on July 2, 2007
LocationWat Si Saket is just northwest of Wat Ho Prha Keo (Wat Haw Pha Kaew), on Lane Xang Road corner Setthathirath Road. The Lane Xang Avenue is the main one in Vientiane, connecting the government palace with Patuxai, thus the temple enjoys a central location in downtown Vientiane. The avenue’s name is related to the temple’s history – see the History section of this entry for details.The TempleDating back to 1818, Wat Si Saket is the oldest temple in Vientiane, and one of the only structures in the city to survive the Thai invasion of 1828. It was built in Siamese style. The Lao and Thai styles are quite similar, but the giveaway sign is the terrace surrounding the temple and the five-tiered roof. Its unusual shape kept it safe from the Thai aggressor who destroyed Vientiane in 1828. In 1935 – during the peak of a massive restoration period sponsored by the French - the temple was restored and transformed into a museum.The HistoryThe temple was built by the King Anouvong, ruler then of the Lane Xang Kingdom. That tiny principality - a Thai vassal state by then - was one of the three which were later melted into modern Laos; it had its capital in Vientiane. The unusual shape of the temple has a solid historic justification, since King Anouvong grew up in Thailand. In 1804 he succeeded his brother in the Laotian throne. In 1818 he commanded the construction of Wat Si Saket, and its shape is a silent testimony to his early years in Thailand.The later destruction of Vientiane was a result of his revolt against the Thais, which included an attempt to recover the Emerald Buddha, a talisman taken from Vientiane in 1778 (see the Wat Ho Prha Keo entry in this journal and the Indiana Jones and the Emerald Buddha Journal for details). From that moment onwards – until Laos became a French Colony – the temple was the place were the Laotian leaders were forced to swear loyalty to the Thai.The CollectionWat Si Saket offers the richest Buddhist Art collection in Laos. It features a cloister wall with thousands of ceramic and silver Buddha figures and statues, which vary in size from a few centimeters in height to over one and a half meters tall. Unlike similar institutions in the area, all the statues are original; some of them date back to the 15th century. The unusual inner yard and the long statues-delimited corridors surrounding it makes the visit something of an unusual event while in Vientiane.The VisitA visit to Wat Si Saket is better coordinated together with a visit to the nearby Wat Ho Prha Keo. The justification for that is not only their physical closeness, but their almost inseparable history and the shared themes featured by the two. The museum is open from 8am to 4pm, with an hour break at noon.
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