Built in 1560, Wat Xieng Thong—better known as the Golden City Temple—is the largest and most significant Buddhist monastery in all of Laos. Beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawns surround this holy structure, which is located near where the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers meet. More than 20 structures, including shrines, a drum tower and a chapel, dot the grounds, and travelers are welcome to visit and discover the country’s rich traditions.
Wat Xieng Thong is a symbol of Buddhism and one of the earliest displays of Luang Prabang’s now signature architectural style. The area’s oldest and largest temple features a steep, sloping roof that reaches down near the ground in dramatic fashion, and intricate tale-telling mosaics and Buddha statues add to the holy place’s sacred feeling. Although this temple was one of the only to be spared by damage during the Black Flag invasion in 1887, it did undergo remodeling in the 1960s to repair the roof and redecorate the interior.
The giant yet intricate Tree of Life mosaic on the temple’s exterior is a must-see; made up of colored mirror shards, the piece depicts life in the village and the flame tree of legends that is said to have stood where the city of Luang Prabang was found. Lucky travelers may even catch a glimpse of monks going about their daily routine on the grounds—perhaps walking to prayer or meditating by the river bend.
Wat Xieng Thong is located at the northern tip of Luang Prabang. Crowds are smallest in the early morning and late afternoon.