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Vientiane's oldest temple houses historic treasures

Vat Sisaket's historic central hall contains a large golden sitting Buddha.

Vat Sisaket is one of the most popular tourist sites in Vientiane, visited every day by local and foreign tourists seeking to learn about Lao civilisation during the Lane Xang Lingdom. The temple, located at the corner of Lane Xang Avenue and Setthathirath Road in Sisaket village, exists in its entirety to surprise and delight visitors from every corner of the world, housing artefacts of stone, wood, silver and gold. As the oldest temple in Vientiane, and the only to survive the foreign raids on the capital from 1827 to 1828, Vat Sisaket is a highly important Lao heritage site. The sacred buildings are believed to be protected by spirits who chose to preserve them, as if they were destroyed, the war would be lost. Now Sisaket temple attracts tourists searching for greater insight into Lao Buddhist design, particularly the meticulously carved stone sculptures of the craftsmen and architects of the Lane Xang era. The temple is recorded as having been built during the reign of King Xaysetthathirath, taking about 10 years to fi nish. In 1818 it was restored by King Anouvong, the last monarch of the Vientiane-based Lane Xang Kingdom. Over 300 hundred Buddha images varying in size and material reside on the shelves, amongst the silver and ceramic Buddhist images, most of which are from the 16th to 19th centuries.Each wall of the central hall is 55 metres in length, and the structure boasts 60 pillars and four separate entrances. The roof is covered with stucco and there are more than 3,000 decorative indentations, each of which features two Buddha images, known as Pangmalavixay. On each of the walls the stories of Buddha, scenes from days gone by, and countryside landscapes are painted in minute detail. From 1952-1969 Lao people collected items damaged during the Indochina War to store at Vat Sisaket. These included Buddha images made of sandstone in the 11th-13th centuries, palm leaf manuscripts, candlesticks, ancient stonework and other archaeological treasures. Outside the temple to the west is the former Hor Tai (library) where palm leaf manuscripts documenting Buddhist scriptures were once stored and the interior walls as well as the main hall feature hundreds of little niches and shelves containing 6,840 Buddha images and Buddhist inscriptions from the 18th century. The temple serves an important function, helping visitors from home and abroad to learn about Lao artwork and archaeological treasures. Vat Sisaket is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8-11.30 am and 1-4.30 pm.