My dear travellers, how are you today? I don’t know if you were surprised with this unusual “spring” time in the middle of December. Hopefully the climate will balance here in Europe because I don’t think this is natural. .
I would like to pass it on the subject of my today’s post and I will finally and officially “send” my first letter from Laos! A few months ago when I was invited to visit this smallest country in Southeast Asia, I was thrilled because I love to learn about a completely different culture and religion that is not so close to us from Europe – Buddhism. A team from the marketing promotion department of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of Laos invited me to visit their lovely country and feel the beauties of the Asia.
During our e-conversation, I found out that I was the first blogger in the world to visit the People’s Republic of Laos in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism of Laos and their local partners. Later, the world airline Qatar Airways became involved in this project, which enabled little Marko to go the way of the East. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated in the realization of this project: the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of Laos, Qatar Airways, and other local partners that I will mention in some of the following posts.
The purpose of this FAM trip is to get to know the People’s Republic of Laos through the prisms of culture and religion. Laos is a socialist country and the only country in Southeast Asia that does not have access to the ocean. Located in the heart of the Indochina Peninsula and borders Myanmar (Burma) and China in the northwest, Vietnam in the east, Cambodia in the southeast and Thailand on the west and southwest side.
Vientiane is the capital and largest city of Laos, on the bank of the Mekong River near the border with Thailand. Vientiane became the capital in 1573 due to the fear of the Burmese invasion, but was later looted and completely overthrown in 1827 by Siamese (Thailand). Vientiane was the administrative capital during French colonial rule, and due to recent economic growth, it is now the economic center of Laos. The city has more than one million inhabitants.
Vientiane is known as the home of the most important national monument in Laos: That Luang, which is a famous symbol of Laos and an icon of Buddhism. Other notable Buddhist temples can be found here, such as Haw Phra Kaew, which housed the Emerald Buddha figure earlier.
The name of the city comes from Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism. Although the original meaning of the name of the city is “sandalwood city” (sandalwood – a powerful ancient tree), as ancient Laos inscriptions show (pictographically written, unlike the modern Lao language, which is written phonetically), in modern Lao, the meaning of the name Vientiane is ambiguous. Many, if not most, Laos people claim that the name of the city means “city of the moon”, while many also claim that the name of the city means “sandalwood city” because the words are spelled similarly and pronounced in the same way as in modern Lao language.
Most academic and historical sources in Laos actually support this claim, reinforced by the city’s Thai and Khmer names, and both retain the etymological spelling, which indicates the persistence of the exact meaning of “sandalwood city”.
On the picture which you can see above, you have the opportunity to see the greatest shrine in the Buddhist world – Pha That Luang (the Great Stupa) is a large Buddhist pillar encased in real gold and is located in the heart of the city. Since its inception, it is believed to have originated in the 3rd century, the stupa has undergone several major reconstructions, mostly in the 1930s, due to foreign invasions of the colonial powers in this area. That Luang is considered the most important national monument in Laos and a national symbol.
The architecture of this feast influences Lao culture and identity and thus became a symbol of Lao nationalism. The stupa today consists of three levels, each depicting part of the Buddhist doctrine. The first level is 67 meters by 226 feet (68 meters); the other is 47 feet long by 157 feet long; and the third level is 98 feet (29 meters) along each side. From ground level to the top, Pha That Luang is 44 meters high.
Only the top of the stupa is covered with real gold, the rest of the stupa is painted gold. The area around Pha That Luang has now been officially closed to prevent traffic.
What is the main reason for my visit to Laos? By the invitation of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of Laos, I came to attend the celebration of the largest Buddhist holiday – “Boun That Luang“, the largest religious holiday held in Vientiane for three days to seven days during full moon periods, on each 12th lunar month – November.
Monks and people from all over Laos are gathering to celebrate this holiday with a three-day religious ceremony, followed by week-long festivities, both during the day and at night. The procession of believers begins at Wat Si Muang in the city center and continues at the That Luang stupa to offer the monks their gifts (“offerings”) to collect enough merit for rebirth and a better life.
The religious part of this holiday implies that people, carrying flowers, bank notes, food and candles as a side dish, circle around That Luang three times in honor of the Buddha. Folk and other popular troupes and plays add to the significance of this festival.
In the next post, I will explain in more detail some of the customs that the Lao people observe during this holiday. It is extremely interesting and completely different from what we do in Europe and the Balkan region. This is one of the basic reasons why I love my job. I am always able to meet some new and unusual cultures and thus have the opportunity to expand my knowledge of particular cultures and religions.
The mentality of the Lao people is very similar to ours in Serbia, they are extremely hospitable and treat the guest as a member of their family. Their culture is different, as is the way they dress. In the picture above, you have the opportunity to see what a young girl who is going to celebrate with her husband at the That Luang Festival looks like.
They are extremely caring and willing to help tourists. I dropped a small amount of money in a huge crowd and one kid ran after me a few yards to back my money.
During my visit to Vientiane, I went to the That Luang Festival several times at different times of the day so that I had complete insight into how the cultural program was held during the festival. Of course, during my little breaks I enjoyed the view from the terrace of my hotel room which had exceptional views of the Mekong River.
