Otherwise known as the “Temple of the Golden City”, Wat Xieng Thong is a highly revered Buddhist temple situated on the banks of the Mekong River. After my horrendously boring boat journey from Chiang Rai to Luang Prabang (nice scenery, true, but for 2 whole days?!), I needed something to focus my mind on for when I arrived in the sleepy city of LP – and Wat Xieng Thong was certainly up to the challenge!
At first you think Wat Xieng Thong is merely a small temple, but upon closer inspection, you will see that there are dozens of buildings within the complex, each with its own special purpose. There are shrines and pavilions, a funeral chapel, and even a ceremonial barge. The gardens of Wat Xieng Thong are also very impressive, and this is not something you see written about too much online or in guidebooks. Regrettably, I didn’t take many photos of the greenery around Wat Xieng Thong – my excuse is that I was too interested in the architecture of the temple buildings…
With constructing supposedly ending in 1560 under the supervision of Lao King Setthathirath, it is interesting to note that there is no photographic evidence of this temple from that era, but it was remodelled in the 1970s the give it the resplendent appearance we see today. It seems Wat Xieng Thong is a true backpacker favourite – those that make it LP will always make a visit to this Buddhist temple, and many backpackers I know speak very highly of it. While it may not be as large and grandiose as some temples in Cambodia (erm, ever heard of Angkor Wat?) or even Thailand (Ayutthaya), Wat Xieng Thong still has a charming mystique about it that attracts the “Culture Vultures” among us!
Wat Xieng Thong was also a royal palace up until the latter stages of the 20th century, where kings of Laos would be crowned and granted their power. You can sense the history of the place when you walk around the grounds; the architecture in particular looks very ‘royal’ and fit for a King. On top of all that, there is an added bonus of Buddhist monks living on site here, and they are constantly preaching to the Ramayana inscriptions which are on the walls of some of the buildings. Lao monks always seem more playful than their Thai counterparts. I don’t know why that is, of even if that’s the case at all – it’s just what I seem to have noticed.
There is a famous Tree of Life mosaic that is crafted on to a door at the back of Wat Xieng Thong which is a famous symbol of modern day Laos. There are always crowds of people taking photos of this mosaic while at the same time shielding themselves from the unrelenting sun.
Just as a final thought, I will warn you that there is not too much shade here at Wat Xieng Thong, and I began to get very dehydrated, so perhaps it may be better to plan your visit to the temple to coincide with the sun going down in the late afternoon.