Wat Si Saket

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Wat Si Saket entrance

Visiting Wat Si Saket on our last day in Vientiane was indeed a great idea! Wat Si Saket is one of the must-visit temples in Vientiane as it is the oldest Buddhist temple of the town still standing, still is in its original form, and it has the oldest monastery in the country.

HISTORY

Built by the Siamese in 1818-1824 on the order of King Anouvong (aka Setthathirat V), the last King of Laos’ Lane Xang Kingdom, as his  private monastery, Wat Si Saket architecture is early Bangkok-Buddhist-style mixed with King Anouvong’s unique style. The SI in the name derives from Sri, a Sanskrit title of veneration which was prefixed to the name of the Wat Saket in Bangkok.

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A seat reserved for use by the monks

Wat Si Saket is one of the very few temples that survived the attack and destruction by the Siamese armies during the Siamese-Lao war of 1828, when Vientiane was looted and burnt. The temple compound was later used by the armies of Siam as their headquarters and lodging place, perhaps thanks to its features, a surrounding terrace and ornate five-tiered roof, that helped to keep it safe. The subsequent French colonial government refurbished Wat Si Saket in 1924 and again in 1930.

THE BUDDHA STATUES

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Famous for thousands of tiny Buddha images seated in different postures

Wat Si Saket is most famous for its walled cloister and galleries containing thousands (the number of them is not certain) of tiny Buddha images seated in different postures. This is a kind of open-air museum; these images come in all sizes and are made from wood, ceramic, stone and bronze, dating between the 16th and 19th centuries.

THE ORDINATION HALL (SIM)

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Wat Si Saket SIM ordination hall

This inner building, located in the center of the cloister, is reserved for use by the monks. Its ceiling is decorated with relief mouldings, a popular Lao religious architecture in the early 19th century. It can be visited but not photographed as the flash lights may further damage the murals; long rows of niches in the cloister walls  contains small silver Buddha statues, usually in pairs – similar to those of the outside cloister walls, and ancient dry-stucco fragile murals depicting scenes of the Buddha lifetimes adorn the interior wall. Moisture and capillary salt deposits badly damaged the paintings over the times, and a restoration project funded by the Embassy of Germany is under way. A main Buddha image seated on a high pedestal is sided by large images of Buddha seated in the Bhumisparsha mudra. The multi-tiered Sim is decorated with Naga decorative elements.

OTHER STRUCTURES

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Wat Si Saket gardens

Wat Si Saket compound houses many interesting features including a museum and a Ho Trai – a library with important texts – set on a stone platform and featuring Burmese-style roof. The temple grounds host lovely surrounding verandas, several stupas, a drum tower, a wooden cabinet where the Tripitaka ancient Buddhist manuscripts were kept, and an open pavilion sheltering a large seated Buddha image. Highly skilled craftsmen fashioned lovely sculptures such as a Khmer-style Buddha seated on a five-metre long beautifully detailed wooden naga snake, which will make art enthusiasts happy. A glassed storage room contains lots of broken Buddha images discovered during excavation works. Next to the cloister is a more recent kuti, or monks and novices sleeping quarters.

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An artist in the Wat Si Saket compound

Overall, Wat Si Saket gave us an excellent overview of Buddhist architecture in Laos. The place is shady enough thanks to the many tropical trees there, and is still a charming place of study and worship to this day, which makes it special as you can still come across many locals that go to pray and make merit as well as to offer food to the monks. Dress modest and ensure women wear long skirts. Sarongs are available at the entrance.

Wat Si Saket is located on Lan Xang Road, at the intersection with Setthathirat Road, right across the Presidential Palace. This location used to mark the centre of the old city. You can walk there from most of Vientiane main central hotels, or hop on a tuk-tuk for about 20,000 Kip per person. Wat Si Saket opens daily from 8am to noon and from 1pm tp 4 pm, entrance fee is 5,000 Kip per person, a minimum of 1 hour visit is advised.

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Restored section of cloister

Asian Itinerary was kindly accommodated by Ibis Vientiane Nam Phu Hotel during their whole stay in Vientiane.

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About the author

Thomas has a university background in the UK and in Latin America, with studies in Languages and Humanities, Culture, Literature and Economics. He started his Asian experience as a publisher in Krabi in 2005. Thomas has been editing local newspapers and magazines in England, Spain and Thailand for more then fifteen years. He is currently working on several projects in Thailand and abroad. Apart from Thailand, Thomas has lived in Italy, England, Venezuela, Cuba, Spain and Bali. He spends most of his time in Asia. During the years Thomas has developed a great understanding of several Asian cultures and people. He is also working freelance, writing short travel stories and articles for travel magazines. Follow Thomas on www.asianitinerary.com

View all articles by Thomas Gennaro