Vientiane boasts several beautiful temples or wats, but one of the most impressive and interesting of them is Wat Ho Phra Keo. It was originally constructed in 1565 as the Lao royal family’s personal chapel, and as a home for the Emerald Buddha after it was snatched from northern Siam (Thailand). This sacred jade statue was reclaimed by the Siamese in 1778 and now sits in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. Even without the Emerald Buddha, however, Ho Phra Keo is well worth a visit. The only part of the old royal palace that has survived, the temple is no longer used for religious purposes and is now a museum. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, as it is often known in English, is richly adorned with carved wooden features, a magnificent 16th century lacquered door with Hindu carvings, numerous Khmer stone carvings and a variety of Buddha statues. The stone balustrade of each of the temple stairs features a dragon with its head facing the grounds, guarding the sacred building. The shady, well-kept garden is an oasis of calm that offers a welcome respite from the sun and a quiet place to meditate or simply rest.
- The name Ho Phra Keo means ‘Altar of the Emerald Buddha’, in reference to the fact that only the altar remained when the statue was removed
- It is also sometimes spelled Haw Phra Keow, Ho Prakeo or Ho Phra Kaew. English-language guidebooks often refer to it as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
- The temple was first built on the grounds of the royal palace in 1565, but was destroyed in the Siamese invasion of 1828-29.
- Prince Souvanna Phouma, an engineer and future prime minister of Laos, directed the reconstruction of Wat Ho Phra Keo between 1936 and 1942.
- Although it is relatively new, the Bangkok-rococo style structure has a distinctly traditional look.
- On its veranda you will see some of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture in Laos.
- The interior of the temple is now a museum that houses many Lao treasures such as a gilded throne, Khmer Buddhist stone tablets, wooden carvings, bronze frog drums and palm-leaf manuscripts.
- The entrance fee is less than a dollar.
- The neatly tended garden contains colourful flowers, lush green lawns and charming statues set among the shady trees.