A short guide to temple (vat or wat) architecture: The uposatha (Lao sim; ordination hall) is always the most important structure in any Buddhist wat. The high-peaked roofs are layered to represent several levels (usually three, five, seven or occasionally nine), which correspond to the various Buddhist doctrines. The edges of the roofs almost always feature a repeated flame motif, with long, fingerlike hooks at the corners called chaw faa (sky clusters). Umbrella-like spires along the central roof-ridge of a sim, called nyawt chaw faa or ‘topmost chaw faa, sometimes bear small pavilions (nagas – mythical water serpents) in a double-stepped arrangement representation of Mt Meru, the mythical centre of the Hindu-Buddhist cosmos (LPG).
I started walking into town, stopping to take photos at every temple on the way. First stop was the temple complex immediately next to our guesthouse, which comprised Vat Si Boun Heuang, Wat Sirimungkhun, Wat Sop and Wat Sensoukarahm making it difficult to work out which was which.
Wat Sensoukarahm, “temple of a thousand treasures” has a rich red facade decorated with stencilling
the following photos are of Wat Siphoutthabat Thippharam, where there is a school for monks*
I guess what most photographers want when they go to Luang Prabang is photos of the monks in their glorious orange robes but women especially should never approach or talk to a monk unless the monk speaks first and you should only take photos from afar. So I was quite surprised to be greeted by a softly spoken “sabaidee” (hello) as I came out of one of the buildings in a small and somewhat dilapidated wat on the corner of the block near the temporary bridge across the Nam Khan river. I turned round and there were 2 young monks sitting there. I returned the greeting and the one in the mustard-coloured robe, whose name turned out to be very long – Inthoneouthomphone, asked where I was from. This is nearly always the first question we are asked wherever we go. Replying that I am from Luxembourg usually elicits more interest because most people have never heard of it. After chatting for a while I eventually asked if I could take a photo of him and his friend and he replied yes and asked if I would e-mail him the photo as well as some photos of my country.
I gave him my e-mail address and told him about Skype and how he could use that to chat to people and to see them while talking to them. Every monk has a mobile phone and many of them have computers. Whatever happened to “no earthly possessions”?
*with thanks to Lao Miao for help in identifying this wat and for much other useful information about the wats/vats in Luang Prabang.