Wat Phia Wat and its focal point — a war-scarred Buddha statue — are located in Muang Khoun, only 30 kilometers from Phonsavan, Laos. Muang Khoun was previously the region’s capital city, but all that remains of the capital today are the fragments of Wat Phia Wat, as well as a few stupas.
Given rugged dirt roads we’d encountered just days earlier on a tour of the Plain of Jars, we were not eager to hop back into a tuktuk and endure more bumpiness to get to Wat Phia Wat. (During that earlier drive, we’d felt like kernels of corn being tossed in a popcorn popper!) Nevertheless, to better understand the American Secret War in Laos, Shawn and I felt it was important to see Wat Phia Wat, so we pressed on.
Once underway, we were pleasantly surprised by how smooth the asphalt road actually was. We were also rewarded with pleasant views, catching glimpses of what rice paddies look like during the dry season.
Arriving in Muang Khoun, we found ourselves moved by the sight of the Buddha statue, which has endured so much over the centuries. Sadly, only the temple’s brick foundation and a few columns survive.
Wat Phia Wat is said to have been constructed in 1322, but since that time it’s faced numerous bouts of destruction.
When the Chinese invaded In the 14th century, the structure was damaged, leaving the Buddha statue’s arm severed. It was soon rebuilt.
In 1953, during the First Indochina War, Wat Phia Wat was again destroyed — this time by the French.
In 1966, after Wat Phia Wat had been rebuilt a second time, the temple was once more shattered — this time by American bombing raids.
Today, with a missing eye, scarred right cheek and lip, the Buddha statue looks rather melancholy. Nevertheless, it is revered by worshippers, who still pray here. You can see tiny Buddha statues they’ve left behind, as well as the remains of incense sticks.
I can only hope that Wat Phia Wat will be spared future ravages of war.
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.