Bolikhamxay’s Buddhist Temples & Shrines
Vat Phabath houses a huge footprint of Lord Buddha. Across the road sits Vat Phonsane, believed to be a sacred site where Buddha once took his meals. About 5 km from Pakxan Town, Vat Don Soung presents a series of colourful religious buildings. Vat Dan Soung’s compound is spread over a massive rock floor. Bolikhamxay also boasts Laos’ latest discoveries of Buddha images.
Vat Phabath & Vat Phonsane: Meet a pair of temples that present a giant Buddha footprint and the once-a-year appearance of the “Naga Fireballs”, about an hour from Vientiane.
In 1933, locals discovered a 2.4x1.2-metre Buddha footprint near an old stupa, and built Vat Phabath around it, decorating the walls with colourful murals. Over the decades, people on a journey have stopped to make merit by placing gold-leaf on the phabath (Buddha footprint) or coins in it. Next to the footprint, you can see what the future holds at the “Wheel of Luck” with 180 animal species on the spinning board. The caretaker can interpret your fate. Every year, usually in mid-January, the temple holds the Phabath Stupa Festival to pay respect to Buddha’s footprint.
Across Route 13, Vat Phonsane sits on the knoll of sprawling green Mekong Riverside grounds, and is believed to be a sacred place where Buddha once took his meals. A short climb over a wooden bridge brings you to the temple with its large golden Buddha and a gong that believers rub for luck.
However, the temple is better known as the Lao vantage point for the annual Bang Fai Phayanak Festival. During October’s full moon, coloured balls pop from the Mekong’s surface, and fly 10 to 15 metres into the air. Legend holds that the naga serpent king, Phayanak, fires a salute to Buddha at the end of Buddhist Lent. Only a few believe the scientist, who thinks they are a lunar event triggering the release of gas from decomposing natural material from the river bed.
Location: Vat Phabath and Vat Phonsane sit across from each other on Route 13 about 2 km from the Ban Na turnoff to Phou Khao Kwai National Protected Area, and about a 1-hour drive from Vientiane on the way towards Pakxan.
Vat Dan Soung: Explore Vat Dan Soung and its compound spread over a massive rock floor. You’ll find curious-looking buildings, large Buddha images, flower gardens, religious relics, the remains of an ancient stupa, and a holy pool.
Location: To reach Vat Dan Soung, drive north from Pakxan Town on Route 10 along the Nam Xan River for about five minutes.
Found Buddhas #1: “After visiting the hot springs about 14km east on Route 8, we returned to Lak Xao and headed north on a bumpy road to the Nam Yeung Dam. About 5 km later, we reached Sop Kham Village and a house holding a birthday baci ceremony. An older man greeted us with the key to one of Bolikhamxay’s latest discoveries…39 Buddha statuettes found under a Nam Yeung River rock in January 2012 by a man named Sai.
The gatekeeper opened a small wooden shed in the corner of the yard. Inside stood a wooden cabinet he unlocked with a second key. And there they were, standing on shelves covered with an elegant white cloth. After admiring the find and giving time to my colleagues to pray, the doors closed, and I saw Lao newspaper clippings with pictures of the Buddhas on the wall. I asked if any foreign tourists had seen these yet. “No,” he said, only locals have come.” Bernie Rosenbloom
Found Buddhas #2: On 9 March 2012, Mr Mai from Pakxan District’s Ban Thoua Village was looking for a fishing hole along the Huap Pa Fa River. He claims a crow landed near a riverside cave, and at that spot, he noticed a small Buddha image protruding from under a stone slab. He returned to the village, and told six friends, who helped him move the rocky lid. Bingo! More than 30 old Buddha images, including three made of gold.
They brought them to Mr Siengsy, who oversees Vat Thoua Beng in Ban Thoua, so locals can make merit to this religious windfall. And there the Buddhas stand today, on elaborately decorated shelving in the temple’s corner. Mr Siengsy thinks the discovery is important for the village as it brought happiness, and could bestow good luck.
Location: Vat Thoua Beng is located on the Huap Pa Fa River Road that starts in Pakxan Town.