Going by the numbers

Around the breakfast table it was decided: the next day we’d visit some of the wats we’d passed on our walks. Wats are Buddhist monasteries or temples. We don’t know how many wats are in Luang Prabang, but our 15 day visit would not be long enough to see them all. We found a list of the most important wats and started there. How far would we get?

The most important is Wat Xieng Thong, built in 1559 and extensively renovated since. This was one of the few wats to escape damage from Chinese invaders in 1887. Wat Xieng Thong also had the distinction of being the wat of the royal family until 1975.

We spent time in the building on the grounds housing not only the royal funerary carriage, but also a collection of very old religious paintings.

Decoration and story telling were achieved using colorful glass mosaics and images of Buddha.

The exterior of the sim (the main place of worship) is decorated in gold with a black background. The visual effect in sunlight is stunning.

We rounded the corner of the sim to see one of those perfect photographable moments: a bride and groom in traditional dress and posing for photographers, with a mirror-tiled elephant head peeking out from the wall. With the sparkly tiles, the scene looked ready for the wedding celebration.

Wat Aham is the second most important temple and that surprised us.

Wat Aham was built in 1818 and seemed a very modest temple. So, why was it so important?

There was previously a shrine on the site of the current temple dating back to the 14th Century. The shrine was dedicated to the guardian spirits of Luang Prabang. Two hundred years after it was built, the shrine was destroyed and a Buddhist temple built. It is believed that the guardian spirits continue to live in the two banyan trees in front of the temple.

When we visited we had no idea the importance of the trees – and now the mystery is solved.

That day we only had time and energy to visit three wats. At that pace, we would have to extend our stay in Luang Prabang by quite a few weeks to make a visit to all the wats in the city.

Visiting places of worship as we travel has always been helpful in understanding so much more than the religious practice of the people. It’s a window to their history, architecture, and art.

Seeing the two most important wats in Luang Prabang was a rewarding day for us.


January 2018

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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8 Responses to Going by the numbers

  1. The artwork is magnificent. Looks like your day was a great success and I can see why 15 days won’t be near enough time to see everything you want. Maybe a return visit in the future? Anita

  2. icelandpenny says:

    My favourite image: not the bride & groom at Wat Xieng Thong, but the elephant in that same photo…

    Entirely unrelated, just my curiosity: with such sustained, and thoughtful, travel, what now is your definition of “home”?

    • What is “home”? No place really and yet, when we visit with family in the US there is a sense of belonging. Not home, exactly, but that’s as close as it gets. We were never the kind of people who took trips and after a few weeks say we were ready to go home. Being together and seeing wonderful new places has a greater draw for us than home.

      • icelandpenny says:

        Yes, I think I understand that. I asked, because when living overseas, I’d see some expats so seriously disoriented, no longer with a sense of truly belonging anywhere, and somehow emotionally/psychologically scattered in their own sense of self. But you seem grounded, oriented, with your travels and your visits back to the USA perfectly in harmony with who you are & what fulfills you. I am so happy for you!

  3. LuAnn says:

    Luang Prabang is on our list. Thanks for the great tour.

  4. The decoration of the temples is lovely, especially the mosaics. Places like these really celebrate the talents of craftspeople.

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