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