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Luang Prabang - Markets and Wats

Luang Prabang markets and wats 12th August

We woke up at normal time and strolled past the pool to breakfast on the patio= the usual fare of fruit, cooked eggs, Asian food and French breakfast. After breakfast we made sure we had appropriate clothes (sleeved shirts, trousers, skirt) and met the guide in reception. We drove down Bounkhong and right to join the main road in Luang Prabang- Phothisarath Rd- Chao Fa Ngum- Sisavangvong Road.
Luang Prabang is on a long isthmus almost surrounded by the rivers Mekong and Nam Kham. It’s a small town, and easily navigated.
Our first port of call was to Luang Prabang’s Morning Market. This takes place on the left down two pedestrianised roads leading in a loop from Sisavangvong road (the “High street” of LP). Our friendly guide pointed out the huge baskets of dried rice in the entrance and explained that you could buy different varieties of rice (the most common being long grain and sticky). The first part of the market was dried or packaged food including buffalo EVERYTHING (the dried skin to chew- a local delicacy, buffalo sausage, buffalo steak, buffalo fat...). Following this was a breakfast buffet, then the sweet things (such as cakes) followed by eggs (some of which had been coloured a very vibrant neon pink- why, we never discovered). This part of the market was the only bit with non-local wares (mainly from nearby Thailand).
market-luang-prabang_48885966017_o.jpgBamboo- Only new bamboo shoots are edible and the new growth must be harvested immediately after it shoots from the ground (usually at the crack of dawn). Within two days the tender insides become hard and inedible.
The shoots are cut and boiled quickly to stop them hardening, then cut into chunks and kept for many months.
After the dried/ packaged goods, came fresh meat of various animals, some easy to work out, others less so. The fish (sometimes still alive in the basins) were first, all from out of the local rivers. Beside it was kaipen- an edible algae from the Mekong dried into sheets. The most popular, by masses, is yes, you’ve guessed it, buffalo! The large polystyrene boxes filled with a gelatinous substance was congealed ox-blood. This was followed by other meats including giblets (with flies being wafted off), pig’s head (caramelised), chickens, etc. Uncomfortably close to this were a number of fast food breakfast/ brunch outdoor seating areas. The good news was that the food was certainly fresh and cooked to order; the bad news was you could see where it came from (and which flies had walked on it). Still, since all the restaurants and hotels buy from the market and we were not ill at all in Laos I guess it must be OK.
Around the corner it was the turn of the vegetable and fruit stalls (well, actually spots on the side of the road now as we left the table stalls behind). Now the goods were placed onto rattan bamboo mats and all business was done by the ladies on low plastic stools or crouched down. There were salads, morning glory, aubergines, chilli peppers, cucumbers, ginger roots, beans of all types, onions, brassicas, and a purple flower like one that turned out to be an edible banana flower. Fruit too came in all types- mango, papaya, tamarind, tomatoes, lemons and limes... Then the herbs/ spices like coriander, dill, basil, mint, the ubiquitous lemon grass.
The last area consisted of the live (at the moment) produce such as basins with prawns in, covered baskets of jumping frogs and toads, coiled baskets filled with snakes, crabs and so on. The final area, before getting back to the main road was for non-edible items, such as bunches of flowers or paper money both for temple offerings. When we arrived at 8 am it was bustling, but by 9 it was almost empty- everyone has gone! Pretty much all the vendors were women who arrive at 4-5am from the highland and lowland villages every day to sell the small surplus they have produced (so almost everything is seasonal). Unless they have walked most women are dropped of by the men who drive them down in their small trucks and then go on to their own jobs- usually casual construction work. At 7 am the monks arrive to collect their alms and this is the busiest time for the market. We left the market heading next door to the Wat Mai Temple and Monastery.

Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (Si Souvanna Phommaram/ Phoun Ram), or Wat Mai (New Monastery), is one of the largest, most picturesque wats. Located along the popular street of Sisavangvong and adjoining the compound of the National Palace Museum, it is important for both religious and aesthetic beauty. The wat, founded 1796/7 by King Anourout (Anurat 1795-1817), dates mostly from 19th century. Restoration of the wooden sim started 1821/2 during the reign of King Manthatourat (1817-1836), when it was given the name New Monastery.
The double colonnaded porch in front and a similar, less elaborate, porch in the rear were added at that time. Work on the sim, library and ancillary
building continued until the 1890s. A number of other structures are 20th century. There were major restorations in 1943 and 1962, as well as in
more recent times. The sim is built in traditional Luang Prabang style with added porches on the two sides. The monastery has special significance. It
served as a temple for the royal family and has long been the residence of the Pra Sangkharat, the highest Laotian Buddhist. Because of the Chinese Haw raiders that ravaged the city in 1887 (the wat was spared), Wat Mai became the repository of the city's palladium, the Phra Prabang (now in the Royal Palace Museum). During Pimai, the mid-April Laotian New Year, the Prabang is ceremoniously brought from the museum to a temporary pavilion in front of the sim; for 3 days it is ceremonially washed and the faithful can pray. The abbot of Wat Mai played a role in opening Luang Prabang to the world outside.
1887 Auguste Pavie arrived in Luang Prabang as the first French vice- consul in Laos. At the time the city was under Siamese control; they tried to isolate Pavie from the king, Oun Kham. The abbot, however, a confidant of the king, served as a conduit for messages between the king and Pavie and invited him to stay at the monastery. French influence grew and by 1893 the French protectorate extended over Laos. The monastery's sim is noteworthy. Its five-tiered roof is magnificent, and is topped by a 3-part Dok So Fa (symbolising the universe) and protective corner nagas.
