Buddhist Pilgrimage Sites: Laos
Theravada Buddhism first reached Laos during the 7th-8th centuries from the early Thai kingdom of Dvaravati. However, during the 11th 12th centuries, under the Khmers, Mahayana Buddhism became prevalent.
Buddhism was declared as the state religion by King Fa Ngum who, in 1356, built a shrine (wat) to house a golden Buddha image. Situated close to the Mekong River, 425 km north of the capital Vientiane, Luang Prabang, was both a royal capital and a religious centre of the Kingdom of Laos from the 16th-19th centuries.
Today there are more than 60 monasteries, temples and shrines, set in secluded courtyards with chapels and pagodas. Many of these buildings are lavishly decorated with jewel-like gilding, stucco and stencilled designs depicting bodhisattvas, guardians and deities along with illustrations of the jataka stories. The largest temple in the city is Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham. Built in the 18th century it is richly decorated with painted columns and gold relief walls that illustrate the Vessantara jataka together with stories from the Ramayana and scenes of village life. The Wat also contains an emerald Buddha statue.
Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Monastery) was built with royal patronage in 1560. It an example of classic Luang Prabang temple architecture, very close to the Lanna style found in Northern Thailand. It is also elaborately decorated with mosaics, painted columns and walls.
Luang Prabang has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1995.