The impressive Wat Mai is one of Luang Prabang’s largest and most richly decorated temples. Both its interior and exterior are extensively adorned with black and red lacquer decoration and gold leaf.
The temple Wat Mai, formally called Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, is the largest and most richly decorated temple of the city of Luang Prabang. The temple was built in 1796, located near the Sisavangvong night market street and adjoining the compound of the Royal Palace. Wat Mai holds great significance in Laos culture for both religious and aesthetic reasons.
Due to its impressive dimensions Temple Wat Mai is easily distinguished from the street. It is one of the few temples that survived the destruction by Chinese invaders in 1887. In 1821 a veranda was added at the front and at the back of the sim. Over the following decades several other buildings were added.
After much of Luang Prabang and most of its temples were destroyed by Chinese invaders in 1887 the Wat Mai, which was spared the destruction, became the new home of the Phra Bang Buddha image. The Phra Bang, Laos’ most highly venerated Buddha image, stayed there until halfway the 20th century, when it was moved to its current location in the Royal Palace Museum. During Laos new year celebrations the image is brought in procession to the Wat Mai temple for ceremonial cleansing.
Wat Mai’s most impressive structure is the sim. Its five tiered roof extending almost to the ground is adorned with golden Naga finials. At the center of the highest tier is a “Dok so faa” consisting of three golden parasols.
On either side of the sim is a veranda, the main one being particularly beautiful. Its façade contains very intricate gilded stucco bas reliefs made in the 1960’s. The reliefs depict scenes from the Ramayana and the Jatakas and scenes of every day life in Luang Prabang with temples, animals, houses, festivities and dancing women.
The veranda’s roof is supported by large black and gold stencilled columns topped with capitals in the shape of lotus leafs. The sim’s doors are decorated with gilded carvings of deities and flower motifs.