KING SETTHATHIRAT WAS THE MAN
The King (1534-72) was thought of us one of the greatest leaders in Lao history and his statue stands proudly at the entrance to That Luang, the most sacred statue in Laos, which he actually constructed. He erected many monuments during his short reign, and it is a wonder where he found the time to build them as he was busy fighting the Burmese who had taken Chiang Mai and Ayuttaya. He protected and held on to his kingdom, Lan Xang against the invaders. The great king was murdered by a conspiracy at the young age of 38 and left a toddler as his heir. The Burmese carried the toddler off to Burma and after many years of protests by the Lao people he was finally released in 1591 and crowned king in Vientiane.
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THE MONUMENT & THE OFFICIAL SEAL OF LAOS,
That Luang or the Great Stupa is the most sacred monument in the country and its image is on the country's official seal. That Luang is around 45 m tall and when you approach it, it looks more like a fort but it contains two temples, the main stupa being covered in gold. It is typical Lao architecture with a Buddhist influence which include red-lacquered doors, pointed lesser stupas, images of Buddha, flowers and animals.
King Setthathirat constructed the monument on an old Khymer ruin in 1586 and changed the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. The Burmese, Chinese and Siamese partly destroyed That Luang during the 18th and 19th centuries, but the French restored it at the turn of the 18th century.
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DON'T BE SCARED OF THE 7 HEADED NAGA
That Dam means black stupa and you will find it at a quiet roundabout just off of Lane Xang Avenue (not far from Talad Sao and the American Embassy). Originally it was believed to be coated in gold but the ravaging Siamese carted off the gold in 1828, so that is apparently why it is now called the black stupa. The stupa is reputed to contain a 7 headed naga, which is a deity in the from of a snake.
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Talat Sao mall and market.
Housed in a new(ish) building, another monstrosity handed down from the Soviets, there are 3 or 4 floors to browse around here. Much the usual rubbish and Chinese plastic you can find anywhere in SE Asia, much better to go to the local markets. Although I was surprised that the couple of exchange bureaux inside gave a better rate than the touts on the outside. Given as a morning market it is pretty much open all day and is worth a visit for the colour and also it lies midway between the Presidential palace and Patuxai on the same avenue.
Wat Ho Phra Keo, Vientiane.
This wat is right next to the Presidential palace and opposite Wat Si Saket. Originally constructed in 1565 as a home for the Emerald Buddha, that was stolen from the Siamese. The Jade Buddha, reclaimed in the 1770's, now sits in the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok its rightful home. The Siamese finally destroyed the temple in 1827 and it took a further 110 years to start the reconstruction. Inside the temple is now a museum and has some beautiful parquet flooring with many statues and carvings and gilded throne. You'll find also some unusual statues in the well-kept garden.
Open every day from 8h00 to 12h00 and 13h00 to 16h00, cost is 5.000 Lak.
Wat Pha That Luang, Vientiane.II
Useful to know that every Sunday, visitors as well as locals can get themselves a free lunch, just by the Wat That Luang Tai. Food and drinks are served by local women at a stand and also women serve the elders that come into the sala. A donation of course can be made.
Wat Pha That Luang, Vientiane.
Probably one of the loveliest sites in Vientiane is the Wat Pha That Luang. First built around 1560, it was destroyed twice by the Siamese. Re-built in 1828 by the King Anou the main stupa is 45 metres high and is supposed to contain a hair of Buddha, completed by a cloister of over 50 metres each side. The "Supreme Stupa" as it is called is revered by the Laos and features on the banknotes and is part of the national coat of arms. The stupa itself is surrounded by many buildings including the new Hor Dhammasabha convention hall and two temples. In a small garden there is also a reclining Buddha. We had bikes on rent that day and used them to get out here as it quite far from the centre and mainly uphill. Tuktuks charge around 6.000 LAK for the trip.
There is an entry fee of 5.000 LAK for entry into the cloister, but the rest of the grounds are free.
Open between 8h00 and 12h00, afternoons from 13h00 to 16h00.
Interesting hint - Every Sunday lunchtime there is free food to be had. Just by the Wat That Luang Tai, to the south of the stupa, at 12 midday food and drinks are served to from a stand. There are even women serving the elders that sit in the sala. A very convivial atmosphere as everyone is accepted.
Night market, Vientiane.
The night market here in Vientiane is almost as good as the one in Luang Prabang, and I found the stallholders friendlier. on the whole. Running between Fa Ngum street and the Mekong it is quite interminable but with a lively atmosphere. Plenty of stalls with clothes and souvenirs but no food stalls except for a couple of trolleys on the street. Usual bargains to be had, Ben Sherman shirts at 3€ and "genuine" ebony statuettes at 5€. There is a childrens park too at the end near the Chinese temple. Generally sets up at sunset around 18h00 and closes down at 22h00. Well worth a stroll in the balmy evening air.
