Wat Si Saket is the capital city’s oldest surviving monastery. It was built from 1819 to 1824 by King Anou. According to history, the temple was the place where Lao lords and noblemen came together to swear loyalty to the King. In 1828, when the Siamese armies attacked Vientiane, they spared this temple after seeing that it was built in a style comparable to Thai temples. The French then restored the temple in the year 1924 and again in year 1930.
The most striking feature of the temple is a rough square cloister that encloses the sim or the main ordination hall. The hall is a common feature of many large Thai temples but is not often seen in many Lao temples. Inside the sim, the walls are seen from eye-level and are painted with scenes from the jataka. Jataka is a series of stories that depict the past lives of Buddha. Sadly, because of time, the murals on the walls are badly deteriorating and there seem to be no plans to conserve the delicate walls. The outer gallery of the ordination hall, on the other hand, is lined with inward leaning columns all with 12 corners. It is then topped by meticulously carved wooden brackets and designs.
Another unusual feature of the temple is the thousands of small niches found on its outer wall with each housing a small image of Buddha. Found on the shelves of the front of the wall are three rows of larger images of Buddha, all in various shapes and sizes. One common activity to do in the temple and museum is to look for the Buddha that are uniquely characterized. Some Buddha images are seen standing, praying for the rain, posed with arms up, posed with palms facing forward and a Buddha calling for peace. It is said that Laos Buddhas have exaggerated square noses or nipples to emphasize that Buddha is no longer human. It then makes scanning through the images a pleasant experience.
In another entrance found on the west side of the cloister is a kind of Buddha bin that houses hundreds of broken images of Buddha through the years. The images were discovered during the excavations done in support of one of its many restoration projects.
Found west of the cloister is the former library where the palm leaf manuscripts that documented Buddhist philosophies were once held. The structure also houses a huge cabinet that once held such important books. The cabinet was once refined in black lacquer with intricate golden designs. Sadly, only a few remnants of the elaborate designs can be noticed today as they have faded through time as well. Finally, found behind the library is a dirt path leading to a small stupa that contains the ashes of many cremated devotees of the temple.
The Sisaket Museum is open from 8 to noon and from 1 to 4 in the afternoon. Admission is a bit steep at USD 1.20 per entrance. Take note that the Sisaket Museum is still a working monastery that is visited by several monks and devotees. Visiting the Wat Si Saket is indeed a pleasant experience with a combination of historical significance and pleasing Buddha images.