FEATURE: Temple project to be tourist hotspot for Xieng Khuang

Manichanh, Lamphone

XIENG KHUANG, Laos (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Visiting cultural sites is a great way for tourists to explore Lao traditions and find out about the country’s arts from both the new and ancient eras.

Cultural, natural and historical tourism are the three kinds of tourism being promoted in Laos. But cultural tourism possibly has the greatest potential because of the rich customs and traditions in the Asean and South East Asian regions.

Touring Buddhist temples is something that attracts both domestic and foreign visitors because the shrines are quiet places for meditation that are also full of wonderful art works.

In the north of Laos, authorities, monks and Buddhist devotees are backing a new temple development project on a hilltop in Xieng Khuang province.  

The project covers more than 18 hectares in Thongmixay village, Paek district. The location is about 1.5 km from the Plain of Jars, a famous megalithic archaeological site that is well known across the country. The Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism has submitted an official document to the UNESCO to list it as Laos’ third World Heritage Site.    

When tourists visit the attractive Plain of Jars, they can view the temple because it is located atop a high hill.

The main attraction of the shrine will be the country’s first ever bronze Buddha statue, which will be installed at a height of 1,227 metres above sea level.

The image of a sitting Buddha is 26 metres high and 16 metres in diameter.

The new temple is called Haihin Mixayyaram and the statue is named Pha Chao Ong Luang Pathanphone, which means the image gives blessings.

About 380 steps will be built up the hillside so that visitors can climb to the top to worship the image or to get a view of the surrounding area. A road will also be built to the top of the peak.

The temple’s abbot, Sengthong Phimmasone, told told Vientiane Times last week “The temple’s construction is a long-term project and all the funds for it are donations from generous people.”

The provincial authority has approved the project and organised a foundation ceremony on October 1, 2014.

Abbot Sengthong said the project will develop the surrounding area and include the construction of two roads and the main gate of the temple.

About 60 percent of the gate has been completed at a total cost of 120 million kip. Work on the two roads, including one leading to the top of the hill, is underway.

In addition, there are plans to construct other facilities, such as monasteries, an ordination building, monk’s living quarters and toilets.

This project is being developed in an area that has a close link with the history of the national liberation movement. The hill where the temple will be built  was the scene of a battle between the Lao army and foreign aggressors and their henchmen during the Indochina War.

People visiting the temple can also tour the battlefield.

Xieng Khuang is one of the provinces of Laos that was repeatedly bombed by enemy planes. Even now, people continue to suffer from unexploded bombs, which pose a major threat to life.

The president of Isuzu Lao VSA Company Limited, Mr Sengthong Norasing, told Lao media last week that he took the initiative for constructing the temple in 2013 because of his strong devotion to Buddhism.

He discussed his idea with senior monks and provincial authorities and they all agreed with his proposal to develop a site that would become a place of worship for Buddhists and also boost tourism in the province.

A committee responsible for the temple development project was formed in 2014. Its members included provincial leaders and senior monks from the province and the Lao Buddhism Fellowship Organisation.

Mr Sengthong, who is also the project’s coordinator, said he initially donated 108 million kip to the project and then coordinated with senior monks to organise religious ceremonies to collect donations for the construction.

He added that he is building the temple in Xieng Khuang province because it is his birthplace. It is also to promote tourism ahead of the national sports competition that the province will host at the end of 2018.

Now, Mr Sengthong is mobilising funds from generous people for the Buddha statute. The image is 40 percent complete and is expected to be completed in September 2018, before the Xieng Khuang Games begin.

About 60 tonnes of bronze are needed for the statue, which will be the first and the largest and tallest bronze image of Buddha in the country, according to Mr Sengthong.

The total cost of the project is 15 billion kip.

The province has 42 tourism sites that already operational. Of these, 12 are natural sites, 12 historical places and 18 cultural sites, according to the provincial Tourism, Culture and Tourism Department.

In the first nine months of this year, the province welcomed almost 83,000 tourists, including 61,000 foreign visitors.

In 2016, about 74,000 visitors travelled to Xieng Khuang province.