Xieng Khouang’s Buddhist Temples & Shrines
Walk an easy trail to Vat Phiawat’s distinguished sitting Buddha that survived Indochinese War bombings. Built in 1576, That Foun is said to cover Buddha’s ashes brought from India. Nong Tang Lake opens the door to the Tham Pha (Buddha Cave) underground maze.
According to the “Muang Phuan Chronicles”, the Tai Lue migrated to the area of Khoun District 1,500 years ago. They established a small kingdom, Muang Phuan, in the 13th century. Over the subsequent 200 years, Muang Phuan evolved into a centre for Buddhist art and distinct temple architecture. French historian Paul Le Boulanger, author of “Histoire du Laos Français” (1931), described the “opulence of the sixty-two pagodas and their stupas. Khoun Town, south of Phonsavanh, was heavily bombed during the Indochina War, but some of the sacred shrines still hold their ground, as they have for hundreds of years.
That Chompeth: For more than 500 years, That Chompeth Stupa has overlooked Khoun Town and the Nam Ngiap River valley from its shrubby hilltop perch. Time has taken its aesthetic toll on the ancient monument, but it remains solid under a carpet of vegetation. A diamond once topped the sacred stupa, but is long gone, possibly pilfered by Haw invaders during an 1874 raid.
Location: Turn left off the Phonsavanh Route at the east end of town. The turnoff to That Chomphet is 200 metres on the left before the intersection.
That Foun Stupa: Built in 1576, around the same time as Vientiane’s That Luang, That Foun stands alone on a knoll scathed only by time. Believers say That Foun covers Buddha’s ashes brought from India. A tunnel through the base presents visitors with a cool channel to examine the inner construction of precisely placed bricks.
Location: That Foun is about 200 metres before That Competh on the same road.
Vat Phiawat: Admire this massive Buddha prominently sitting amid the bombed out remains of its 400-year-old temple. A short trail leads from the main road on the eastern edge to Vat Phiawat’s distinguished and sizeable sitting Buddha that surprisingly survived the bombing relatively intact. Unfortunately, the air raids reduced the surrounding temple to a handful of brick columns and a portion of a wall.
Location: The trail to Vat Phiavat starts at the eastern end of town at the intersection with the Nam Ngiap River Road.
Buddhist Treasures at Nong Tang
Place Nong Tang on your must-see list, as the town on Route 7 and its immediate environs present the ruins of ancient Buddhist temples, a cave complex housing hundreds of Buddha images, and a peaceful lake with soaring limestone karsts as a backdrop.
Before the Indochina War, Muang Sui Town, now called Nong Tang, sat quietly near a lake. Beautiful Buddhist temples and shrines, some dating to the 14th century, stood alongside French buildings, but today, only the ruins of Vat Mixay, Vat Ban Ang, and Ban Mong Stupa remain.
These are well-worth a visit before embarking on short journey to the Tham Pha (Buddha Cave) underground maze. A large sitting Buddha, alleged to be 1,200 years old, greets visitors inside the entrance, before the amply-lit cave expands into a limestone labyrinth. Follow the web of rocky walkways that lead to chambers holding stashes of Buddha figurines still hiding from 19th-century Haw bandits.
Location: From Phonsavanh, follow Route 7 west for 48 km to Nong Tang Town and its lake. To reach the caves, pass the lake, turn left at the “Buddha Cave” sign and follow a 3-km paved road.