Wat Sisaket was built from 1818 to 1824 by King Anouvong, the last king of Lane Xang Kingdom, as his private monastery.
It is the only temple to have survived the attack and destruction by the Siamese in 1827-1828 and therefore, it is the only wat in Vientiane surviving in its original shape. Its location marks the centre of the old city and has the oldest monastery in the country.
The grounds contain well-preserved structures and a visit here will give you an excellent overview of Buddhist architecture in Laos. The sim is the inner building or congregational hall that is reserved for use by the monks. Educational signs inform us that the sim faces south, not east, and it is not parallel to the river which is unusual as it does not follow either Lao or Buddhist tradition. The ceiling is adorned with relief mouldings, a decoration that became popular in Lao religious architecture in the early 19th century. The walls are carved with niches that originally housed silver Buddha statues (now replaced with clay ones). The murals depict scenes from Jakata tales, stories about the other lifetimes of Buddha, another common feature in sacred architecture in Laos.
Unlike frescoes which are painted onto wet plaster, these murals have been done on dry stucco and are very fragile, as the surface and the paintings flake off over time. The temple’s paintings are very damaged and signs about an ongoing restoration project explains that this is due to moisture and capillary salt deposits. Major work to repair it is underway, funded by the Embassy of Germany.
The wat also contains that (stupas), a library of important texts, a cloister that contains 6,840 Buddha images and a kuti, sleeping quarters for the monks and novices. Vientiane’s oldest temple is still a place of study and worship to this day.
Modest dress is mandatory and the ticket collector will provide women with long skirts as they enter.
By Cindy Fan.
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