Laos // Vientiane and the northwest //

Wat Sisaket

East of Nam Phou, on Setthathilat Road, Wat Sisaket is the oldest wat in Vientiane. Constructed by King Anouvong (Chao Anou) in 1818, the monastery was the site of a ceremony in which Lao lords and nobles swore an oath of loyalty to the king. During the 1828 sack of Vientiane by the Siamese, this was the only monastery not put to the torch and, once the smoke had cleared, the Siamese brought the surviving Lao nobility here and made them swear another oath of loyalty, this time to their new overlords. Later, in 1893, the whole ceremony was repeated again at this very same wat before new masters – the French.

Surrounded by a tile-roofed cloister, the sim contains some charming murals similar in style to those found at Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew. The murals, together with the niches in the upper walls containing small Buddha images, and the ornate ceiling, are best taken in while kneeling on the floor (taking care not to point your feet towards the altar for more on etiquette). The Buddha images on the altar are not particularly notable, but a splendidly ornate hao thian, or candle holder, of carved wood situated before the altar is an example of nineteenth-century Lao woodcarving at its best.

Outside, the interior walls of the cloister echo those of the sim, with countless niches from which peer diminutive Buddhas in twos and threes. Lining the galleries are larger images that survived the destruction of 1828 and, in a locker at the western wall, a heap of Buddhas that did not. The shaded galleries are a cool and pleasant place to linger and soak up the atmosphere. Breaching the wall that runs along Lane Xang Avenue, the structure with the multi-tiered roof is the monastery’s former library (closed to the public), where its palm-leaf manuscripts were once kept.

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