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Ho Phra Keo (Vientiane, Laos)

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A museum in Vientiane, Laos housing Buddhist sculpture and artifacts.

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      03.07.2012 18:26
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      A reconstructed temple in the most beautiful garden setting

      Ho Phra Keo
      Thanon Settathirat,

      This temple Ho Phra Keo was originally called "Wat Phra Keo" which means "Temple of the Emerald Buddha" as it was the original home of this famous Buddha image which was stolen by Laotians from the Thais in 1551 and then retaken by the Thais in 1778 and now lives in the temple in Bangkok. It is now called "Ho Phra Keo" which means "Altar of the Emerald Buddha" as sadly that is all that remains of the Emerald Buddha here.

      This temple is open from Monday to Sunday from 08:00 AM to 12:00 PM and then again from 01:00 PM to 04:00 PM
      The price is 2000 kip for locals and 5000 kip for foreign visitors and I believe that is about 30p so not a huge price even for foreigners.

      This looks like an old temple but is in fact a 20th century restoration of the original 1565 temple which was destroyed by the Thai invasion of 1828-29 when many temples in Vientiane were destroyed. It was the former royal temple of the Lao monarchy and was built specially to house the Emerald Buddha stolen from Thailand. .After it was destroyed by the Thais the temple was rebuilt in 1936 and then restored again in 1993 thanks to a very generous donation from the German government and after this it was turned into a museum and is no longer used as a place of worship.

      This rather beautiful temple is situated next to the former Presidential Palace on the south side of Setthathirath road and opposite Wat Si Saket (which I reviewed on here recently ) so it is very easy to get from one to the other.

      We arrived here just before it was due to close as we tried to fit in far too much in one day and it poured with rain the whole day which made getting around very challenging too.

      The first thing that struck me when we entered the temple area was how beautiful the gardens were. They were a mass of colour with neat trimmed hedges on which were a mass of glorious red coloured flowers. The hedges framed two grass areas with a paved walkway centrally placed so that it went straight up to the steps of the temple. It took your eye directly to the lovely temple which actually looks a lot older than it is in realty. I actually found the temple itself more beautiful and interesting than the contents but I tend to be drawn to places for their over all beauty and ambience. The front of the temple just above the doorway was just lovely with relief sort of carvings in a gold colour. The roof had the lovely floating curve up at the eaves so typical of temples in Laos and was a really dark colour which contrasted with the ochre colour below.

      Towards the right hand side was a gong and a huge barrel which we went over to inspect. As we arrived a few young Thai tourists joined us for shelter and we chatted to them for a while. We were then joined by a couple of Buddhist monks carrying umbrellas. They were lovely, so friendly and welcoming, explaining that the temple was no longer used for worship and that it wasn't really that old. They also told us to go and look at all the lovely Buddha images around and in the temple which we duly did.

      There were indeed many Buddhas. We had to take our shoes off at the top of the steps where we also left our brollies. Most of the Buddhas are around the outside of the temple under the roof overhang and they come in all shapes and sizes, sitting, standing and with hands in various positions. Some had the most beautiful long elegant fingers. All around the outer walls of the temple were carved decorations and patterns. The stairways had two Nga (snakes ) as banisters with elegant if somewhat fierce faces and lots of teeth; they are a cross between a snake and a dragon in my view.

      The fact that this temple has been reconstructed is testament to the skills of the local craftsmen today as Ho Phra Keo epitomises the splendour of ancient Lao design. The beautiful carvings which I have described can be seen on the gables of the temple, the upper facade, along the outside walls and also on the door and window panels and frames and particularly on the staircases with the wonderful Nga banisters.

      Apart from the Buddha statues there were also other images such as turtles which I love and a couple of the sort of lion dogs that you often see near Chinese places .Inside the actual temple museum we found a gilded throne, Khmer Buddhist stelae which are sort of columns with carvings, bronze frog drums which look like small tables which are carved as well, wooden carvings and palm-leaf manuscripts as well as many more artefacts and Buddha images but it was pretty dark in there and I am not really a connoisseur of Buddha images so their age and history didn't mean a lot to me. It didn't help that all the explanations of the exhibits are unfortunately only in Lao.

      I preferred the outside Buddhas and the beautiful setting of the temple in its grounds. I just wish it had not been quite so wet and we could have spent more time wandering in the gardens and enjoying the place as a whole.

      If you visit Vientiane I would recommend a visit to this beautiful though not so old temple and enjoy the wonderful colourful gardens and the site as a whole before you venture in to the temple itself. The gardens and temple of Ho Phrakeo have a quiet and respectful atmosphere. The temple itself is not gaudy and painted with gold and fancy colours but more a dignified stone building decorated with beautiful detailed carvings .The gardens are simple, yet lush and colourful created from native flowers and trees. There is an overlying feeling of serenity and quiet to the temple grounds that makes it a perfect sort of oasis in the middle of the fairly quiet city of Vientiane.

      Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.


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