Once the provincial capital of Xieng Khuang, Muang Khoun is little more than a medium-sized village about 30 kilometres down the road to Paksan from Phonsavan. But it’s the quaintness of the town and its varied ruined temples that make this place worth a visit when staying in nearby Phonsavan.
The first temple many people will visit when arriving in Muang Khoun is That Foun, which can be seen from the main road on top of a hill in the middle of town. A sign leads the way to the entrance and after paying the 10,000 kip entry fee, you’re free to roam around and get a feel for this ancient temple, built in the late 1500s. It’s an impressive 30-metre tall stupa made of brick with a hole right through the base of it, apparently burrowed by rampaging Chinese bandits. The stupa itself is not clad in gold like many you see throughout the country and is well worth a look due to its different character.
Further up the hill is another stupa called That Chom Phet. Reaching it requires either a walk along the dirt trail or a quick but bumpy ride up on your motorbike. It’s really old and dilapidated but still has some charm despite the lack of love it receives from those taking the entry fee at the front gate. It’s certainly worth a photo, but until the grass around it is mowed and the temple itself weeded, it’s not going to win any awards for beauty.
A couple of kilometres further down the main road in Muang Khoun in the direction away from Phonsavan is Wat Piawat. In the temple grounds sits a large robed buddha at the end of a column of brick pillars. The Buddha was allegedly shot when the building covering it was destroyed by enemy fire during the Indochina wars. It’s worth a visit and also costs 10,000 kip to enter.
There are a few other things to see around Muang Khoun such as a small basket weaving village, but the main attractions are the seated buddha at Wat Piawat and the two stupas, That Foun and That Chom Phet.
A visit to Muang Khoun can easily be combined with a day trip to the Plain of Jars and many tour agencies will offer this. The problem is that Muang Khoun is not a popular choice for other visitors to Phonsavanh and you will more than likely be the only one wanting to go there, meaning you will either have to charter a car and driver or ride a motorbike. The ride out to Muang Khoun is an interesting one and the three jars sites are more or less on the way there. Go on — a visit to Muang Khoun is a great way to broaden your experience in Xieng Khuang province.