Khammouane: Buddhist Temples & Shrines
That Sikhottabong Stupa: Ponder a 1,500-year-old towering shrine to Buddha. Thakaek’s iconic 29-meter-high, golden-tipped That Sikhottabong Stupa stands as one of Laos’ most sacred sites. The Sikhottabong Empire built the original Mekong Riverside shrine around the 6th century for the safekeeping of Buddha relics. They also erected That Ing Hang Stupa in Savannakhet Province and Thailand’s That Phanom, for the same purpose at the same time. The Khmer Empire soon made its way to the area and remodelled the stupa in Hindu style. Lane Xang Kingdom’s King Phothisarat and King Saysethathirath refurbished it in the 1500s to its present form.
A government-designated “Cultural Village” greets visitors to the stupa’s compound. From here, a path leads to a sizeable statue of 8th century King Sikhot, who ruled over the central Laos expanse. Continue walking along a palm-lined passage to That Sikhottabong and its respected position on the Mekong. Before leaving, take time to relax at a refreshment stand hidden under trees in a colonial-era temple’s lawn.
For those in Thakaek during the full moon of the third lunar calendar month (usually in February), be sure to attend the That Sikhottabong Festival during which people from all around Laos come to pay homage to this hallowed religious site.
Location: That Sikhottabong is located on the Main Road, about 5 km south of Thakaek. You can reach the site by tuk tuk, motorbike, or bicycle rented in town.
Sandalwood Buddha Cave: Journey into a distant corner of Cave Alley to Tham Pha Chan (Sandalwood Buddha Cave), where the Nam Don River’s resurgence stream cuts hundreds of metres into a limestone mountain. The enormous entrance delivers you to a domed rock cathedral with a small monastery displaying several Buddha images on a ledge that is 15 metres above the cave’s floor. The most prominent and revered statue, a sandalwood (mai chanh) Buddha, after which the cave received its name, stands among them.
Monks once inhabited the cave, but villagers now use the underground sanctuary for meditation and religious celebrations. During the Lao New Year Festival in mid-April, hundreds of local people flock to the cave to sprinkle its waters on the sacred sandalwood Buddha’s head.
From Tham Pha Chan, you can walk or drive to Meuang Phone Stupa and an adjacent Buddhist shrine. This stupa was built by the Sikhottabong Kingdom (6th century) and later refurbished to its present form. Every year at the beginning of March local people organize a festival at the site.
Location: From Thakaek, travel a few km past Xieng Liab Cave, where a turn north leads to Tham Pha Chan and Meuang Phone Stupa. The road is rough and the ride takes some 90 minutes. It is recommended you book a tour with a travel agent in Thakaek.