Built in 1818 by Chao Anou, Wat Si Saket on the corner of Lane Xang Avenue and Setthathirat Road (across the street from Haw Pha Kaew) is Vientiane’s oldest surviving temples and next to That Louang and Haw Pha Kaew, one of the city’s most important Buddhist sites.
According to tradition, this was where the Lao lords and nobles came to swear allegiance to the King. When the Siamese sacked Vientiane in 1828, they spared this temple, perhaps because it is built in a style similar to Thai temples. Ironically, the Lao lords and nobles were made to swear allegiance to the Siamese and the ceremony was repeated again in the 1920’s—this time to the French.
Although such history might be lost on the average tourist exploring the temple, what is not lost on visitors to the temple is its feature: a square tile-roofed cloister that encloses the sim (ordination hall). This is a common feature of large Thai temples, but is less common in Lao temples. On the interior walls of the cloister are over two thousand small niches, each of which houses a small Buddha image. Over 300 seated and standing Buddhas of varying sizes and materials (terracotta, wood, plaster, silver, gold and bronze) rest on long shelves below the niches, most of them sculpted or cast in the characteristic Lao style. Most of the images are from the 15th-19th century Vientiane, but a few are from 15th to 16th-century Luang Prabang.
(In a converted entrance portico west side of the cloister is a sort of “Buddha bin” holing hundreds of broken images-some from the 1828 Siamese-Lao war—discovered during excavations in support of one of the restorations.)
Without question all these Buddha statues and figures are the temple’s unique feature, but the ordination hall is worth exploring to view its flowered ceiling (inspired by Siamese temples in Ayuthaya) as well as view the several more Buddha images at an altar in the rear of the sim bringing the total number of Buddhas at Wat Si Saket to 6840. That’s a lot of Buddhas!
If you are planning to head up Lane Xang Avenue to Patouxai and then onto That Louang after your visit to Wat Si Saket the temple’s shaded galleries are a cool and pleasant place to linger and soak up the atmosphere before continuing on your journey.