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Home Laos Vientiane: A Visitor’s Guide ⇒ One Afternoon In A Vientiane Temple

Vientiane: A Visitor’s Guide

2One Afternoon In A Vientiane Temple

Inside the thick-walled compound of Wat Sisaket, two monks sit under the spreading branches of an enormous bodi tree deep in conversation with some travellers. Just a few metres away is the busy morning market, but here it is peaceful and quiet.


As you look deeper into the temple complex more groups of monks can be seen; some reading under the shade of trees with trunks wrapped in colourful, sacred scarves; others chatting and laughing with visitors or pacing in meditation under the trees. Visitors quietly flit in and out of the sim (ordination hall), which is surrounded by cool, dark cloisters home to thousands of Buddha images placed in threes in niches in the walls. Other monks sit in silent contemplation in front of the main images.

The temples are the heart of the city and the best places to meet the local people. The monks are always ready to talk and practice their English. You’d be forgiven for thinking “Where do you come from?” is a traditional greeting, visitors hear it so often.

As evening falls, the monks leave the grounds while at an outside classroom alongside a wall a group of young novices sit down for an English lesson with a volunteer teacher.

Outdoor English class for monks
Outdoor English class for monks

A few minutes later two western girls wander up and cause good-humoured consternation among the boys by sitting next to them and sharing their books. Monks, and that includes the youngest novices, are forbidden to touch women, even to the extent of taking something directly from their hands. If they do touch a woman, even just brushing past, they will have to undertake a lengthy ritual purification.

It’s common practice here for boys from poorer backgrounds to enter the monkhood as a way of getting an education. One monk said that because his parents were simple farmers, the schooling available to him was very limited. Joining the temple was the only way out. Once they have completed their studies many monks will leave the temple and return to a secular life. In return for their education the novices do most of the chores, serving the monks until they are 18 or so when they can become fully-ordained monks themselves.

 
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