Ancient temples in Vientiane

Vientiane’s temples were known throughout South East Asia as places of culture and Buddhist learning during the golden era of the Lane Xang Kingdom, 450 years ago. During this golden era (1560-1893), there were more beautiful temples in Vientiane than in other countries in the region. Today, at least 200 of these still stand.

The temples stood in formation during the Lane Xang era when Vientiane was prosperous. There were four long rows of temples along the Mekong running from the southeast to northwest along the eastern bank, according to records from Italian missionaries Fathers Marini and Leria who lived in Vientiane from 1642-1647. They wrote in their notes that the city held 80-120 temples. These were not all within the inner city walls, and temples lined the Mekong, including the west bank in present-day Thailand, then part of the Lao capital.

According to the book “Vientiane in the Lane Xang Epoch Volume II” compiled by former Deputy Minister of Communication, Transport, Post and Construction, Mr Himmakone Manodham, Vientiane originally bore the name Nakhonviengchanhsisattanak, and was capital of the Lane Xang Kingdom for 290 years.

Located along the Mekong River, the city was rich in architecture, art and cultural artefacts symbolic of Lao society at that time.

Nakhonviengchansisattanak was built on the twin beliefs of Buddhism and Hinduism held by its people. Temples have stood in Vientiane’s villages throughout its history, although no evidence existed of their number and location until records were made by early foreign visitors.

In designing Vientiane, town plans were set out during the reign of King Souliyavongsa Thammikarath (1638-1690) forbidding houses or temples from being built to face west across the Mekong.

Buildings had to be constructed parallel with the direction of the flow of the river, but Vat Sisaket was an exception to this rule, having been built in 1521 under the name of Vat Sane, long before the reign of King Souliyavongsa.

After King Souliyavongsa Thammikarath, temples in Vientiane along the Mekong faced either northwest or southeast, while temples in Luang Prabang all face in a northerly direction. Horphakeo in Vientiane also faces northwest, in the direction of the upstream Mekong.

If you visit Luang Prabang province, you will see more than 100 temples standing side by side along the Nam Khan River.

Because Vientiane was prosperous during the Lane Xang era with beautiful temples and centres of learning, Siamese and Khmer monks and novices often studied Buddhism in Laos for at least 10 years.

Fathers Marini and Leria wrote in their book “There are a number of strong kingdoms in the East Asian countries; one which is not widely known is called Laos or Lane Xang.”

In the past 450 years, temples were built in four rows running along Fa Ngum Road, Setthathirath Road and Samsenthai Road, along the city’s rice fields close to these roads.

Along Fa Ngum Road there were Vat Chan, Xiengnheun, Kang (the present day Lane Xang Hotel), Sisoumang, Phiavat, Siphom, Thatnoi, Phidanesane, Thatkhao, Sakhuan or Sakhuang and Khamlien or Khamliem temples.

Archaeologists believe that Phiavat and Siphom temples were established by the Phuan people, because the temple names are the same as those in Khoun district, Xieng Khuang province.

Many of these temples have not been found. Of the first row, Chan, Xiengnheun and Phiavat temples remain for visitors who are interested in observing traditional art and architecture from 450 years ago.

Between Setthathirath and Samsenthai Roads there were Phabang, Haysok, Sibounyeun, Phakhao, Sisaket, Hortaykham, Yordkeo, Phapho, Phaxay, Sakheu and Phaphaeng temples. Only Haysok, Sisaket, Phapho and Phaxay still remain; the rest have not been found. Today, houses and offices are built on these sites.

Temples in the fourth row were scattered along the city’s rice fields. These included Sisoumon (present day Lao Plaza Hotel), Phom-akhan, Huangpheung (now the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications), Pounhon, Simoungkhoun, and Phonalam (present day US Embassy) temples. All of these temples were destroyed during invasions by the Siamese. The oldest temples in Vientiane are Sisaket, Simeuang, Chan, Phiavat, Inpaeng, Ongteu, Phapho, Phaxay and Nongbon. These temples were recorded in the history of Vientiane 450 years ago.

Source: Vientiane Times