Life for most people in Vientiane revolves around the temple. Buddhism is an important part of the culture and most men will spend at least some time as a monk during their lives. As well as being a place where people meet, eat, pray, and receive blessings, the main festivals also generally centre around the temples.
Folklore, religion and history combine in the stories behind many of Vientiane’s temples. The oldest and one of the most fascinating is Wat Sisaket.
Set in shady grounds, the temple itself is a beautiful building which was commissioned by Chao Anouvong, whose statue now looks over at Thailand from the park bearing his name. Wat Sisaket was built in the early 19th Century as his own private monastery but just a few years after it was finished, Vientiane was destroyed by invaders. Nowadays, at this busy crossroads, it’s hard to imagine the sight that greeted the French explorers when they arrived in the city in the 1860s and found Wat Sisaket standing alone, surrounded by jungle and the rubble of the old palace and temples.
It is unusual, both because of the eclectic mix of Buddhist building styles, and the placing of the main building, or Sim. Traditionally, temples run parallel to the river but this one was built at an angle, so that when the king prayed, his feet pointed towards the Mekong. The Sim has a five tiered Thai style roof, whilst over the library, where the ancient Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka, used to be kept, it is Burmese. Why this temple survived is open to conjecture. Maybe because of the Thai design of the Sim, or the proximity to the palace, the invading soldiers used the temple as their barracks. Whatever the reason, it alone was saved.
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