Its expanse is readily viewed from the adjoining elevated pavement on Thanon Sisavangvong. Its front veranda extends across the width of the nave and protects the gilded bas relief (1960s) on the front facade. The cement reliefs were first covered with black lacquer and then gilded. The entire relief depicts scenes from the Ramayana and the Vessantara-Jakata, the Buddha's penultimate reincarnation, with villages, flora and fauna of Luang Prabang. The large majestic red interior nave with gold stencilling on the columns, beams and walls together with the various gilded Buddha statues and tables at the altar and the large Buddha statue provide evidence of the religious, aesthetic and architectural importance of Wat Mai. The typical dragon boat is housed on the right next to a number of stupa. In the distance we could see the gold of the wat on the top of Mt. Phousi.
We decided it was hot enough to grab and drink and headed next door to a small cafe to have a Fanta and an hibiscus juice.
Then we headed back to the Royal Palace area. The building was really impressive, as was the Wat to the right. Over the trees and bushes some huge Golden Birdwing butterflies flew. They looked almost like birds.
We spotted the statue to the last king (left) and the Haw Pha Bang (right). Walking down the gardens between the hedges we arrived in front of the palace where we had to take off our shoes and stow our bags in a (free) locker. The whole palace was shoe-free, so we were glad we’d worn socks! The palace started with the ceremonial rooms, then the private rooms were around the back.

The Royal Palace (Haw Kham) was built in 1904 during the French colonial era for King Sisavang Vong. The site was chosen so visitors could disembark from the river directly to the palace. Crown Prince Savang Vatthana was the last to occupy it. In 1975, the monarchy was overthrown by the communists and the Royal Family taken to re-education camps. The palace was converted into a national museum. On the palace grounds, there are other buildings:
The Kitchen/Storage The Royal Barge Shelter Conference Hall
Haw Pha Bang
Staff headquarters
There is a lotus pond and two cannons. A statue of King Sisavang Vong stands on the ground. The architecture is a mix of traditional Lao motifs and French Beaux Arts styles, laid out in a double-cruciform shape with the entrance on one side.
Entrance and Hall- Above the entrance is a 3-headed elephant sheltered by the sacred white parasol, symbol of the Lao monarchy. The steps are of Italian marble. There are a variety of royal religious objects on display in the Entrance Hall. This room has a low gilded "throne" designed for the head monk, the Supreme Patriarch of Lao Buddhism- the king was expected to sit lower.
Kings Reception- On the right of the entrance is the King’s reception room, where 3 busts of Lao monarchs are displayed along with two large gilded lacquered Ramayana screens by Thit Tanh. The 1930 murals by Alix de Fautereau depict scenes from traditional Lao lifestyles (Gauguin style). Each wall is intended to be viewed at a different time of day, depending on the windows, to match the time the day depicted, starting with a family’s morning by the riverside, then visiting the Temple or going to market and finishing with the evening activities.
Leaving this room and going into the corridor we saw a row of large ancient Khmu metal drums (similar to the Vietnamese Sa Huyn) and a Lao screen (which matched a Chinese one the opposite end of the building). This corridor led to the impressive deep red and gold throne room. The throne is not as large as western ones, but behind and to the side had huge Japanese coloured, mirrored glass mosaics of Lao people. On the left and right were lovely mosaics of river life and hill life- shiny and beautifully made (especially the river which seems to ripple with silver). There were cases with various regalia in, some made specifically for the last king’s coronation (which never happened). These included swords, fly whisks, etc. In two small annexes were some small Buddha statues under glass domes of silver, gold and precious stones. These had been found in various stupas, hidden inside during the time of the Haw marauders and the later Siamese invasions. Both were happy to destroy religious buildings (except Wat Mai when the Haw used it as their base and the Siamese when the wat used Siamese architecture!). The Throne Room contains the Crown Jewels of Laos.
The next room to the left was once the Queen's reception room. Large Royal portraits of King Savang Vatthana, Queen Khamphoui and Crown Prince Vong Savang, painted by Russian artist Ilya Glazunov in 1967, are hung on the walls.
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In the far rooms are the Royal Family's bedrooms and living quarters. The bedrooms have been preserved as in 1975 when the King abdicated. There is a dining hall and a room that contains Royal seals and medals. There was a children’s room and various display cases showing the royal clothes, beautifully decorated, but simple in design. The family would enter the house from below using ladders. Along all the corridors were a series of paintings depicting episodes from the Vessantara Jataka.
On the left of the Entrance Hall, the secretary's reception room is filled with paintings, silver and china presented to Laos as diplomatic
gifts and grouped by socialist/ capitalist countries.
The Palace Museum, known locally as Haw Kham (Ho Kham) or Golden Hall, was built between 1904 and 1909 as the new official royal residence for the monarchs of Luang Prabang. It replaced the rambling thatch, bamboo, teak and rosewood Lao-style palace on stilts built after the Haw Black Flag marauders destroyed much of the city in 1887. The building was sited adjacent to the left bank of the Mekong, so visitors could be met there and taken directly to the palace. Unlike the former structure that faced the Mekong (and perhaps upriver from the present site), the 20th century structure faces the sacred Mount Phousi.
