Wat Xieng Thong is generally considered to be the most historically significant and magnificent of Luang Prabang’s temples.
The original temple was built in 1560 under the royal patronage of King Setthathirath and was the site of royal coronations and festivals for centuries to follow. A historical quirk spared the temple from damage during the Black Flag invasion in 1887. While many of Luang Prabang’s temples were razed, Wat Xieng Thong was spared because the leader of the invasion, Deo Van Tri, spent time as a novice monk in the temple when he was a young man.
But the temple could not stand the force of time and nature completely and was remodelled during the 1960s. While the original form of the temple was maintained, the roof was repaired, the entrance was gilded, and the walls were redecorated with lacquer and gold leaf.
The temple compound is dominated by the central sim, but other structures include many stupas, a drum tower, monk quarters, a library and a chapel. The chapel (known as the Red Chapel by the French) contains a revered reclining Buddha which is believed to date back to the wat’s original construction.
On the rear wall of the sim you’ll notice a glass mosaic of a large tree. This image relates to a legend surrounding the temple’s origins. The story holds that two hermits settled at the temple’s present location, choosing to place it near a large flame tree and the junction of the two rivers.