The spiritual center of Vientiane, thanks to its sacred pillar, Wat Si Muang is the city’s busiest temple. Laos come from far and wide to pray for good luck and eliminate bad luck. Around November Wat Si Muang is also the starting point for the candle-lit procession that begins the nation’s biggest religious event, the That Luang Festival.
You don’t need a guide to appreciate the local color at Wat Si Muang, as pilgrims buy caged birds for release, make offerings, and deposit broken pottery near the sacred pillar. However, if you’d like to understand the statuary and rituals, it does help to have a guide. Private guided tours are a good option for visiting Wat Si Muang, which is also an occasional stop on Vientiane city tours.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Culture vultures who love religion and folklore will find the mixture of animism and Buddhism on display at Wat Si Muang particularly fascinating.
- As always with Lao temples, dress modestly and respectfully when visiting Wat Si Muang. That means covering shoulders, chest, and thighs, for both men and women.
- Breaking the image of the Buddha means bad luck for Lao people. The Laos who offer broken gods at Wat Si Muang are aiming to change their bad luck.
- There is no charge to enter the temple, although there is a small fee for parking.
- There are a couple of low steps up to the temple halls, and no ramp.
How to Get There
As befits the city’s spiritual center, Wat Si Muang is centrally located in the heart of Vientiane, under a mile (1.4 kilometers) from Nam Phou Fountain, between Setthathilath and Samsenthai roads. Cycling is a traditional and pleasant way to tour temples in Vientiane, or, if you’d like to check off multiple sites in double-quick time, you could always join a city tour.
When to Get There
Wat Si Muang is open sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, and stays open into the night on special days on Laos’ Buddhist calendar. It’s worth being in the area at the start of That Luang Festival (Boun That Luang). This happens roughly each November, on the full moon of the 12th month of the Buddhist calendar, and begins with a massive procession of candles from Wat Si Muang.
The Spirit of the City Pillar
The sacred pillar wrapped in cloth at the temple dates back to the Khmer period and has likely been worshipped for at least 1,000 years. One story of how it came to be sacred says that a young, pregnant woman named Si Muang sacrificed herself to appease angry spirits while the temple was being built. She threw herself into a hole in the construction site and was crushed by the pillar.