The closest English can come to translating “wat” is with the word “monastery” or “temple,” but neither fully explains its significance. As the focus of Luang Prabang town, a wat is the religious center, meeting place, school, and house of healing. The temples include various buildings serving religious and administrative tasks. Despite the unusual surroundings, the traveler can easily identify the main structures: the two main ones are the Assembly and Ordination halls. They clearly are the most elaborated structures in the compounds. The Assembly Hall features one large central room where the main Buddha image of the temple is, a preaching chair is located nearby. The pointed roofs feature flat tiles in two or three layers and are considerably larger than the structure below them. Carved woodworks are applied generously between the pillars and the beams. Naga serpents are a popular motif. The Ordination Hall is the place where religious ceremonies take place; the public is not allowed into this area.
Each wat is unique, but they all conform to a basic traditional design. Separated from the secular world by an outer wall, wats encompass an entire compound, complete with monk’s quarters, a bell tower, relic chambers, and an ordination hall, or “sim.”
Luang Prabang is a very small town and is best explored by bicycle. We wanted to check out some of the sights so we decided to hire bikes. We cycled around the town and stopped at every wat that we passed by along the way. All the temples was actually pretty impressive.
Wat Choum Khong Sourintharame (Monastery of the Core of the Gong):
*”The small but attractive Wat Choum Khong or 'Monastery of the Core of the Gong', was founded by Phakhu Keo in 1843, during the reign of King Sukaseum (1836-1851). The sim was restored in 1933 and 1951, and its decoration was entirely remade in 1962.
The doors and added windows in particular were the special project of the Venerable Houmpheng. The sim has also been renovated on several additional occasions in the more recent past.
Wat Choum Khong?? is located northeast of the Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang's heritage zone. The name 'Choum Khong' is derived from the raised boss in the center of a bronze gong, from which, it is suggested, the sim's central Buddha figure was partially made.”
A unique feature I came across at Wat Choum Khong were two Chinese entrance guardians (often called door gods) at the entrance of one of the buildings. The grounds of the wat are quite attractive with considerable flora in both container and in-ground plantings. There is a fine well-outlined garden area in front of the sim with gilded statues,?? drum tower and chapel. The wat shares a common wall with Wat Xieng Mouane, and the sims of the two monasteries share a similar pattern of pillars and fa??ades. Choum Khong has a double-sectioned roof that is divided at the point of the tallest front columns; the roof lacks the common ornamental dok so fa (nhot so fa) on the ridgepole.
*”Wat Manorom (Manolom, or, popularly, Vat Mano) Sattharam is built on what is regarded as the oldest site in Luang Prabang, Laos. A temple of some sort has already been standing here since the 14th century. The present Wat Monorom monastery dates from 1818, although the original burned down in 1887 and was fully restored in 1972. The original Wat Monorom was built by noblemen for the intention of keeping the ashes of King Sam Saentai (1373-1416), the son of King Fa Ngum (1353-73). Within the original 14th century sim was a 6-meter high statue of a bronze Buddha. That 12-ton Buddha statue was destroyed when Luang Prabang was plundered in 1887. Nevertheless, it was restored in 1919. In 1971, the statue was further embellished, with repair work in cement and lacquer, and painted over with gold leaf.”
Wat Nong Sikhounmuang
*”Wat Nong Sikhounmuang is one of the bigger temples in Luang Prabang. It was built in 1729, during the reign of King Inta Som (1727-76), but was razed in a fire in 1774. The only thing salvaged from the fire was a bronze buddha statue. A full restoration was carried out in 1804 by the Thais, thereby introducing some Thai elements to the design.”
*”Wat Sensoukharam was built in 1714 by someone called Tia Tiao during the reign of King Kithasarat (1707-25). The most distinctive feature of this monastery is its maroon walls which are richly ornamented and stencilled in gold. The sim has a four-tier roof. On both sides of it are richly ornamented windows, each with four carved balusters. On both sides of the windows are apsaras or deities standing on mystical beasts.
Within the compound of Wat Sensoukharam are several other shrines and chapels as well as the monks’ living quarters. Close to the main entrance are stupas. Another outstanding structure within the compound is the Chapel of the Standing Buddha. The interior of the sim is painted maroon and extensively stencilled in gold, covering walls, columns and ceiling.”
*”Wat Wisunalat is the oldest temple in Luang Prabang that is still in use. This monastery is regarded as the symbol of the kingdom’s unity. Located at the corner between Wisunalat Road and Phommathay Road, Wat Wisunalat is named after King Wisunalat (1501-20) who built it between 1512-1513. It is often also called Wat Vixoun, after the name of Vixoun village. Wat Wisunalat is one of the more significant temples in Luang Prabang, The Prabang Buddha was housed in its sim (main hall) from 1513 until 1707, when it was taken toVientiane. The Prabang Buddha has since returned to Luang Prabang, and is now kept inHaw Kham, the Royal Palace Museum in the centre of Luang Prabang.
Another important and prominent feature of the wat is its unique That Pathoum, or Stupa of the Great Lotus, in the front and northeastern side of the sim. It is known more popularly as That Makmo, the 'Watermelon Stupa' because of its rounded dome. The dome stylistically reflects a Sinhalese influence and is the only stupa of such a shape in Laos.”
Stupa of the Great Lotus
Wat Xiengmouane (Monastery of joyous town)
*”Wat Xiengmouane founded by Phragna Sisonxay in 1865, during the reign of King Chantarath (1851-72). In the beginning, it was called Monastery of Melodious Sounds, due to the harmonious sounds of its gongs. Later on, it was given another nickname, Monastery of Joyous town.
There is also a vocational school within the compound of Wat Xiengmouane. This school was started by Unesco and funded by a grant from the government of Norway. Its purpose is to teach the novice monks the traditional arts and crafts such as lacquer work, stencilling, painting, glass mosaic, wood carving, sculpture and other ornamental works for the Laotian temples.”
This is the first installment of a 2-part series about Temples (Wats) of Luang Prabang. Click here for the second part
*Info’s from asianexplorers.com