Temple Granding in Laos

I traveled to Luang Prabang in Laos for the third time in eighteen months. I have become enamored.  I have also been helping Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden with a number of things. I have friends there.

I  had time to wander around town,and to look at the many temples that are of great importance to the Lao people.

Near my hotel, the Cold River Inn – a fine and affordable small place – is  Wat Wisunarat , the oldest temple in the town.IMG_4512

“Dating back to 1513 and the reign of King Wisunarat (Visoun), Wat Wisunarat is Luang Prabang’s oldest temple and was once home to the Prabang Buddhas. The history of the temple is colourful with it being originally crafted from wood before being burned by Black Haw riders in 1887. The Black Haw riders were part of the Black Flag military rebel group led by a Chinese commander at the end of the 1880s. Post invasion, it was rebuilt using stucco and brick and retains some original pieces including a stupa that was created in 1503 along with some other small Buddha icons although many were stolen during the Haw raid. Over the years the temple has also acted as a Museum of Religious Arts and as such now homes an array of religious artefacts and precious items relating to both Buddhism and the royal family. The temple is a celebration of early Lao architecture with wooden windows reflecting the Wat Phou Temple in the South of the country coupled with stucco work that is classic Luang. Restoration work was carried out in 1895 and then again in 1932.”

“The main attraction of the Wat Vison is the Stupa of Great Lotus built in 16th century. The 34.5 meters high stupa features Sinhalese style, the only one of its kind in Laos. The stupa is also referred by locals as Watermelon Stupa for its dome resembling a watermelon. Its interior was once filled with small Buddha images made of precious materials and other sacred items, many of which were stolen or destroyed during the Black Haw raid. Some of the remaining Buddha images are preserved in the Royal Palace Museum and others are housed displayed in the sim of the temple.”

It had rained for a couple of hours before my early morning visit. The air was fragrant with petrichor, that wonderful smell when rain falls on the earth. In the air also, the smell of smoke from the many small kitchens. Breakfast was coming.

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At the entrance of the temple are two banyan trees (Ficus benghalensis – although banyan covers a number of species) home to the spirits of Luang Prabang. Animism still lingers in Laos, despite being displaced by Buddhism and then Marxism.

From Wat Wisunarat, I walked to Mount Phoussy, its golden stupa prominent.

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From the top, you look down upon the center of town and the mother of rivers, the Mekong.

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The garden, Pha Tad Ke, is round the bend, hidden from sight.

Walking down from the Mount, you come to the newest temple, built in 2006, Haw Pha Bang.

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Walking into the center of town, I came upon a food market.

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Then to another temple -Wat Mahathat. It was built in 1548 and restored in 1910.

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I like this temple  complex very much, partly because of the paintings of hell painted on either side of a temple door.

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And I thought hell was the 16 hour plane ride home.

Author: urbanehorticulture

A native of England a U.S. citizen for the past 30 years, I have worked in the garden world as a director and designer for over 35 years. I am best-known for my groundbreaking designs at Chanticleer, an estate and “pleasure garden” in Wayne, PA, where I worked for 20 years. Career Highlights I started my gardening life at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, where I was trained as a gardener. I worked in three other gardens in the UK, notably Portmeirion in Wales, Bateman’s in Sussex, and Cliveden in Buckinghamshire. At Bateman’s, I was responsible for the restoration of the 17th-century garden. I came to the U.S. in 1981 and was director and chief designer of Chanticleer in Pennsylvania for the next 20 years. I transformed a moribund private estate into one of America’s most exuberant, romantic and flamboyant gardens. Its glorious 47 acres have been celebrated by gardeners and horticulturists from around the world and, based on my designs, it continues to draw international visitors every season. After twenty years creating Chanticleer, I became vice president for horticulture for the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden and, in 2006, was appointed director of the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. While pleased to be in Canada, my heart yearned for California and in 2008 he was appointed executive director of the Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden. After a successful period in northern California, he returned to his home near Santa Barbara, CA where I operated my own design-consulting business. In 2012, I was lured back east by The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (founded in 1827) and appointed director of its private estate and garden, Meadowbrook Farm. I was commissioned by PHS to design the central feature for the 2013 Philadelphia Flower Show, the third major exhibit I have designed for PHS over the years. Among numerous other responsibilities, I have been a member of the board of the Fairmount Park Conservancy in Philadelphia and a founding member of the business advisory board for the Flora of North America Project. I have designed gardens in Chicago, northern and southern California, and throughout the Northeastern United States. I have also been a consultant to the Garden Conservancy and to Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as serving on the horticulture advisory committee of Lotusland in Santa Barbara, California. I have been the Advancement Advisor for the Flora of North America Association and am now traveling the world researching, interviewing, and photographing for a book on gardens around the world. Books & Awards My n first book, The Encyclopedia of Perennials, was published in 1992 by Facts on File. I also contributed to 1001 Gardens to See Before You Die (Barron's Educational Series, 2012) and The Gardener’s Garden (Phaidon Press, 2014). In 2003, I was awarded the Professional Citation for significant achievements in public horticulture by the American Public Garden Association. In 2007, The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded me its prestigious medal for Distinguished Achievement. I currently live in the Bay Area, California.

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