Of course, a team from the Ministry of Tourism did their best to arrange for me a tour of their most famous Buddhist temples, which you will have the opportunity to see in the pictures that follow this post later. Can you imagine how many Buddhist temples one of the smallest countries in Southeast Asia can have, like Laos? Please note that this country has a population of just under 4 million…
There are hundreds of temples in Laos that pay homage to Buddha and monks and nuns. These great places are reason enough to come and visit Laos. They say that they are the only countries in the world that have so many temples that they can devote to one of the many temples each day of the year. Isn’t it just interesting?
One of the most famous Buddhist temples in Vientiane is Wat Si Saket. The temple was built in 1818 by order of King Anouvong (Sethathirath V.) Si was derived from the Sanskrit title of honor of Sri, prefixed to the name of Wat Saket in Bangkok, and renamed by the contemporary of Anouvong, King Rama I.
Wat Si Saket is built in Siamese style of Buddhist architecture, with a surrounding terrace and a five-storey roof instead of the classical Lao style. This may have remained safe, since the Siamese armies that ravaged Vientiane after the Anouvong rebellion in 1827 used the facility as their headquarters and accommodation.
This temple is considered to be the oldest temple that still exists in Vientiane. The French colonial government rebuilt Wat Si Saket in 1924 and again in 1930. The Wat Si Saket Temple contains a cloister wall with more than 2,000 ceramic, silver, gold and wooden Buddha paintings. There is also a museum within this complex.
There are over 10,000 Buddha sculptures of various sizes and styles in this temple. The temple also has wonderful architecture and layout, with a history dating back to 1818. Most of these statues were made between the 16th and 18th centuries. You can also find a wooden snake-shaped trough used during the Lao New Year celebration (you can see in the photo above).
If you decide to visit the temple during the early hours of the morning, you will surely find many locals praying, giving their contribution (“merit offer”) and offering food to the monks. I will write about this in more detail in the following posts that I have prepared for you.
I was fascinated by the architecture of this temple, primarily because for the first time I came into contact with the culture of the Far East and this is something completely different from watching a show. This trip allowed me to learn something new about Buddhism as one of the world’s largest religions and to feel what it was like to live in Laos.
Not far from this temple is another Haw Phra Kaew Buddhist temple (now it is converted to the museum). The temple was built in 1565 for the purpose of guarding the Emerald Buddha, this temple has been rebuilt several times. The Haw Phra Kaew Temple was built in 1565-1566. after King Setthathirath, after moving the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane. The temple was built on the foundations of the royal palace to house the figure of the Emerald Buddha, which Setthathirath brought from Chiang Mai, then the capital of Lanna, to Luang Prabang.
The temple was used as Setthathirath’s personal place of worship, and therefore there were no resident monks in this temple unlike other temples in Laos. The Emerald Buddha remained in the temple for over 200 years, but in 1779 Vientiane was conquered by Siamese General Chao Phraia Chakri (who founded the current Thai Chakri Dynasty), the figure was taken to Thonburi and the temple destroyed.
The Buddha figure is currently located in Wat Phra Kaev, Bangkok and is considered a treasure of Thailand. The temple was rebuilt in 1816 by King Anouvong, and instead of the lost Emerald Buddha, they decided to create a new Buddha figure. However, the temple was again destroyed in 1828, when King Anouvong rebelled against Siam in an attempt to regain complete independence and Vientiane was razed to the ground.
The temple was rebuilt with the help of the French between 1936 and 1942 during the colonial period of French Indochina. The remaining remains of the foundations of the old temple were used as the basis for restoration; although they followed the blueprint for the construction of the old temple, the rebuilt temple is more reminiscent of a 19th-century ubosot or sim in Bangkok. For several decades, in the 1970s, the temple was transformed from a place of worship into a museum. The Government of the People’s Republic of Laos rebuilt this temple in 1993.
My dear travellers, once again we have come to the end post from special series of post from my Lao adventure. Time just flies so fast when you are having a good time! At the end of this post, I would like to thank my friends from Ministry of Information, Culture, Tourism of Lao DPR and Qatar Airways for this incredible adventure and Crown Plaza Vientiane and Landmark Mekong Riverside hotels for their huge efforts to make our stay unforgettable and I felt like at home. Also I would like to say huge thank you for this great adventure.
How do you like this story about Vientiane? Have you maybe had a chance to visit Laos? I would like to share with me your experience! See you next week with another interesting story from Vientiane, but we will find out more about That Luang Festival.
If you have a question, comment, suggestion or message for me, you can write me down in the comments. Of course, as always you can contact me via mail or social media, which you can find on the CONTACT page.
This post was sponsored by Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism of PDR Lao and Qatar Airways airline company. I would like to say thank you to Crown Plaza Vientiane and Landmark Mekong Riverside hotels for having me. This trip was an extraordinary experience for me! I also thank my friends from Sony who made it possible to enjoy in these beautiful photos made with the Sony Alpha 7r Mark II camera with Sony FE 24-70 mm lense from special G Master series of professional lenses.