The Haw Phra Kaew or Ho Phra Keo is one of Laos’ most highly venerated temples, now turned into a museum. The temple derives its name from the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most highly revered Buddha image which was enshrined in the temple for over 200 years.
The Haw Phra Kaew was built in 1565 by King Setthathirath, when he moved the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom to Vientiane. It was constructed to be the temple for the Laos Royals and to enshrine the Emerald Buddha which stayed here until 1779, when it was taken to Thailand. Since then the image is enshrined in the Wat Phra Kaew temple on the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
The Haw Phra Kaew was destroyed when the Siamese armies invaded Vientiane in 1827. Since then it has been rebuilt and restored several times; the current structure dates from 1942, when it was restored by the French. The temple is surrounded by well kept gardens. An item of particular interest on display in the garden is a 2,000 year old stone jar from the Plain of Jars.
The sim or congregation hall has a large multi tiered roof adorned with Naga finials and an ornamental “Dok so faa” at its center. The stairway to the main and side entrances carry a mythological Naga snake with its head looking away from the temple, the serpent’s body extending over the balustrade towards the temple. The intricately decorated gable shows Buddhist scenes and a depiction of the three headed elephant Erawan in gold color on a red background.
The sim is surrounded by a gallery, its roof supported by rows of large pillars. On the veranda is a display of 18th century bronze Buddha images and other artifacts. At the veranda’s front is a number of large standing images, as well as a number of ancient inscribed steles and stone slabs with Buddhist sculptings. A large wooden box was used to store the Tripitaka, the ancient manuscripts containing the teachings of the Buddha. The side galleries contain seated Buddha images on pedestals in the Bhumisparsha mudra of “Calling the Earth to witness”.
Large, intricately carved wooden doors on front and back give access to the sim. The sim is no longer used for Buddhist ceremonies. It has been turned into a museum displaying Buddha images as well as a gilded throne for the Emerald Buddha, inscribed Khmer stone steles, wood carvings and ancient Buddhist manuscripts written on dried palm leaf. Signs with information about the temple and the displayed items are in French and Laotian language.