The Enduring Buddha at War-Ravaged Wat Phia Wat, Laos

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.





Where in the World?

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

8 thoughts on “The Enduring Buddha at War-Ravaged Wat Phia Wat, Laos

    1. Hi Indiaphare – thanks for your comment. The sites in Laos are amazing, but this one was particularly haunting considering the temple’s destruction. We’re happy to now be in beautiful gem, Luang Prabang!

  1. Tricia, I can’t get enough of your gorgeous pictures in Laos! I am so excited and feel tremendously lucky to have the opportunity to live there for several years. Though I’ll be based in Vientiane, I hope to get out to some of the places you’ve shared with us here. Thank you.

    1. Wanderlustress, as they say in Laos, “khawp jai lai lai.” So happy you enjoyed the images! My visits to Laos were very special and we’re considering projects to help there – if even small.

      It’s exciting that you and your family will soon be heading to Vientiane. During my two visits, I really enjoyed the city’s vibe. Your little ones might have fun exploring Buddha Park – a place I’ll be posting on soon. (Yes, after 5 months of an Asian sabbatical, I still have thousands of photos and tales to share!)

      I look forward to hearing about your new life chapter – so glad our paths crossed!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing Lao history,bring tears to my eyes. I can’t imagine what they went through. The Buddha statue represent the strong people of Laos.

    1. Hi Annie, I’m happy to hear that you found this post touching. Since the people of Laos are still being gravely impacted by this unexploded ordnance (UXO), I was elated to hear recent news of the $90 million U.S. commitment to removing UXO in Laos over the next 3 years. It seems a bit late in coming, but here’s hoping it will make a difference! Are you thinking of traveling to Laos soon?

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