Built of brick and stucco instead of traditional materials, the building is a blend of Laotian and French Beaux Arts architecture and motifs that sought
to symbolise ties between Luang Prabang and the French colonial government. Primarily designed by the French and built with Vietnamese
workers, the building has two separate cruciform-style sections linked by the large throne room; exhibition galleries surround each of the sections. There have been a number of changes since its original construction; its steeply pitched roof, central Lao-type spire and the breadth of its facade were later additions and modifications. French architects originally planned a European spire over the throne room, but King Sisavangvong insisted that it be Lao-style. There are classical style columns and a number of pediments reflecting European influence, though there is Lao style decoration and brackets between the roof sections and the exterior walls of the building. After the dissolution of the monarchy in 1975, the building was reopened as the National Museum, though the royal palace designations are still generally used.
The front section that formerly contained the official reception rooms is now the main exhibition area. The entry hall, once devoted to religious ceremonies and activities, still reflects the central position Buddhism in the former Lao kingdom and shows the intertwining elements of religion and monarchy. There is the dais of the former supreme patriarch of Lao Buddhism and a variety of Buddha statues. Other front rooms contain gifts from foreign leaders and governments, including some lunar rocks from President Richard Nixon.
The throne room has red walls with intricate glass mosaics dating from the 1950s that celebrate the 2500th anniversary of Buddha entering nirvana. The room also has various royal paraphernalia, including elaborate swords and scabbards, the king’s personal howdah (elephant saddle) and precious Buddha images (including some 15th and 16th century gold and crystal Buddhas from That Makmo, the Watermelon Stupa of Wat Wisunalat).
In the rear section are the five rather simple rooms of the monarch’s private quarters, largely preserved as they were left when the last (uncrowned) monarch, Sisavang Vatthana, occupied the residence. There are the king’s and queen’s bedroom, dining room and library. One now contains an exhibition of Lao music.

Vessantara Jataka (or the Great Birth Sermon) is one of the most popular avadānas (past life tales) of Theravada Buddhism. It tells the story of one of Buddha's past lives, as a compassionate prince, Vessantara, who gives away everything he owns, including his children, displaying the virtue of charity. When Gautama Buddha visited his father's kingdom after he achieved enlightenment, he miraculously appeared in the air. Suddenly, rain clouds gathered and a red rain appeared which he explained had appeared during his last life as King Vessantara. King Vessantara was the son of Sañjaya, king of Sivirattha (Sivi-Rashtra), and was born in the capital city of Jatuttara as a Bodhisattva (enlightened being). His mother was a previous princess who wished to become the mother of a future Buddha (the first awakened being in an era). After she died, she ascended to the Celestial Kingdom and became one of Indra's consorts. When she was due to be reborn as a human Indra gave her wish to become the mother of Bodhisattva, who in his next life would achieve enlightenment. She descended to the human world as a princess and married King Sañjaya. During pregnancy, she wished to see the capital city. She gave birth in an emergency delivery at the bazaar. Therefore, the newborn prince and heir was named Vessantara, which means 'Born in the merchant quarter'. As soon as he opened his eyes, the infant asked for money to give to the poor. On the same day, a female elephant brought her pure white newborn calf to the royal palace. Vessantara grew up a kind person. His parents were delighted and supported his charity. Vessantara married princess Maddi. They had 2 children: Prince Jali and Princess Kanhajina. Sañjaya retired and Vessantara was crowned King.
One day Vessantara gave away the magical white elephant, which brought rain, to Kalinga, a neighbouring country facing a drought. The citizens of Vessantara's kingdom were worried that losing the elephant would lead to drought, so they convinced King Sanjaya to retake the throne and banish his son to Vamka Mountain. They left the city on a four-horse chariot. Along the way Vessantara gave away his horses and four deities appeared as stags to pull the chariot. Then he gave away his chariot, so the family walked on foot through a forest. Jali and Kanhajina saw fruit on high branches, but could not reach it, so the trees bent their branches for them. The family arrived at the kingdom of Ceti. The king, touched by their story, offered his throne, but the prince declined and left for the mountain. The king of Ceta ordered a hunter to patrol the entrance to Vamka Mountain, to prevent anyone from disturbing the family.
Meanwhile Jujaka, a greedy old Brahmin beggar, had a young wife, Amittada, who was beautiful and hard working. During the drought Amittada brought water from the well for her husband. The husbands of the women in the village held her up as a good example. One day, in a fit of jealousy, the village women beat up Amittada, so she refused to go to the well any more and told Jujaka to find her servants instead. Jujaka met the hunter and a rishi guarding the entrance to Vamka Mountain and tricked them. He went into the forest to the prince while his wife Maddi was away. He asked him for the two children, who Vessantara gave him. Jali and Kanha hide in a lotus pond but their father found them and asked if they would help their father. Both agreed and became Jujaka's slaves. Vessantara told Jujaka to take his children to their grandfather, saying, "The king will reward you". Jujaka said that Sunjaya would execute him instead, so he tied both children with vines and dragged them like cattle. The children begged their father to help. Vessantara reached for his weapon in his hut. However, he overcame his anger and let his children be taken. On Maddi's return she was blocked by tigers (gods in disguise). When she didn't see her children, she wandered all night looking for them and collapsed. Vessantara thought she was dead, but when he put her head on his lap he realised she was still breathing. He revived Maddi with water. She rose immediately as they had taken a vow not to touch each other. Vessantara told her what had happened. Fearing that Vessantara would give away Maddi as well, Indra came in disguise and asked for Maddi, who Vessantara gave him. Indra gave Maddi back to Vessantara in trust, for all his acts of benevolence and generosity. A god and goddess felt sympathy for the young prince and princess. They disguised themselves as their parents and made Jujaka take a wrong turn and led him to Sivi Kingdom through the palace gate. King Sanjaya saw the children and ordered royal guards to bring them. He paid Jujaka for his grandchildren. Jujaka became extremely rich, but at his first meal as a rich man, he ate so much he fell dead. Kalinga returned now the white elephant. Jali led his grandfather to his parents and the family was reunited. At this happy moment, all six collapsed. Red rain poured down from Heaven to revive them. Vessantara was crowned king again and Indra blessed Sivi Kingdom with a gem rain. Vessantara allowed people to keep some gems for themselves and the leftover went into the treasury, which he used for charity. Buddha explained that each figure had been reborn as people surrounding him.
