Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

Tag: That Louang

A bit of sightseeing in Vientiane

After On and I sorted out everything yesterday for our mini-trip to Luang Prabang next week, today it was time for a bit of sightseeing around Vientiane. 

On’s foot was still a little sore this morning, but she felt she could walk a little. If she doesn’t put too much pressure it doesn’t bother her too much. It was a good thing that we had gone to the hospital yesterday afternoon. At least now we both know that she hadn’t sprained her foot, but in fact had broken two toes. I wrapped her foot tight this morning and then we were good to go. 

Although we had been to Haw Pha Kaew, Wat Si Saket, Patouxai (pronounced pawt-too-sigh) and That Louang (tawt loo-ang) the last time we were here, we decided to spend a few hours to visit them again this time around.  

One very nice thing about Vientiane is that most of the cool places and sites are all within walking distance from most of the hotels and guesthouses. In our case, staying at the Inter City Hotel, Haw Pha Kaew and Wat Si Saket are only about thirty minutes away (a little longer this morning with On’s bad foot). 

We got to Haw Pha Kaew and Wat Si Saket early enough this morning to beat the onslaught of tourist buses that had started to arrive just as we were getting ready to leave to go to Patouxai. For about an hour-and-a-half it was so peaceful and then all of a sudden these tour buses started to arrive with noisy tourists pouring out of them. 

Having visited both Buddhist sites before and written about them here, I just wanted to take some photos of the Buddhist statuary as well as this cool looking Naga at Wat Si Saket. If you get to both places before all the tour buses start to arrive, it is definitely worth spending a little extra time strolling through the grounds especially early in the morning.  

On our way out I talked to a young Monk who was sitting in the doorway of the monk’s quarters at Wat Si Saket. He was from Luang Prabang and spoke really good English. Indeed, I think all the young monks must study English and Japanese because the ones I saw walking around this temple were carrying English and Japanese dictionaries.  

The young monk was really friendly and wanted to know all about my tattoos. I’ve gotten a few looks while I have been here both times, but it’s not like I am trying to show them off or anything. To be honest, sometimes I forget all about them.  

On’s foot was not hurting her too much so we decided to walk to Patouxai which would end up taking us about thirty minutes to get there. Again, because we had gotten an early start we were beating the Saturday crowds and tour buses.

The weather was gorgeous today—temperature wise—but a little hazy. The guidebooks tell you that in February-March the skies get a little hazy with all the slash and burn going on. That’s too bad because when On and I were here just a few weeks ago the skies were so gorgeous and perfect for taking photographs. Not this time, though. 

When I wrote about Patouxai the last time On and I visited here, I wrote that it was Vientiane’s version of Paris’ Arc de Triomphe and I suppose, if you are looking down Lane Xang Avenue with your back to the Presidential Palace you would think the same thing, too. To be sure, Patouxai looks really cool from a distance as well as when you get a little closer; however, once you are standing inside, it sort of loses its charm and looks more like a colossal concrete block. 

On and I didn’t climb to the top the last time we were here, but this time we did. It costs 5,000 Kip and it’s worth it for the views you get of the city. Sadly, the weather was not cooperating today and we got a hazy view of the city. Most foreigners might not think too much of climbing up here (they might get a kick out of all the souvenirs, T-shirts and other kitsch for sale on the second level) for a view of the city, but all the Laotians On and I saw on the top seemed to be enjoying themselves and the view—haze and all—of Vientiane. 

Is it worth the 5,000 Kip? I think so, especially if the weather is really good. You also get a very good view of the water fountain in a the plaza just beyond Patouxai.

We didn’t make it to That Louang today. We’ll wait until we come back from Luang Prabang. Even though On said her foot was not hurting her too much, it was a good thing for us to head back to our hotel.  Needed to relax some this afternoon. Tomorrow we will be on the road to Paksong, On’s village.   

That Louang — Sacred Buddhist Site & National Symbol

That Louang — December 31, 2007

Although there are numerous impressive and beautiful Buddhist temples located throughout Vientiane, That Louang, (pronounced tawt) Laos’s most important religious site is famous for its golden stupa that is a national symbol for the country.  

Located approximately four kilometers northeast of the center of Vientiane and within walking distance of Patouxai, its full official name Pha Chedi Lokajulamani means “World-Precious Scared Stupa” and rightfully so when you first get a glimpse of this magnificent golden stupa rising above the monument in the distance. It’s no wonder That Louang and its stupa is very sacred for Laotians—both as a Buddhist symbol and Lao sovereignty.

That Louang — December 31, 2007

The present building dates from the 1930’s and is a reconstruction; the original That Louang is thought to have been built by King Setthathilat in the mid-sixteenth century (that’s a statue of him perched jauntily on a pedestal in front of the stupa).  

Like most central and southern Lao Buddhist structures, archeological evidence has determined that the original stupa was built on an ancient Khmer site. Although what the original stupa was supposed to have looked like has been lost over the centuries, it is believed that the stupa was a pyramid covered with gold.

Later, this stupa would be restored and embellished with more gold periodically, but this stopped following the 1827 Siamese invasion. French explorers stumbled across the stupa in 1867, now overgrown with jungle. A few years later, Chinese bandits plundered the stupa looking for gold and left it in ruins. It wouldn’t be until the 1930’s when—using sketches done by one of the French explorers—that restoration work was begun to restore the stupa to its original glory.

That Louang — December 31, 2007

From the distance, as you approach this massive Buddhist cluster of smaller stupas with the main stupa towering high in the sky, which is surrounded by a Chinese-style cloistered wall, it’s like nothing else you are going to come across in Vientiane and perhaps the rest of Laos. The tapering golden spire of the main stupa—rising 45 meters over the structure—rests on a plinth of stylized lotus petals, which crowns a mound reminiscent of a Buddhist stupa in Sanchi, India. The main stupa is surrounded on all sides by thirty, shorter spike-like stupas and can be reached by any of the four gates. 

The guidebooks tell you that the best time to view That Louang is in the late afternoon when the golden spire catches the sun’s setting rays, for a spectacular, albeit brief natural light show. If you can’t get there then, the best time to view this gorgeous landmark would be earlier in the afternoon when the sun is just right in the sky for the best photo opportunity.  

On and I made the small mistake of hiring a tuk-tuk for 100 Baht (about $3.00 or 27,000 Kip) to get here from Patouxai. Had I looked at my guidebook a little more closely, I would have noticed that we could have walked here. We just didn’t know how close we were until we climbed aboard the tuk-tuk and started up That Louang Road (it branches off from Lane Xang Avenue). If you don’t mind a little walking, it is only about a 30-minute leisurely stroll from Patouxai. 

There’s a small, but thriving market just outside That Louang where you can buy everything from cold drinks and fruit to blonde hair dolls and other souvenir kitsch (I have no idea why so many of these dolls were on sale).

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