Wat Si Saket, Vientiane.
Built in the early 1820's Wat Si Saket is the oldest temple in Vientiane and was lucky to be spared by the marauding Siamese in 1827, probably to to having a distinctive Siamese (Thai) style. It has been restored a couple of times in the last century and also partly as recently as 2010. There is a lovely garden where we managed to have lunch on our 2nd day in Vientiane alongside some novice monks.
There is a small museum in the centre of the complex costing 5000 LAK per person, but we didn't enter.
Lao National Museum.
Housed in a French colonial house, this is quite an eclectic collection of items, ranging from dinosaur bones through to the struggle for Independance and move to Communism. The exhibition of UXO's are also thought provoking. Also quite a few clothes and jewelry from the different ethnic minorities, numbering 49 in PDR Lao. All in all it's not very well laid out and very austere, but admission price is only 10.000 LAK (0,90€) so can be considered a worthwhile visit. In the surrounding garden there a couple of magnolia trees in full bloom and also one of the jars from the Plain of Jars can be seen.
Museum is open every day except national holidays from 8h00 to 12h00 and 13h00 to 16h00
Important point is that no bags or cameras are allowed inside and must be put into lockers at the entrance. You do get to keep the key during your visit.
That Dam, Vientiane.
Not really a to-do sort of place as you can only walk round the outside. But it is situated on a quiet roundabout on the corner of the American Embassy and does have two Laotian legends attached to it. The first that there is a dormant seven-headed Naga that lived here and rose up to protect the city against the ravages of the Siamese in 1828 and the stupa is still revered because of this by the people. This, although the stupa is crumbling and sorely neglected.
The other legend is that the stupa was once covered in gold, that was stolen by the same Siamese during the same Laotian/Siamese war. Hence its now known as the "Black Stupa".
One good thing here is at one side of the stupa is a small garden owned by a Japanese and used as a café/breakfast shop. Called the "White Cats coffee house and Orchid garden", they do a splendid Mango fruit shake (See the menu on the pic below)
Vientiane's own Victory gate or Arc de Triomphe can be found quite easily being at the opposite of Lane Xang avenue to the Presidential palace. Originally called Anousaveli the 5 domed arch is dedicated to the soldiers that fought in WWII and also against the French in their war of Independance. Apparently built with American cement in the years 1957-69, that was supposed to be used for a new airport. The Laotians had other ideas. The Pathet Lao, coming to power in 1975 re-named the monument Patuxai. You can climb right to the top of the seven floors by using one of the staircases beneath the SW pillar. Admission cost is 5000 LAK (0.40€).
Wat Chan(thabuli), Vientiane
Generally known by its shortened name this wat is part of a group of 4 that are not generally on the tourists path. This one is easy to find as it sits on Fa Ngum, the street that runs alongside the Mekong and is close to the night market. Very peaceful and quiet as it a working temple, so please be respectful of the monks and the buildings. The main Sim houses a bronze Buddha with the entrance guarded by the ever-present Naga snakes. Next to it is a drum tower, protected by a meditating Buddha sheltered by the seven-hooded snakes called Mucalinda. There are also other beautiful buildings to see from the outside without intruding.
TIP - In the main garden there are toilets that can be used, although they are unmarked, they are easy enough to find.
Ho Prakeo temple and museum
It is among the most significant temples in Vientiane only across the street from Wat Sisakhet. With its display of many ancient Buddha sculptures and religious script imprinted in stone it becomes one of most venerated places which is in the same time a small museum.
There are lots of details worth looking at from the outisde and inside, it is fine example of Lao craftmanship and architecture.
For more history read below page.
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notable reliefs and roof of Wat Haysok
Hidden behind wall protecting it from direct views and motor traffic, this is the temple with impressively steep multi-layered roof. Its courtyard is most pleasant, leafy, shaded and as it's the case with temples - it's all quiet place, perfect for contemplation. Only sometimes you'll see its doors open, though. Outside you can hear and see many birds in the crowns of the trees, listen their singing... it's beautiful.
Nevertheless, sit down by the table and make a note to your book or write sentences to a postcard or letter. There are few monks, novices and kids around; they may as well you something more about temple if you ask kindly.
Wat had been recently renovated, so its golden reliefs from Ramayana epics, mixed within local historic conext look very good on the window sceens. By the enclosure, few golden statues stay and lay below large banyan tree; furthermore... stupas with 'bone' and 'dust' of deceased taking final rest in peace, alligned by the edges of temple, as the tradition suggests.
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