The Vessantara Jataka is celebrated in temples during the Buddhist festival Boun Pha Vet in Laos. It is very popular in rural and urban communities, with dance and drama, parades and processions through the towns. During this festival monks read aloud the Vessantara Jataka. Because of its central role, the Vessantara Jataka is an important part of traditional folklore. Scenes of the Vessantara Jataka are engraved on Angkor Wat murals and many walls of Buddhist temples throughout Southeast Asia. Outside, we collected our shoes and bags and walked around to the right rear to see the two royal carriages, a selection of royal cars (some sad looking white Lincoln continentals with round royal crest) and an amazing huge Banyan tree with aerial roots all over and incense sticks below. We then walked back to the road and down a side alley to Heuanchan Heritage House. This house is a preserved large communal house of the Khmu ethnic group (to which our guide belonged).
He pointed out the odd numbers of steps in and outside the house. Odd numbers are considered lucky in Laos and even are considered unlucky or even dangerous. This is why many Laotians will have one or three children, but rarely two (though our guide had two girls and planned no more, so it’s probably a dying tradition). He explained that he was a typical product of the Buddhist education system. Children, especially in villages, would be able to attend Buddhist school for free (assuming it was a Buddhist villages) and learn basic literacy, maths and religion. They could then continue further education (again for free) in Thailand’s pagodas if they were willing to be a novice. In Theravada Buddhism there is no reason a man can’t be a novice or even monk for several years and then leave. Several of our guides had done this and now had families.
Amusing monk anecdote: a monk needs breakfast for strength to pray, lunch for strength to work, but no dinner. A layman needs all three because he needs strength in the night for his wife.
Buddhism and the Monastic life
A male monk, Bhikkhu literally means "beggar" and related to Buddha’s mendicant lifestyle. Full-time students became the community of ordained monks and nuns (the sangha) who wandered from town to city living on alms. This is supposed to encourage the growth of spiritual attributes such as humility and brings awareness of the mutual interdependence of human beings. Theravada monasticism is organised around guidelines found in the Pali Canon (Vinaya Pitaka). A man undergoes ordination as a novice (samanera) and is subject to ten precepts. If the novice continues to full ordination (upasampada) he is subject to a much longer set of rules known as the Patimokkha (Theravada) or Pratimoksha (Mahayana). In Theravada Buddhism ordination (as a nun) for women has not been possible until recently. Monastics take their vows for life but can renounce them and return to non-monastic life and even take the vows again later. A person can take them up to three or seven times in one life, depending on the school of discipline; after that, the sangha should not accept them again. To be ordained as a monk is a way to gain the largest quantity of merit/ karma. Men commonly become monks before they get married. This typically occurs during Pansa, Aug-Oct. In theory, this means every male has the experience of serving as a monk for at least 3 months in his lifetime. This practice is on the decrease however. In contrast to lay people, monks must adhere to 227 rules, called the Pattimoka. They cannot eat after noon, nor touch a female creature. They are not supposed to touch money, although these days it is common to see monks shopping. Items of significance include the sai sin, a sacred string used to channel the power of chanting (and energies from monks), and water made holy by chanting and drips of candle wax. This holy water is used by people to perform the yat nam, the pouring of water on the ground to give merit to the deceased, and the rot nam, when young people sprinkle water on older relations as a sign of respect.
Before the introduction of formal schooling, temples served as main education institutions. Even today, temple boys and young novices often live at the temple (novices are boys who train as monks, but are underage - you must be 20 to be a monk). Besides education, the temple traditionally played the unifying role in the village. Festivals, carnivals and important social events take place there. The temple acts as a social welfare agency, recycling donations by worshippers by giving to the needy in the form of food, clothing, and other goods.
We then took car to drive along Sisavangvong road to Wat Xieng Thong. We entered by the white entrance gate.
1.Wat Pha Baht Tai 2.Wat That Luang 3.Wat Mahathat 4.Wat Ho Xiang 5.Wat Mai 6.Haw Pha Bang 7.Wat Aham 8.Wat Munna 9.Wat Xieng Thong 10.Wat Wisunalat 11.Wat Manorom 12.Palace 13.Wat Choum Khong 14.Wat PaHuak


Vat/Wat Xieng Toung/Tong (Sim Ratsavoravihanh/ Volavihan) (Temple of the Golden City or Tree) is the oldest monastery in town and the most beautiful. One entrance is on the road along the Mekong River, the other on the by-lane off the main road on the northern tip of Luang Prabang’s peninsula and is one of the most important Lao monasteries. It is typical of Laotian art and architecture. The buildings have carved gilded wooden doors depicting scenes from Buddha's life. On the ceiling are Dharmachakras - dharma wheels symbolising Buddhist law and the circle of reincarnation. The outer walls of the sim depict Lao legends and the rear gable is decorated with a glass mosaic of the tree of life. The outer walls of the Sanctuary of the Reclining Buddha and Red Chapel are also decorated with beautiful mosaic scenes.
