Wat Xiengthong - The Golden City Monastery

Dating back to 1559, Wat Xiengthong, the Golden City Monastery, was one of the most important royal temples under the direct patronage of the royal family of Laos. For hundreds of years, the Lao kings were crowned at the temple in a Buddhist ceremony. Before the fall of the Kingdom of Laos in 1975, the temple was also the home of the Sangharaja, the Supreme Patriarch of Laos.

bronze Buddha statues stand before a red wall covered in intricate glass tile mosaics depicting scenes from Lao life
Various bronze Buddha statues stand before an intricate glass tile mosaic depicting scenes from Lao life.

While many temples and landmarks in Luang Prabang were razed or destroyed during the mid-19th century by a rebel group of ethnically Chinese marauders called the Black Flag Army, Wat Xiengthong was spared. The leader of the army had studied at the temple as a young man, and used it as his base of operations during the invasion of Luang Prabang. As such, Wat Xiengthong is one of the oldest intact temples in the city preserved in its original state, and is seen as something of a monument to traditional Lao temple architecture and religious art.

a seated buddha statue wrapped in a saffron cloth
seated Buddha statue inside the Red Chapel at Wat Xiengthong

Wat Xiengthong - The Golden City Monastery - ວັດຊຽງທອງ

The ancient temple is one of the most atmospheric in Luang Prabang, perhaps due to its long and storied history. It stands proudly at the tip of  the Luang Prabang Peninsula, raised up slightly on a hill overlooking the Mekong River.

temple builds at wat xieng thong, luang prabang, laos
Wat Xiengthong, Luang Prabang, Laos
The main temple hall, or sim, stands in the center of the temple complex with its glittering gilt exterior and iconic low sweeping  roofs. Surrounding the temple hall are a number of other structures: various shrines; pavilions; and the the monastery's residence, school, and library.

wat xiengthong luang prabang main temple hall
the main temple hall at Wat Xiengthong in Luang Prabang

La Chapelle Rouge - The Red Chapel

La Chapelle Rouge, romantically named by the French colonist who were impressed with the temple, is a small shrine, but one of the more significant buildings at the Wat Xiengthong complex. The exterior of the small chapel is painted red, and decorated in exquisite glass tile mosaics depicting scenes from Lao life and mythology.

red chapel at wat xiengthong, luang prabang
The Red Chapel and other temple shrines

Inside the chapel, a small, solid metal statue of the Buddha sits in pose of peaceful meditation upon a crushed and worn red cushion. The statue sits alone in the middle of the floor.
 
reclinging buddha, wat xiengthong, luang prabang, laos
interior of the Red Chapel at Wat Xiengthong

It's part of a Lao fortune-telling ritual. Visitors kneel in front of the statue, praying and asking a yes or no question. After bowing before the statue, they will grasp the metal Buddha and try to lift it three times off of the cushion and above their heads. If they can, the answer to their question is "yes". If they cannot, the answer is "no".

fortune telling buddha
solid metal statue

The main Buddha image inside the shrine, a serene reclining Buddha wrapped in a blessed saffron cloth, is considered to be the finest example of Lao religious bronze work. The reclining Buddha statue dates back hundreds of years to the founding of the temple, and was even displayed in France in the 19th century during the Paris Exhibition. The reclining Buddha in the Red Chapel is the oldest and holiest Buddha image at Wat Xiengthong.

Lao bronze reclining Buddha statue in Luang Prabang, Laos
Bronze reclining Buddha

Royal Funeral Barge Hall

The Chapel of the Royal Funeral Barge is one of the larger temple halls at the Wat Xiengthong complex. It's one of the newer buildings at Wat Xientghong, constructed in the 1950s to hold the royal funeral barges. These barges, elaborate longboats with prows carved to look like ferocious 7-headed nagas, carried the funeral urns of various members of the royal family during their royal funeral processions. Atop the barge sit three human-sized urns, which were used to carry the remains of King Sisavangvong and his mother and father at their funerals.

funeral barge hall, wat xiengthong
Royal Funerary Chapel

The barge is still there, standing in a place of prominence inside the hall. Surrounding it, stacked somewhat haphazardly against the walls, are a dusty collection of ancient Buddha statues in various poses, and other royal artifacts, looking almost abandoned.

Lao royal funeral barge designed like a naga
a royal funeral barge decorated with the prow of a naga used by the royal family of the Kingdom of Laos

Royal Temple of the Kings of Laos

The temple is one of the oldest, grandest, and most revered in Luang Prabang. It was here where, for hundreds of years, the coronations of the Lao kings took place, inseparably linking the monarchy to the religious institutions of the kingdom, and granting Buddhist legitimacy to the reign of the kings.

buddhist statue, wat xiengthong, luang prabang
the entrance to the main temple hall

The Tree of Life

The rear wall of the main temple building is decorated in an intricate glass tile mosaic depicting the "Tree of Life". The mural is one of the most iconic motifs in Luang Prabang religious art, and prints of the tree can be found at the night market and souvenir shops throughout the city. The Tree of Life is a depiction of the Bodhi tree, the sacred tree under which the Buddha meditated as he achieved enlightenment, and its depiction at Wat Xiengthong is one of the most recognizable works of  Buddhist art in Luang Prabang.

tree of life mosaic, wat xiengthong
glass tile murals depicting the "Fire Tree" or "Tree of Life"

Opening Hours

  • Open daily 8:00 - 17:00

Admission ticket

  • An entrance ticket to Wat Xieng Thong costs 20,000 kip, and admission goes towards restoration and preservation of the historic temple

Dress Code and regulations

  • A strict dress code is enforced.
  • Chest, shoulders, and legs must be covered
  • No sleeveless shirts (men or women)
  • No shorts or short skirts (women)
  • Footwear is not permitted inside the temple buildings
  • Remove hats and sunglasses when entering a temple building 
See more: respectful tourism in Luang Prabang

Location

  • https://goo.gl/maps/74QCFpR7xBM2
  • Wat Xiengthong is located in the old town at the far end of the Luang Prabang peninsula, where the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers converge. The temple is located along the banks of  the Mekong River
  • Wat Xiengthong, Khem Khong, Luang Prabang, Laos

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