burial chambers. A little more than a mile northeast of Phonsavan the principal jar site, Ban Ang, known as Site 1, contains over 250 urns. There also is a cave, which may have served as a crematorium, as ashes and bones are found inside. A recent excavation exposed a carving of a human figure on the side of the jar, the first anthropomorphic image discovered at the site. 12 inches below the soil, flat stones covering 7 pits were discovered- 6 contained human bones and the last, a 2ft burial jar, had pieces of bone and teeth inside. These pits may be sites of secondary burials, in which the corpse is left to decompose or 'distil' into its essence, a practice common in Laos (to dry out the body and rot the soft tissue before cremation). Maybe the corpses of poor people were placed in pits, while those of the nobility were placed in the urns, which would explain their large size. Once cremated in the cave, the ashes of the elite were returned to the urns, or buried in a sacred place, freeing the jars for re-use. More than 60 jar fields have been identified on promontories and strategically high places. The tallest jars are more than 3m and weigh several tons. A few have carved symbols still visible. Circular stone discs found near the jars, presumed to be lids, are sometimes carved (one has a monkey). A distinctive figure on several urns, known as 'frogman', may link to cultures in Yunnan. There are thousands of tons of unexploded bombs, making the Plain of Jars the most dangerous and contaminated archaeological site in the world. Undetonated bombs, land mines and unexploded military ordnance contaminate +35% of the province and threaten the 200,000 people in Xieng Khouang.
Paris Peacock, Yellow Pansy

First Indochina And The Secret War
The Hmong tell of a warrior, Sin Sai, who defended the first people of earth against evil giants. He left in a flash of lightning, telling his people to stay on top of the mountains to be safe. He promised that if giants returned, he would come from the sky with an army to lead them to a kingdom of their own. This promise led to an armed movement during the French occupation. The French, finding nothing in Laos, chose to produce opium for export to China. Since the Hmong already grew opium for medicinal use, the French exacted a tax of 2 kg of opium for every person, to be collected by lowland Lao officials working for the colonial government. An acre of poppies produces only 1k of opium, so a family would need acres of poppies in addition to food crops- slave labour. There was also forced conscription to build roads. In 1917, a man called Baa Chai claimed he was in contact with Sin Sai, and called himself Chao Fa, Prince of the Sky. He led a revolt against the French until crushed in 1920. Craters from saturation bombing echo the horrors of the past- 450,000 civilians in Laos lost their lives. Refugees exceed a million. Widespread use of toxic chemical defoliants created a massive health crisis, which still persists.1954-The French garrison at Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam fell to the Viet Minh. The Geneva Convention called for a cease-fire between the French and Pathet Lao. The attendees, including America, China and USSR, agreed to the formation of a coalition government, and prohibited foreign military presence in Laos.
1955 America paid the salaries of the Royal Lao Army, and created a secret Project 404 in which military officers resigned to be reassigned as civilian military advisors. Elections were held but excluded the Pathet Lao. Vietnam started moving troops. Prince Souvanna as Prime Minister tried to integrate the Pathet Lao into the Royal Lao Army. He visited Hanoi and Beijing, which annoyed America. When Pathet Lao dominated the election, Eisenhower said the communists had to be stopped.
1960 The CIA rigged the election so their choice, Poumi Nosovan, came to power. The State Department supported Souvanna, but the Department of Defence/ CIA were behind Poumi. A disgruntled army captain, Kong Le, took Vientiane and drove out Poumi (who fled to south to Savannakhet). Kong Le asked Souvanna to come back as Prime Minister. America gave aid to Poumi who drove Souvanna/ Kong Le out of Vientiane. They joined Pathet Lao and took the Plain of Jars (with Vietnamese help). Britain, France and America accepted Souvanna as the legal government of Laos, but America continued its clandestine support of Poumi. The CIA established a secret guerrilla army of Hmong, led by Vang Pao. The Hmong believed they could make a piece of Laos their own kingdom. The Soviets began supplying arms to Kong Le and the neutralists. The CIA as Air America (Sky Men) sent secret missions to carry food, arms, spies and radar to allies and drop napalm on enemy positions. The State Department switched to Poumi, while the CIA continued with Vang Pao. The Soviets supported Kong Le. North Vietnam and China aided the Pathet Lao, and Britain was on Souvanna's side.
During the 1965-73 civil war in northern Laos, 3 million tons of bombs were dropped on Laos. The war in northern Laos was led by the Hmong Maj. Gen. Vang Pao. His tactics resulted in heavy casualties, so eventually only children and men over 45 remained to serve as soldiers. He would withhold rice from communities that shielded their young. The Hmong fought bravely, but WWII carbines given by the CIA were no match for the Pathet Lao carrying AK-47’s, and Soviet tanks. Towards the end, children under 15 constituted the bulk of the Hmong force. In 1973 peace was signed in Vientiane. A coalition government was formed. The Pathet Lao sent troops to secure Sala Pu Koun, so the Hmong took up arms to help the Royalists defend the Plain of Jars. Vang Pao's forces were routed and Long Chieng was about to be overrun. The US offered to airlift Vang Pao to Thailand, and he requested help in airlifting 5000 of his people to safety. The CIA sent 4 planes. They mobbed the planes with people thrown out as they flew off. The thousands left tried to flee to Thailand, but were met by communist troops at Hin Heup Bridge and dispersed. Many hid in the jungles and formed the Chao Fa resistance at Pu Bia.

Posted by PetersF 16:48 Archived in Laos Tagged laos plain_of_jars archaeology phonsavan field_of_jars xiang_khouan Comments (0)

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 Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 7 of 7) « Page 1 [2]