Wat Xieng Thong is the most historically significant wat in Luang Prabang. The low sweeping double-tiered roof (the front portico forms a third tier) and rich interior/ exterior decoration of its sim are exceptionally fine examples of classic Luang Prabang I style. The other buildings make the monastery complex an architectural gem. Xieng Thong is on an embankment above the Mekong near the juncture with the Nam Khan River. Visitors from Siam would end their journey at Ban Xieng Mene on the right bank and be ferried across to the monastery. This was the entry point and coronation site (until 1975) for the king-designate on the eve of his coronation after he had meditated for three days at Wat Long Khun. An early legend says that two hermits settled here, setting boundary stones near a notable mai thong, or flame-of the-forest tree (depicted on the rear facade) which was also the home of two powerful nagas that lived at the juncture of the two rivers. It was founded 1559/60 by King Setthathilat (Sai Xetthathilat) to commemorate a predecessor Chanthaphanith (8th century AD?), a betel merchant and legendary first king of Luang Prabang. The sim was built at the time, as were the kuti (monks' quarters). A number of gold on black stencils inside the sim recount the story of Chanthaphanith and Jataka stories from Buddhist cosmology. Setthathilat's direct association with the monastery was not long, since he soon moved his capital to Vientiane (Viang Chan). It is impossible to know its original form, since there were numerous changes to the buildings through the centuries. Fortunately it was spared destruction during the Chinese Black Flag marauder invasion in 1887. The leader of the invaders, Deo Van Tri (Kham Oun in Laotian), was in his youth a novice monk at the wat and used it as his HQ during the raiding period. Major projects took place in the 1950s and 1960s, when the funerary carriage house was built. There are over 20 structures on the grounds including shrines, pavilions and residences, in addition to its gardens of
various flowers, ornamental shrubs and trees. Many structures several deserve special attention.
H. City entrance- by way of a small lane from Sakkarine Road. There are newly built and restored traditional-style houses on either side of the lane. The entry is through a formal stupa-crowned entryway of brick and plaster near the golden Carriage House.
C. Carriage House, Royal Funerary Chariot Hall (Huhng Kiep Mien, Hor Latsalat) is at the east edge of Wat Xieng Thong and right of the city entry from Thanon Sakkarine. It was built in 1962 to house the funeral carriage of King Sisavang Vong (1885-1959), King of Luang Prabang 1904-46 and King of Laos 1946-59. It contains relics and historic Ramayana puppets that belonged to the royal family. It is a relatively tall structure with a double roof in the Xieng Khuang (Luang Prabang III) style. There is a single entry door in the front of the building, though the facade windows are of the same size and shape of the entry door. The framework is reinforced concrete. Uniquely, the facade and exterior sides are covered with sculpted and gilded teakwood panels crafted by local artisan Thit Tanh (Pae Ton). The panels recount the Lao version of the Ramayana, the Phra Lak Pha Lam. Follow Rama, Hanuman, Sita's judgment by fire, Ravana, and Indra as a golden deer. The right tympanum depicts the combat between the vulture king and Ravana.
Ravana's numerous arms hold many different weapons. Carved wooden shutters on the northwest side include depictions of Monkey King Hanuman as well as devas and devis. The 12m high gilded wooden royal carriage sits on a six-wheel truck at the entry door. It also was the creation of Thit Tanh (Pae Ton). Highly ornate, it is dominated by seven nagas with gaping jaws and prominent fangs at its prow and elaborate red canopy supported by gilded and ornate columns. Three ornate gilded sandalwood funerary urns contain the king's father (front), mother (rear), Sisavang Vong (centre).
G. Chapel of the Standing Buddha (Pointed Arch Chapel) is located south of the sim. Initially one might pay little attention as it is sited among more lavish structures. Closer examination reveals wonderful mosaic details, especially in the pediments and the dok so fa pagoda at the centre of the ridgepole. Although it has a single roof, additional lines of decoration and the four cho fa at the top suggest the image of a double roof. The current chapel dates to early 20th century, but could be a restoration from a much earlier period. The interior is dominated by an impressive modern gilded
bronze Buddha, in the Ham Nhat (Pali Abhayamudra) attitude of 'calming family quarrels' with both hands raised and palms facing outward. This is unusual as the attitude more frequently has right hand raised and left arm hanging at the side. The interior walls are red with gilded stencilling of dharma wheels and other images on the walls.
F. Sim. Of all the structures none is more striking than the sim, as both its exterior and interior are decorated with a rich grandeur. The ornate facade of the portico is an intricate combination of maroon, black and gold gilded wood in graceful swirls of flora, dharma wheels, and stencilled designs. Black lacquered pillars with gold stencilling support the roof of the portico. The stencilling recounts scenes from the Jataka and depiction of the punishment of evildoers. The doorway of the main entry and its surround are elaborate, almost to the inner roof of the portico. Side exterior walls of black lacquer and gold stencilling carry on the theme, while on the back of the sim is the large tree of life in mosaic. The elegant low sweeping roofs
are topped by a 17 element dok so fa, symbolic of royal patronage, reaching toward the heavens. The eight massive interior wooden pillars that form the main support of the roof structure are maroon with delicate gold stencilling. Black or red lacquer walls with gold stencilling are seen throughout the structure: walls, pillars, beams, ceiling, and windows. The large Buddha is set in front of an intricately decorated wall.
