Vientiane’s Buddhist Temples & Shrines
Start at That Luang, Laos’ most sacred religious structure. See Vat Sisaket, constructed in 1818, and is the only temple that survived the Siamese invasion in 1828. Step into Vat Phra Keo, constructed in 1565, to house the Emerald Buddha. That Dam, a city landmark constructed in the 16th century, is the home of a seven-headed serpent. Look around Vat Ong Teu, erected in the 16th century by King Setthathirath. One block west on Setthathirath Road, Vat Inpeng with a façade and ceiling adorned in gold designs and paintings.
Around Lane Xang
That Luang: Place That Luang on top of your Vientiane sightseeing list. The country’s most venerated monument has a history dating more than 2,000 years, when it resembled a brick kiln about 9 metres tall. In 1566, King Sayasetthathirath built That Luang, which is thought to contain a Buddha relic. It was restored in 1953. Today the stupa stands 45 metres, and its golden centrepiece resembles an elongated lotus bud. Every year, the That Luang Festival is held in November.
Location: To reach That Luang, travel on Lane Xand Boulevard past Pathuxai Monument. Continue northeast on the centre road towards to permanent That Embassy. Continue on Kaysone Phomvihane Road to the stupa. You can take a tuk tuk, cycle, or a motorbike, as it’s a healthy walk from town.
Vat Sisaket: Stop into the only Vientiane temple that that survived the Siamese invasion in 1828. Constructed in the “Old City” by King Anouvong in 1818, Vat Sisaket’s multi-tiered roof stands on 20-plus pillars as it has for some 200 years. Inside, row after row of shelves display 6,840 Buddha images. The temple’s Hor Trai Library, holds several Buddhist manuscripts dating to the 18th century.
Location: From the Presidential Palace at the base of Lane Xang Boulevard, cross Setthathirath Road and turn left to the entrance to Vat Sisaket.
Vat Phra Keo: Step into Vat Phra Keo and its museum with a great view of the Presidential Palace and garden. Constructed by King Sayasetthathirath in 1565, as his personal place of worship and to house the Emerald Buddha, which remained there until 1779, and was lost to invading Siam in 1828. The temple was destroyed, and rebuilt in in 1936, but monks never returned to reside there. The temple was converted into the Hor Phra Keo Museum in the 1970s, and houses the nation’s finest collection of Buddhist sculptures and artefacts.
Location: Cross back over Setthathirath Road from Vat Sisaket, and continue to the next corner, Monosot Road, where you turn right. The entrance is on the right.
Vat Si Muang: Explore the colourful Vat Si Muang with a majestic gate opening to grounds displaying several golden Buddha images. The bizarre roof structure on the gong tower attracts plenty of attention, as does the saffron doorway under a large mural that opens the way to the meditation hall. Inside stand decorated columns, murals high on the wall, and a shrine in which a Buddha image sits. Vat Si Muang was built at the site of the original city pillar in 1556. Buddhist followers believe the temple guards the spirit of a local pregnant girl, named “Si”, who jumped to her death as a sacrifice, when the pillar was lowered into place. The golden temple annually attracts crowds to the colourful Phasat Pheung (Wax Pavilion) procession held two days before the That Luang Festival in November.
Location: Vat Si Muang sits at the junction of Setthathirath and Samsenthai Roads near the Don Chan Palace. You can take a tuk tuk or easily ride a cycle to the temple.
That Dam: Stop and ponder That Dam (Black Stupa), a city landmark that remains untouched near Lane Xang road and downtown. The stupa was erected in the 16th century as the home of a seven-headed, which protected Vientiane and the Lane Xang Kingdom. It survived the 1827 Siamese invasion, and remains intact and is covered with living vegetation in the centre of a traffic circle near downtown.
Location: That Dam can be accessed via Rue Bartholonie from lower Lane Xang, or turn right from Lane Xang onto Samsenthai, and take the first right.
Downtown & The Riverside
Vat Ong Teu: Stop at an oft overlooked 16th-century Vat Ong Teu built by King Setthathirath and still sitting in the shade in the heart of town. The small, all-gold monastery houses an ebony Buddha called “Phra Ongteu”, the largest in Vientiane. The Siamese destroyed the temple during the 19th century, but it was rebuilt shortly after by the French. The temple then became a school for Theravada Buddhism. It is now the national centre of Buddhist studies in Laos, and a visit reveals book-toting monks, who are often willing to chat.
Location: Vat Ong Teu sits on the river side of Setthathilath Road between Francois Ngih and Chao Anou Roads.
Vat Impeng: While strolling around town, step through an ornate temple gate with a multi-tiered roof into the grounds of Vat Impeng. A lion-like statue greets you to a peaceful garden with a Buddha sitting in His own small cupola. The entrance to Vat Impeng’s meditation hall has a greenish tint decorated in gold, while the interior features golden shrines and murals depicting Buddha’s stories.
Location: Vat Impeng sits one block west of Vat Ong Teu on Setthathirath Road.