Archive for the 'Laos' Category


Luang Prabang, Laos: Wat Xieng Thong or the temple of the golden city

Wat Xieng Thong is regarded as the most beautiful temple, not only in Luang Prabang but one of the most exquisite in all of Laos. The name Wat Xieng Thong means Monastery of the Golden City. Located close to the tip of the Luang Prabang peninsula, where the Nam Khan flows into the Mekong River, Wat Xieng Thong was built by King Setthathirath in 1560, during the golden years of Lan Xang Kingdom. It gracefully sloping roof and glass murals epitomise the classical Luang Prabang style of temple architecture.

Wat Xieng Thong was the principal Wat in Luang Prabang. It was patronized by the monarchy right up to 1975, when the monarchy was dissolved. It was here that the kings were crowned and granted their power. The sim of Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most richly ornate in Laos. The front façade and the columns within are richly stencilled with gold leaf. At the rear of the sim is a golden Buddha image. Going to the back of the sim, you can see a mosaic depicting the Tree of Life.

Adjacent to the sim of Wat Xieng Thong is a smaller building which the French called La Chapelle Rouge, and thus was translated into English as the Red Chapel. Housed within it is a unique reclining Buddha image with the robe curling outward at the ankle. This Buddha figure had even been exhibited at the Paris Expo in 1931, after which it was taken to Vientiane, and was only returned to Luang Prabang in 1964. On the outside of the Red Chapel is an interesting mural showing rural life in Laos.

A short distance diagonal from the sim, and facing the same courtyard, is another ornate structure. The façade is richly carved and layered in gold leaf. This structure houses the funerary chariot of King Sisavong Vang, built in 1960. The funerary chariot occupies almost the whole of the interior. On the carriage are replicas of the casket of the king, queen and the king’s brother. At the back of the building are a few Buddhist figurine in the standing pose.

The main entrance into Wat Xieng Thong is on the northwest at Thanon Manthatourath (Souvanhakhampong Road), facing the Mekong River. Alternatively, one may enter Wat Xieng Thong through Thanon Phothisalat (Sakarine Road), the main road in Luang Prabang, through a white stucco archway.


Spirituality in Laos, The Pak Ou Caves

There’re cool limestone caves located on the steep rock cliff rising vertically from the waters of the Mekong River, at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou rivers. The craggy mountains scenery is breathtaking with overhanging cliffs above the swift flowing river. The best attractions here are the two caves full of Buddha images of varying styles, ages and sizes. The lower cave called Tham Ting, or Tham Leusi contains a hermit of Leusi statue. The other noteworthy cave is called Tham Theung (upper cave), or Tham Prakachay. The caves can be reached by a 2 hours boat trip, upstream from Luang Prabang. Alternatively you can go by a soonthaew, that will bring you to the opposite bank of the river, where boats will be waiting to take you to the other site.

Tham Ting Cave has been in use for religious purposes from the earliest times, before Buddhism was introduced to the region. The Mekong River valley was inhabited since the middle of the 8th century. At that time, the local people worshipped the spirits of nature called Phi. Tham Ting Caves was associated with the river spirit. Buddhism only spread to the Mekong River valley much later. By the 16th century, Buddhism was embraced by the Lao royal family, and Tham Ting Caves received royal patronage from then until the monarchy was dissolved with the establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975. A long flight of stairs lead steeply up the cliff towards the Lower Cave, and from there continues by the side to the Upper Cave, which is 60m above the river. The Lower Cave is prominently visible from the Mekong River. There are approximately 4000 Buddha figurines within Tham Ting Caves, of which approximately 2500 are in the Lower Cave.

Many of the sculptures in Tham Ting Caves were the work of artisan under royal commission, and were created between the 18th and 20th centuries. A number of the Buddha figurines was placed there by worshippers. Most of these are carved of wood or moulded from tree resin, and then covered with red or black lacquer, and finally covered with gold leaf. There are also a few made from animal horn, bronze or ceramic.

The figurines are made in several different poses, of which three are the most common. The “Calling for Rain” pose shows a standing figure with the arms pointing downwards. The “Calling the Earth to Witness” pose depicts a seated figure with one hand extended downwards. Finally, the “Meditation” pose shows a seated figure with the hands crossed in front of it. Less common but also found here are the “Stop Arguing” pose, where the Buddha figure is standing, and has both hands extended outwards. The “Reclining Buddha” is similarly not commonly seen in the cave.

There are offerings of flowers, incense and candles on an altar closest to the entrance. Within the Lower Cave is a small spring. The water from this spring is regarded as holy, and is used for the annual Laotian New Year ceremony.

The Upper Cave is located at the top of another long and steep flight of stairs, accessible from the Lower Cave. There is a wooden frieze enclosing the entrance of the cave, with a wooden door for visitors to enter. Beside the entrance is a sculpture of a disciple of the Buddha. The Upper Cave extends some 54 m into the dark interior. On the left of the entry is a wooden water channel which is used for the ceremonial washing of the sculptures.


Vientiane, Laos: The surreal Buddha Park (Xieng Khuan)

Buddha Park, also known as Xieng Khuan is a rather grotesque sculpture park located 25 km southeast from Vientiane, Laos in a meadow by the Mekong River. It may be referred to as Wat Xieng Khuan although the park is not a temple.

The name ‘Xieng Khuan’ means ‘Spirit City’. The park contains over 200 Hindu and Buddhist statues. The park was built in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat. He was a Laotian monk who integrated Hinduism and Buddhism and later fled from Laos to Thailand after the revolution in 1975.

The statues are made of cement and are ornate, and sometimes bizarre, in design. The statues appear to be centuries old, though they are not. There are numerous sculptures of Buddha and characters of the Hindu lore. There are also sculptures of humans, gods, animals, and demons.

One notable sculpture resembles a giant pumpkin. It has three stories representing three levels: Hell, Earth and Heaven. Visitors can enter through an opening which is a mouth of a 10-foot-tall demon head (3,0 m) and climb staircases from hell to heaven. Each story contains sculptures depicting the level. At the top, there is a vantage point where the entire park is visible.

Dominating Buddha Park is a gigantic reclining Buddha which has become something of an icon for Vientiane.


Luang Prabang: A Buddhist Town of Alms Giving

Alms giving in Luang Prabang 

Luang Prabang is a small town near the confluence of the Mekong River and its tributary the Nam Khane. The Lan Xang kingdom unified the country of Laos in the 14th century and Luang Prabang became its capital. The town since then has been known as a Mecca for Theravada Buddhism, also known as Hinayama Buddhism. The influence of this early form of Buddhism resulted in 80 monasteries in the town.

It is 6 in the morning. The monks are doing an alms-round: a morning practice. People in town come out to the street and wait for the monks. Luang Prabang has approximately 16000 people and around 1200 monks, almost 10% of the total population. The alms processions of Buddhist monks take place every day. The townspeople are devout Buddhists, they place sticky rice into the alms bowls.

The people say: The monks represent the Buddha. They inspire good deeds and are a way of venerating ancestors.

The food received during the alms round is to become their breakfast. Meals are taken twice in the morning, after midday they are only allowed to drink water.



Travel Magazine “Grands Reportages”

Cover 'Grands Reportages' January 2011

The French travel magazine “Grands Reportages” published in his January 2011 edition an overview of Buddhist destinations.

“Travelling on Buddhist land” is a stunning publication with amazing photography and detailed information about my favorite Asian destinations such as Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

The January 2011 edition of “Grands Reportages” is for sale in the better bookshops and costs 6,00 €.

I can advise this magazine for each passionate photographer and traveler.

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