Wat Phia Wat and the war-scarred Buddha statue once housed within this now-destroyed Laotian Buddhist temple, are only 30 kilometers from Phonsavan, the small town in which we were staying. Given Laos’ often rough and tumble dirt roads, we were not certain we wanted to hop into a tuktuk and endure more bumpiness (during a tour days before, for several hours we’d felt like human kernels of corn being tossed into a hot popper)! Nevertheless, to better understand the so-called American Secret War in Laos, we felt that it was important to see this Laotian region’s former capital city in Muang Khoun, formerly known as Xieng Khuang. After embarking on the day trip, we were pleasantly surprised by the smooth asphalt road; we were also rewarded with pleasant views of dry-season rice paddies. Upon arriving in Muang Khoun, we were quite moved by the sight of the Buddha statue that has endured so much in the past centuries.
Today, only the temple’s brick foundation and a few columns survive. The temple is said to have been constructed in 1322; since that time it’s faced numerous bouts of destruction. In the fourteenth century when the Chinese invaded, the temple was largely destroyed and the Buddha statue’s arm was severed. It was soon rebuilt. In 1953, Wat Phia Wat was again destroyed by the French during the first Indochina War. After being rebuilt for a second time, the temple was once more shattered, this time by American bombing raids in 1966. The enduring Buddha statue with the now-melancholy face (thanks to its missing eye and scarred right cheek and lip) is highly revered by worshippers. The years ahead should ensure the preservation of the Buddha through tourist revenue and we can only hope that it will be spared the ravages of war in the future.