Wat Aham, the "Monastery of the Opened Heart" much of the time is serene, except when children from the nearby school are passing through the grounds. The serenity is also in contrast to its sometimes contentious past when it served as a mediating, or perhaps meeting, ground between the animist religion of spirit guardians and Theravada Buddhism.
The temple was built in 1818 on the site of a much older temple dating back to 1527.
It is believed that around the 14th century at the site where the Wat Aham currently stands, a shrine was built for Pu No and Na No, the two guardian spirits of Luang Prabang.
Nearly two centuries later during the reign of King Phothisarath the shrines were destroyed. The King was a devout Buddhist who worked to end animism and spirit worshipping. He had the shrines destroyed and built a Buddhist temple on the site, the Wat Aham. When soon after the town of Luang Prabang was hit by several disasters including diseases, drought and failed harvest, local people believed the destruction of the spirit shrines to be the cause. During the reign of the next King the shrines were rebuilt. When the spirit houses were destroyed again in the 20thcentury, the spirits were believed to have taken residence in the large banyan trees on the temple grounds. Even today the spirits are remembered during the Laos new year festival celebrations.
Wat Aham consists of a sim and two ancient stupas. The sim was built in 1818. Flanking the steps at the front entrance are guardian tigers. Next to them are Hanuman and Ravana, two characters from the Phra Lak Phra Ram, the Laos version of the Indian epic Ramayana.
The structure has a three tiered roof, its ends decorated with stylized Naga finials. Its front porch is supported by four pillars with golden capitals in the shape of a lotus flower. The front façade is intricately decorated in gold and red. The red colored pediment over the front door contains a beautiful carved depiction of a seated Buddha surrounded by motifs of lotus flowers. The door panels are beautifully decorated with carved, gilded deities.
The porch on the back is of similar design as the front with four pillars. The gable of the back façade contains a colorful depiction of the Buddha teaching a number of followers.
The Wat Aham’s main Buddha image is a large sitting Buddha seated on an elaborate pedestal, surrounded by a number of smaller images. The walls are covered with colorful murals with depictions of scenes from the Jataka tales, the stories about the previous lives of the Buddha. Other murals contain scenes of Buddhist hell, with rather vivid depictions of the punishments and tortures received by those who stay there.