Luang Prabang is renowned for Buddhist temples of outstanding beauty with Wat Xieng Thong an outstanding example. A symbol of great historic importance, this magnificent masterpiece is characteristic of the Luang Prabang style and features an elaborate tree of life mosaic, intricately carved walls, rare Buddhist deities and a 12-metre high funeral carriage. Also known as the ‘Golden Tree Monastery’, Wat Xieng Thong acts as a gateway to Luang Prabang as it is strategically situated close to where the Mekong joins the Nam Khan River. This site is famous as the location for the coronation of Lao kings and as an important gathering place for significant annual festivities. The original temple was created in 1560 under the royal instruction of King Setthathirath and narrowly missed invasion on several occasions, nevertheless time took hold and much-needed remodelling took place during the 1960s. The temple still remains in its original form with repairs undertaken to the roof, and gold leaf gilding and gold lacquering restoration added to the walls and entrance.
A superb piece of Lao temple architecture, Wat Xieng Thong presents a sweeping two-tiered roof and ornate mosaics including a beautiful ‘tree of life ‘glass montage on the rear temple wall. The tree portrays the tale of the founding of the temple which legend states was by two hermits who decided to create the sanctuary next to a large flame tree where the rivers met. The story continues inside with dharma wheels depicted in gold on the ceiling. Relics include a rare reclining black Buddha dating back to the reign of King Setthathirat displayed in the Red Chapel. The Buddha image was showcased in Paris in 1931 before being returned to the temple in 1964 and it is considered to be extremely unique. Additional highlights of Wat Xieng Thong are the drum tower, the Triptaka library added in 1828 and the central sim or ordination hall which dates back to the founding of the temple in 1560. One of the more unmissable exhibits due to its sheer size is the remarkable funeral carriage which was once carried through the streets of Luang Prabang containing royal ashes, the royal urns with ashes inside reside close by with a naga or serpent king statue guarding them. Nagas and other mythical statues complete the elaborate decorations at exquisite Wat Xieng Thong.