A. Drum Tower. The drum tower (Hor Kong) is a prominent feature of many Buddhist temples. Drum towers serve a variety of purposes, most significant is the call to prayers (early morning and late afternoon); it is also sounded for ceremonials and for other special occasions. The squat structure at Xieng Thong is not a tower in the conventional sense; some call it a chapel.
There are only 3 steps to the platform that holds the large drum. The structure probably dates from 1961. Set near the northeast corner of the compound, its swooping roof, carved gilded tympanum, stencilled embellishments and carved brackets, is complementary to the other buildings of Xieng Thong.
M. Red Chapel (La Chapelle Rouge, Haw Tai Pha Sai-Nyaat), or Chapel of the Reclining Buddha, is one of the most photogenic buildings. The exterior is covered with a red, fading to pink, stucco inlaid with brightly coloured glass mosaics that illustrate religious activities and everyday Lao life. The mosaics were added in 1957, to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's death and achievement of nirvana. The original date of the chapel is uncertain; its Buddha sculpture dates from the 16th century. It has a 3-layer roof with 18 ceremonial naga brackets supporting the lowest roof, and four delicate cho fa, ornamental finials, at the ends of the upper two layers. The 2m long bronze reclining Buddha is one of the most valuable of Lao Buddhist images. It fashioned in classic Lao style (not Thai or Lanna) and clad in flowing robes. The Buddha is lying on its right side with the right hand supporting the head. The inscription on its base indicates it was crafted in 1569 for King Sai Setthathirat. The figure was taken to Paris in 1931 for the International Colonial Exposition. Upon its return to Laos it was placed in the house of a French official in Vientiane and in 1949 transferred to Wat Phra Keo. The flame unisha (hair knot) was added at Phra Keo. Framed tapestries depicting stupa and Buddha flank the altar. The interior is decorated with gold stencils on red or black walls, and there are numerous small gold Buddhas attached to the walls. They represent the miracle at Savatti, where Buddha radiated fire and water from his body and emitted multiple projections of his form. The charming, primitive-style exterior mosaics describe a variety of scenes of traditional village life: trees, boats, carts, elephants, houses, hunting, fishing, working, playing, as well as ethereal religious scenes set higher on the walls. The mosaics relate the fictional story of Sio (or Siaw) Sawat, a son of a rich merchant, who used his wit and common sense to become an important minister.
N. Seated Buddha Pavilion. Pavilions serve a variety of purposes in monasteries, from utilitarian places to eat or shelter from sun and rain, to religious reasons to protect the monastery drum, offer shelter to a Buddha statue. The Buddha pavilions of Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Sene are particularly striking. The Pavilion is of modern construction. It harmonises well with the rest of the monastery. Its double- layer roof is supported by 4 square lotus- capped columns with naga brackets. The life-sized seated statue is in the Bhumisparsha (touching earth, or calling earth to witness) mudra.
K. Boat shelter- located in the grounds toward the west side of the river entry. Although just a plain open shed and not historical, the two handcrafted boats it protects symbolise an important part of Lao culture. The boats of Wat Xieng Thong are highly regarded because of the monastery. They are decorated with gold stencilling on black lacquer. Many Laotian wats have such boats that are used for races along the Mekong in April and October. Wats compete with each other as monks and novices build highly decorated boats of bamboo and tissue paper to use in the festival.
L. The Tripitaka Library (Haw Kawng, Haw Trai, Hor Tai) is a small chapel immediately behind the sim. Historically it served as a storehouse for the Tripitaka, the three baskets of Theravada Buddhist canon of scriptures. Although the building dates from 1828, there were earlier repositories for the sacred texts. In addition to the scriptures, the building houses several gilded Buddha images. The exterior resembles the Red Chapel with red/pink stucco inset with similar brightly glass mosaics relating scenes of local customs and traditions. There is a double-tiered roof with a lower perimeter roof supported by 16 elaborate gilded eave brackets, and an elevated gable roof with gilded wooden relief sculptures under the gables on the east and west sides.
E. River Entry. There are two important formal entries to Wat Xieng Thong, in addition to a non-descript entrance from Sisaleumsak Road on the southwest boundary. These entries provide wonderful vistas. Historically the Mekong River entrance was the most important entry to both wat and city. The broad staircase extends down the long embankment close to the water- depending on the season of the year. The river staircase extends to Souvannakhamphong Road and at that point there are two uniquely shaped and coloured guardian lions. Yet another, much shorter, stairway leads into the wat.
Golden Pagoda -the story depicted at the bottom of the wall is that of Lion (Tiger) and Pig. The story is a typical Buddhist fable- this time about helping the family & honouring mothers. A tiger sees a sow & her piglet and wants to eat them but the sow persuades the tiger to wait until she’s taught her piglet all about life and she promises to return to be eaten. However, as she prepares to return piglet realises his mum is sacrificing herself for him and goes ahead to offer himself in her place.
