Infinite Earth Art: Temples of Luang Prabang

Temple gazing has never been high on my travel to-do list. Like so many people traveling in SE Asia, I have taken the stance of: ‘Another temple, how many temples can I see?’

However, as humans, we have the open-minded ability to easily change views when we desire.

After recent admiration for a few wats in Chiang Rai, I kept the vibe in Laos’ UNESCO site and second city of Luang Prabang.

According to Nomadasurus: ‘Luang Prabang has 34 temples‘.

I did not visit anywhere near that number, but I did lose count as to how many I wandered into unplanned, while strolling the quaint, tree-laden, French-Lao streets where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers intersect.

It is hard not to notice the striking architectural design that might remind you of an enchanting story from yesteryear. This is virtual time travel.

Strikingly surreal, steep, sloping panels; view of a Luang Prabang Vat

Many who travel in Thailand learn the word for temple in Thai: Wat. In the Lao language, many words appear similar to Thai. For example: Vat means temple in pasa Lao or the Laotian language.

Exotically Eastern: The sloping, layered-roof architecture of Vat May Souvannapoumaram

Having grown up in a non-eastern milieu, sites like this tend to put me in awe.

Vat Xiengmouane Vjiramangalaram lit up at dusk.

Whether strolling the evening streets with a destination in mind or not, you still cannot help but notice visually-pleasant, ubiquitous temples.

The Front of Haw Kaham

This colorful construction is called Haw Kaham, I do not know why ‘Vat‘ is not part of the name. It is on the grounds of the Luang Prabang National Museum or more accurately, the Royal Museum.

This is the only temple I visited where other tourists were present. I typically ended up at the lesser-known ones that did not have a 20,000 K Kip or $1.30 entrance fee. At the free-to-enter vats I only saw the occasional monk in a saffron robe, meditating or performing duties.

Haw Kaham at the back where there were no people. Everyone was either inside or close to the front façade.

The impessive Luang Prabang Royal Art Museum costs 30 K Kip or $2. Apparently you can wander to the temple without buying a ticket for the museum. However, $2 for an excellent exhibits archive is a fraction of what you would pay for entry into an intriguing institution in Europe or North America. I am grateful that Laos does not tend to inflate these prices for falang.

Behind the Haw Kaham Temple, the side that I had all to myself.

It was not only the magic of the temple architecture that struck me, but also the stupas, statues and the grounds themselves. Like a majestic mosque in the Middle East, or a colossal church in a Christian zone, these Animist, Buddhist and Hindu vibrations tend to put a person at complete ease.

Virtually devoid of people, the Vat Choumnkhongsurintharame is an idyllic location at dusk.
Buddhas inside the Vat Sop Sickharam.

If the doors to a temple are open, anyone to walk inside and pay their respects, gaze in awe and/or leave a small donation in a box. It is important to take your shoes off and wear clothes that cover the skin. In Lao culture, shoes are also taken off before entering a home. I have experienced the shoe removing custom in Japan, Norway and Thailand. To me it is completely logical. I would be happy if the whole world adapted this cleaner attribute.

The stupa on the grounds of Vat Thatluang Rasanahavinane during a gust of wind.
The ancient stupa on the grounds of Vat Phramahathat Rajbuvorgvihane.
The thick, white stupa on the grounds of Vat Visounnalath.

A ramble around a temple complex would not be complete without being mesmerized by the mythical statue art which has roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism and other sectors of spirituality.

A peaceful setting at Wat Sikhounmuang.

I am not sure if that is a pitchfork, but I think most spiritual scholars understand that not all can be good, pure or utopic. This is impossible. There must be some bad, impure and dystopic qualities of existence. Balance and acceptance is the only bliss.

Buddha statues lined up at Vat Thatluang Rasanahavinane.

I like to think that these depictions will inspire me to meditate more consistently.

Three Buddhas at Vat Thatluang Rasanahavinane.
Two mythical creatures guard the Vat Syrimoungkoun Xaiyaram.

Surreal sculptures can be found all over Luang Prabang’s temple grounds.

Buddhas meditating with perfect posture on the grounds of Ban Aham.
A mythical human hybrid creature at the Ban Aham.
Monkey statue at the Wat Nong Sikhounmuang.

This love this last one because of the powerful words attached. If you stop and think about it, there is copious noise pollution in our lives. We have become so accustomed that it is the norm. We subconsciously accept it. But how does this stress affect us? Perhaps meditation has become even more important with today’s mega-fast societal pace.

After wandering into temple complexes for over a week, an enhanced feeling of peace and contentment has been achieved. Am I templed out from Luang Prabang? Certainly not. But I am happy to take a little break, and see what the next drifting destination brings.

Have you visited a Buddhist temple? Did you feel that extra-peaceful vibe? Leave a comment below.

Here is the whole collection of 156 photos from Luang Prabang.

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