As a child of the predominately Christian west I learned the stories of Mary’s virgin birth, the life of Jesus, the crucifixion and resurrection – all themes that have dominated Christian art and architecture for hundreds of years. And on my visits to cathedrals around the world, this knowledge helped me appreciate and enjoy at least a part of the devotional art and complex religious symbolism.
But for pure, unadulterated eye candy, even the flashiest Christian church can’t hold a candle to the intricate explosion of color and art of the most basic of Buddhist temples (aka “wats”).
As the former capital of Laos, Luang Prabang has been an important spiritual center for centuries. We lost count, but according to selectiveasia.com, this small town has 32 temples! Which explains why, on our strolls through the village, we were surprised to find another astonishing wat around every corner.
Each of the temples has its own unique color palette. And with a bit of attention to the details, a discerning eye can see subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) changes in architectural style. But what they all share are vivid colors, intricate engravings, lotus columns, multi-headed naga dragons, extensive gilding, tiered roofs, and a bunch o’ Buddhas.
Some of the buildings are as old as the 16th Century; their age and hand-painted murals making them historically significant – while others are more modern.
And thanks to fire damage and the vicissitudes of time a few have been renovated.
The interiors were just as extravagantly embellished as the exteriors. Every wall, ceiling, doorframe, and column was awash with gold and brilliant, contrasting colors. In fact, an undecorated surface was the exception.
All the temples were exceptional and it was hard to pick a favorite. But to my eye, the combination of deep burgundy, black, and gold was the most striking.
LP is known for its pleasant, small town ambience and its fusion of Buddhist and French Colonial architecture. Unesco recognized it as a World Heritage City, and this regional gem should be on every SE Asia travelers’ bucket list. It’s unique in the world and definitely deserves a detour.