Phra Lak Phra Ram is the national epic of the Lao people, adapted from Valmiki's Hindu epic, the Ramayana. The epic has lost the association with Hinduism and is instead considered a Jataka Story (previous lifetime of Buddha). Phra Lak Phra Ram is named after two principal characters, the brothers Phra Lak (Lakshaman) and Phra Ram (Rama). Although the Hindu nature of the Ramayana epic was lost in Laos, it was not completely erased. Indra, Shiva, and Brahma are present. The main characters of the Ramayana remain- Sita, Ravana, Hanuman, etc. Lao culture has always been oral and visual, and oral tales were often codified into elaborate dance-dramas by the royal courts.

Kuti (monks quarters)
After visiting the complex we left out of river entrance, down the steps to the river where we could enjoy the scenes on the mighty Mekong. It was getting quite sticky and hot, so the car picked us up to drive us to lunch at the Coconut Garden. We went to the upper floor balcony and had their vegetarian lunch. http://elephant-restau.com/coconutgarden/homepage.html

MOK HET NAM MAC KREUII - ມົ ກເຫັ ດນໍາຫມາກເືຂອ
Papillote de champignons, d’aubergines et d’herbes fraîches cuits à la vapeur; Steamed Mushrooms, Eggplants and Herbs in Banana Leaf
LAAP TAHOU NAM HET - ລາບເຕາຮູ ນໍາເຫດ ົ໊ັ
Salade de Pleurottes, de Tofu et de Soja aux Fines Herbes; Laap Salad Made from Tofu, Oyster Mushrooms, Bean Sprouts and Fresh Herbs
KROUA SEN LONN NAM NOR MAILLE - ຂົ ວເສັ ນລ້ ອນນໍາຫໍນໄມ້
Sauté de vermicelle de riz aux pousses de bambou, aux champignons noirs, aux juliennes de légumes et aux œufs Fried Glass Noodles with Bamboo Shoots, Mushrooms, Mixed Vegetables and Eggs
KENG MAC EEI NAM KADRIC - ແກງຫມາກຶອ ນໍາກະທິ
Soupe au potiron cuite dans un lait de noix de coco Pumpkin soup cooked in coconut milk
JAEW MAC LENN - ແຈ່ ວຫມາກເລັ ນ
Concassée de tomates et de piments grillés; Concassee of Tomato and Grilled Chili KHAO CHAO LU KHAO NIAO - ເຂາຈາວ ຫຼ ເຂາຫນຽວ
Riz gluant ou Riz blanc; Sticky Rice or Steam Rice
TORD MAC KHOUA NAM KHEUI MAC NAT-ທອດຫມາກກ້ ວຍນໍາຂ້ ຽວຫມາກນັ ດ
Beignets de banane croustillants arrosés de sirop d’ananas; Crispy Banana Fritters with Pineapple Syrup
A note on Laap (aka larb, larp, lahb): this Lao mixed minced meat salad is the Laos national dish. Although the word was originally a Lanna (Thai) word meaning mincemeat, now the word is taken to mean good luck. A note on greetings: we learnt very quickly that the Laos say Sa-bai-dee to say hello (with a polite head nod or even a nop (both hands together like a prayer) and loved it when we said it. Not many people outside the cities spoke English anyway (or even Laotian if they were from an ethnic minority). Totally different to Vietnam who were keener on a handshake to say hello and generally spoke some amount of English.
After lunch we were driven back to the hotel for a rest. We had a nice dip in the pool and rest before heading out in the late afternoon. Turning left from the hotel and walking along Manomai road we came to Wat Manorom.
Wat Manorom (Manolom, Vat Mano) Sattharam is just outside the remnants of the old city walls south of the city and on the site of one of the earliest Khmer Buddhist missions, with a founding date in the reign of Sam Saen Thai (1373-1416), the son of King Fa Ngum, or 1491/2, during the reign of La Saen Thai. It was certainly an important shrine because it housed the Pra Bang (1502-13) before it was moved to Wat Wisunalat. The sim was reconstructed in 1818, but destroyed by Haw marauders in 1887. The present sim, 1972, is the tallest in Luang Prabang. The grounds of an earlier wat, Xieng Kang, are behind the sim. The sim has an important Buddha image as a focal point in the nave. The statue was cast in bronze (1370) in the reign of Sam Saen Thai in Sukhothai-Thai style rather than Khmer. Its form became an inspiration for Lao sculptural art. The 2-ton sitting statue is in the Bhumisparsha Mudra of touching the earth and victory over Mara. The oldest large Buddhist statue in the city, for much of its history it sat outside the sim. It was damaged in 19th century Franco-Thai fighting, when its arms were destroyed.
Walking straight through the wat, we continued on the road towards the double wats of Aham and Vixoun.

Wat Wisunalat (Vixoun, Visounnarath, Wisunarat) was built during the reign of King Wisunarat (Vixoun 1501-20) in 1513 and represents the earliest style, Luang Prabang Style I temple architecture (as were the sims of Wats That Luang and Mai). Wat Wisunalat is Luang Prabang’s oldest operating temple. There are multiple roof structures. The 1st and 2nd roofs extend around the entire perimeter of the structure. Located and adjoining Wat Aham to southeast, it was built on the rice fields of the guardian spirits of the city (devata luang) Pu No and Na No (Phou Nheu and Nha Nheu). The sacred Prabang image was housed in the sim 1513-1707 (when it was taken to Vientiane). The original highly ornate wooden sim is a spectacular example of Lao craftsmanship and one of the more imposing religious structures of old Luang Prabang. It had a double roof with the upper roof raised high above the lower. Twelve pillars support a 30m roof. There were 21 windows with turned wooden balustrades. Much of the sim was destroyed by the Chinese Haw Black Flags marauders 1887. The sim was rebuilt 1896-98 during the reign of King Sakkarin Kamsuk (1894-1903) in a style similar to the old sim with numerous massive wooden beams, window placement and style of the roof, albeit the major part of the structure was brick and plaster in place of wood. The window balustrades attempt to capture the flavour of the older turned wooden balustrades of the original sim. The sim is today a museum of religious art. An important and prominent feature is its unique That Pathoum (Stupa of the Great Lotus) in front northeast side, known popularly as That Makmo/ Watermelon Stupa because of its rounded dome. The dome stylistically reflects Sinhalese influence and is the only stupa of such a shape in Laos. It was originally erected 1514, destroyed by the Haw Black Flag 1887, and reconstructed 1932.
