Wat Si Muang is one of Vientiane’s most popular sites of worship, and offers a fascinating insight into how old animist beliefs have blended seamlessly with Theravada Buddhism. According to local legend, when the temple was being built in 1563 a young pregnant woman named Si Muang volunteered to sacrifice herself to appease the angry spirits. She threw herself into a hole in the ground where the building’s central pillar was to be placed, and was crushed when the massive pillar was lowered into position. This central pillar also formed the centre of the town that was springing up around Wat Si Muang, which to this day is revered as the ‘mother temple’ of Vientiane. During the That Luang Festival every October or November, this temple is one of the focal points of the celebrations, and Si Muang is fêted as a guardian of the city. On a daily basis, Wat Si Muang attracts crowds of local Buddhists who want to benefit from its ‘good luck’ powers. It is commonly thought that if you pray for something here and simultaneously make a promise, your wish will be granted, providing you return and fulfil your promise.
- The first Wat Si Muang was constructed in 1563, but was destroyed by Siamese invaders in 1828. It was subsequently rebuilt a number of times, and the present wat dates from 1915.
- The temple is named after Si Muang, who sacrificed herself in the pit that holds the central pillar of the structure. There is a small statue of Si Muang behind the building, along with a heap of old bricks that are said to date back to her time.
- The building itself is fairly unremarkable, although it does, unusually, contain two rooms rather than one. In the front chamber, you will find a monk offering blessings, while the back room contains an ornate altar where worshippers give their offerings.
- The interior of the temple is lavishly adorned in the usual manner with carved gold pillars, brightly coloured ceiling friezes and painted scenes from the life of the Buddha.
- There is no entrance charge, but you do have to pay to park your bicycle or motorcycle on the temple grounds.
- King Sisavang Vong’s monument is located next door, and is reachable through a gate from the Wat Si Muang grounds.