Buddhist-style architecture at Vat Sensoukharam in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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.

A stunning rustic-roofed temple enclosed by white walls and surrounded by lushness under a wide-open blue sky.
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.

A temple which is a Buddhist-influenced dream building design of five cascading roofs of varied inlcines.
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.

An exotic yellow temple surrounded by lush green forest under a late-afernoon, dark-blue sky.
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.

A huge intricate temple with steps and people leading to the exotic façade.
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.

Backside of beautiful temple, an intricite door, serpants, steps, mammoth renovated wall and palm leaves.
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.

Selfie in front of several steps and a glittering façade.
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.

The end of day sun peers brightly beside a piece of dazzling religious architecture.
Virtually devoid of people, the Vat Choumnkhongsurintharame is an idyllic location at dusk.
Copious yellowish-gold-colored religious icons in a temple.
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.

Leaves brow in the air and on pavement in front of a colossal chedi.
The stupa on the grounds of Vat Thatluang Rasanahavinane during a gust of wind.
A very old piece of architecture in the temple's area.
The ancient stupa on the grounds of Vat Phramahathat Rajbuvorgvihane.
Massively wide archaic architecture sits on temple turf.
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 carefully and intricately constructed statue of a deity sits in front of a building on temple grounds.
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.

10 holy depictions sitting and meditating simultaneously in front of a long white fence on temple grounds.
Buddha statues lined up at Vat Thatluang Rasanahavinane.

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

Big statues of the guatama on pedestals in front of a while fence and plants with a forest in the background.
Three Buddhas at Vat Thatluang Rasanahavinane.
Hybrid animals in front of a magically constructed and decorated temple.
Two mythical creatures guard the Vat Syrimoungkoun Xaiyaram.

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

High up Buddhas in eternal meditation stances  amid lush greenery.
Buddhas meditating with perfect posture on the grounds of Ban Aham.
A wildly designed depiction of an almost-human green being by the temple with lush greenery.
A mythical human hybrid creature at the Ban Aham.
Fed up ape depiction with a sign 'closed ears world be forever in peace'
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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