Wat Vixoun, Watermelon stupa, gateway between Vixoun and Aham
Wat Aham (Monastery of the Opened Heart) lies adjacent to Wat Wisunalat. The date of its founding is not known, though there was a wat there before King Manthatourath (1817-1836) constructed the present Luang Prabang style sim in 1818. The sim is a simple form with porches on the southeast and northwest facades and no external lateral galleries. Stucco tigers guard the front entry steps, and statues of temple guardians Ravana and Hanuman stand at the south and east corners of the front porch. Unlike other Luang Prabang sims, there is no external decoration on the porch walls.
The sim has a triple layered roof with two segments above the primary roof structure. There are a number of mildewed stupas on the grounds as well as two large Bhodi trees where there is a shrine of the royal spirit protector, Haw Phi Khon. The interior of the sim is bright. Pillars and beams are painted red and gold, while the walls are covered with murals of Buddhist theology and historic events of the city. The site on which Wat Aham stands saw religious conflicts and tensions in the 16th century. Fa Ngum (1353-73), a Lao prince raised at the Khmer court, established a tutelary shrine to worship the guardian spirits of Luang Prabang (devata luang), Pu No and Na No (Phou Nheu and Nha Nheu). Fa Ngum made Theravada Buddhism the state religion. In 1527 King Photthisarat (1520- 48) banned worship of the guardian spirits, destroyed their shrines and erected a
Buddhist monastery on the site. Shortly after the city was beset by disease, drought and crop failure; in the popular mind the destruction of the shrines had brought disaster. King Sai Setthathirat (1548-71) moved the capital to Vientiane in 1563 and the spirit shrine was rebuilt. It was destroyed in the mid-20th century. The spirits of Pu No and Na No had by this time achieved embodiment in two large banyan (bodhi) trees in the monastery grounds. Such trees are identified with the Enlightenment of Buddha. For much of the 19th century, before Wat Mai, Wat Aham served as the residence of the Sangkhalat, or the Supreme Patriarch of Laotian Buddhism. The small structure on the grounds continues to hold ancestral wooden ritualistic masks associated with the guardian spirits. During Bun Pi (Mai Pimay), the Laotian New Year, the masks play an important role in the Dance of the Masks.
After visiting the wats, we headed towards Nam Khan river and walked along between the riverbank and the back of Mt Phousi. We couldn’t see the river well for all the bars! Along Kingkitsarath road until we got to the back of Mt Phousi when we turned left towards the junction of Sisavangvong and Sakkaline Rds, then left along the main road. We stopped at a nice bakery for a banana chocolate cake and beer- yum at http://luangprabang-bakery-guesthouse.com/menu.html before heading back to the hotel past Dara indoor market (Luang Prabang’s oldest market).
This Lao/Chinese/Vietnamese market is 30 years old. Returning to the hotel, we relaxed by the pool until 5:30pm and our trip to the night market. We had to negotiate the "guess when and where you'd like a pick up” before setting off. We were dropped off by Joma bakery / post office as the main road is closed to traffic at night. First we set off down the pedestrian streets of morning market. It was still foodstuff in general but so different to the morning. The food was mainly cooked and lots of people were eating at makeshift street cafés. It was only 6:40pm and much too early for us so we looped around to the main market. An amazing array of things! We had a look at everything first- aluminium from bombs turned to ornaments & utensils like cutlery, earrings, scarves (silk), purses, bags, cotton skirts & dresses (inc some men wearing them!), blankets, embroidered duvet covers and numerous other things. At the end, by the Palace side our guide suggested we eat in the outdoor balcony of The Blue Lagoon (and said he'd arrange the pick up from there). An inspired choice as both the food and ambiance were great. http://www.blue-lagoon- restaurant.com Blue Lagoon Restaurant, Ban Choumkhong. When we'd finished (buffalo steak and rosti for me, Laap for Steve) we decided to go back to the night market. First Steve bought a library book as a donation, then I got two beautiful embroidered skirts (Hmong), a duvet cover (Hmong as Khmu only do blankets cos live lowlands), and a bag embroidered with their history of crossing the Mekong- embroidering their history is common to the (H)mong.
We headed back to the restaurant for our pick up. On the way back a hotel was pointed out to us. The Villa Santi Hotel was established in 1992 by a Lao businessman, Santi Inthavong, who had married a former Lao princess and they had renovated her former royal mansion.
Local specialities include:
French baguettes and bakery items.
Local watercress, very peppery.
Fried dried seaweed with sesame seeds dipped in a chilli sauce. Buffalo steaks and sausages.
Luang Prabang Khao Soi: spicy clear mince and noodle soup
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Posted by PetersF 19:28 Archived in Laos Tagged temples buddhism laos wat prabang luang lao 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)

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