Wat Phia Wat and its focal point — a war-scarred Buddha statue — are only 30 kilometers from Phonsavan. Given Laos’ rugged dirt roads, we were not eager to hop into a tuktuk and endure more bumpiness to get to this now-destroyed Laotian Buddhist temple. During an all-day tour of the Plain of Jars just a few days earlier, we’d felt like human kernels of corn being tossed in a popcorn popper! Nevertheless, to better understand the so-called American Secret War in Laos, Shawn and I felt it was important to see this Laotian region’s former capital city in Muang Khoun. (It was previously known as Xieng Khuang.)
Once we’d embarked on the day trip to Wat Phia Wat, we were pleasantly surprised by the how smooth the asphalt road was. We were also rewarded with pleasant views of dry-season rice paddies. Upon arriving in Muang Khoun, we found ourselves quite moved by the sight of this Buddha statue which has endured so much during the past centuries.
Today, 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 fourteenth century, the structure was damaged, leaving the Buddha statue’s arm was severed. It was soon rebuilt.
In 1953, Wat Phia Wat was again destroyed, this time 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. I can only hope that it will be spared the ravages of war in the future.
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.