Vat Xieng Thong


Vat Xieng Thong is a vat (monastery) situated at the tip of the peninsula on which Luang Prabang is located. In 1560, King Setthathirath constructed it in memory of King Chanthaphanith. In 1928, it was restored at the request of King Sisavangvong; the woodwork that was replaced at this time was made in the Royal Palace workshops. In 1960, it was restored again.

There are about twenty structures within the complex. The most important is the vihan (sanctuary). As Laurent Rampon has written, "The tiered roof forms a single harmonious line, flaring more than is usual and sheltering three central bays, augmented by two aisles. The plan of three naves and a single porch makes the structure unique, while the covering wall mosaic of blue glass and gilt reflects the city's rivers and royal past. During each restoration, artists were instructed to faithfully reproduce the existing interior murals to ensure the continuity of Vat Xieng Thong's spirituality" (Luang Phabang: An Architectural Journey (Vientiane: Ateliers de la Péninsule Co. Ltd., 2004), p. 109). The stenciled images in black and gold on the interior walls of the vihan relate stories from the life of King Chanthaphanith. The images on the exterior walls recount the legends of Thao Sisouthone and Thao Souttasom. The back facade is adorned with a glass mosaic of the bodhi tree set against a red laquered wall.

Vat Xieng Thong also includes five chapels. The red chapel houses a bronze sculpture of the reclining Buddha, which was cast in 1569 by King Setthathirath. The glass mosaic mural on the exterior walls, which was created when the chapel was restored in 1957, depicts the story of the justice delivered by Sieo Savath. The funerary chapel, built in 1962, houses the funeral cart and ashes of King Sisavangvong. Its doors are adorned with scenes from the Ramayana, and they are wide enough for the cart to enter.

In addition, Vat Xieng Thong includes other structures. Two that (stupas) are located at the southern entrance to the complex. A bell-shaped that is situated on the axis of the vihan, and a carafe-shaped that is to the north. There are also drum shelters and gates at the entrances. Outside the main gate, stairs lead to the Mekong River. During the monarchy, the king would arrive in Luang Prabang and enter the city through Vat Xieng Thong by ascending these stairs.