The Wats of Luang Prabang    

Wat Maysouvnhnapuoumaram is right off the main street. I was attracted by the beautiful gold relief work covering the front exterior walls. Images of daily activities as well as animals and buildings popped out from the wall. A row of animals marched on the lowest level-- a rhino turned his head so his front horn projected outward. Some parts were flat but other parts, like the roof eves of a wat, stuck out quite a ways.

Gold relief work of Wat Maysouvnhnapuoumaram
The doors were lined with filigree. A roof beam had scenes from what looked like a legend. The ceiling was red with gold stenciled designs. The columns were also stenciled.

The interior was more somber with red walls decorated by a belt border of gold stenciling. The side walls had rows of tiny gold Buddhas rising from them 11-23 rows on each wall.

There was a large gold Buddha statue who presided over the interior looking down with mother of pearl eyes on visitors and the multitude of statues surrounding him. Around the walls were gongs and old carved wood pieces-- perhaps old doors.

Buddha statues at Wat Maysouvnhnapuomaram
We'd seen Wat Sensookharam on a TV program about heritage preservation and sustainable tourism. A man was walking around it pointing out gold painted statues and SUVs parked on the grounds. He said the use of gold paint, concrete, terrazzo (fake marble tiles) is all new and before the gold would have been gold leaf. The problem, he said, was monks were required to accept all offerings and people gave gold paint, concrete, terrazzo and even bathroom tiles. He recommended a list of “acceptable offerings” that would fit into historic restoration efforts. This aside, I really liked the gold paint stencil work (they also used silver) Even if it is a cheap alternative to carved wood images, relief, or gold leaf stencils, I think it still is a beautiful art technique.

Wat Sensookharam

Wat Sensookharam

Door of Wat Sensookharam
There was a boathouse on the grounds with 2 wooden longboats, probably more than 50 feet each. Some of the buildings were very recent. I think the drum platform (with a car parked beneath) had 2000, or 2002 on it. Many buildings had graceful Naga roof struts. There were some other structures with Buddhas inside as well.

Buddha at Sensookharam
The panel on the TV program pointed out that heritage is fluid and you have to allow some change as well as remembering it is a living city. So you have to let people live in it-- not just keep it a sterile museum.

Wat Xieng Thong, the Royal City Wat has lots of mosaic work on several of the buildings including one with lots of animals, one with lots of people (including some carrying what were probably baskets but I joked were backpacks and the mosaic was about tourists). The back of the main building had a tree of life with birds and animals in its branches. The mosaics were made from colored mirror pieces which reminded me of disco balls. Once again I'm wishing I'd studied up on architecture so I could write more intelligently about what I see. There were 2 main buildings, sims, I think they are called. The tree of life one had stenciled designs and fabric tube lanterns hanging from the eves. It had a roof with 3 levels. On the inside the curved wooden roof beams were visible as were the backs of the tiles on top.

Royal City Wat tree of life mosaic

Disco flower

Mosaic detail from Royal City Wat complex

Detail from mosaic
The inside seemed a bit dusty and cluttered even though it did have a large Buddha surrounded by smaller ones for people to pray in front of. But there were several statues in ornate carrying boxes-- probably used for festivals which were stored there among other statues and gongs. Wooden naga water festival things were stored in the rafters. Ceiling fans cooled the structure.

Interior of sim

Buddha face and columns
The other large structure had beautiful gold wooden carvings on the exterior and just a single roof. This was definitely used for storage. Inside was a wheeled platform with huge gold nagas about 20ft long with a carved urn underneath a canopy. Along the walls were cases with Buddhist icons, statues, floral offerings, now dried and falling apart and many wooden standing Buddha statues clustered along the back wall.

Royal City Wat Sim


Carvings on exterior
Back outside we watched novice monks painting the shutters of one of the monastery buildings. A lot of the wats have cleaning, restoration and repainting projects going on to tidy up the wats in honor of Songkran, the Thai/Lao New Year's celebration which will be happening soon.

Monk painting shutters
Wat Pa Phai (Paphaimisaiyarain) has a beautiful ornate doorway with gold birds. Inside there were lots of stencils covering the walls. I wish I knew what they were supposed to represent, or rather what story they were telling. One section had lots of animals. Another showed weird torture scenes so I think it portrayed hell (people being boiled in a pot, hung from hooks, etc.)

Wat Pa Phai

Stenciled wall in Wat Pa Phai
Inspired by the TV program about UNESCO, we searched for the UNESCO Heritage House. This was a couple traditional houses: one was an office/visitor center, the other—still in the process of being restored would one day be a museum. Two rooms were open and contained an exhibit of photos of craftsmen/women and their work.

The houses were down narrow streets which lead behind the crowded storefronts on the main road into a quieter secret feeling neighborhood. In front of the Heritage House, is a wat where they teach monks traditional arts so they are able to do restoration work. We saw just one monk working on a carving. I think it is an interesting approach and a good one for conservation when they provide locals with the skills to maintain and restore historic buildings. I was noticing how even in the cheap hotel we are in there are beautiful wood floors and a fabulous stairway of dark heavy wood.

Monk working on wood carving
The Royal Palace has an ornate wat in front of it. I especially liked the carving on the door which showed various animals simultaneously being predator and victim.

Royal Palace Wat

Wat at Royal Palace interior

Carving at wat
We had a pleasant dinner with Martin and Beatrice, an intelligent, friendly, and well traveled, couple we met in Vang Vieng (where intelligent conversation is a rare thing) talking of life, economy, traveling, work, tourism, etc.

Dinner with Martin and Beatrice

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