The Wat Aham is a small temple consisting of a sim and two ancient stupas. It has a history of both Buddhism and spirit worship. The temple was built in 1818 on the site of a much older temple dating back to 1527.
Between the street and the temple are two very large and old banyan trees that harbour the Devata Luang, the guardian spirits of Luang Prabang town. Next to the Wat Aham is the Wat Wisunalat. A large elaborate gateway connects the two temples.
Luang Prabang’s guardian spirits
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 20th century, 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.
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.
How to get to the Wat Aham
The Wat Aham is found on Phomathat road near the Nam Khan river, just South of the sacred mountain Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang. Right next to it is the Wat Wisunalat temple. Most of town can be done on foot. A jumbo or tuk tuk ride will cost between 10,000 Kip (about US$ 1.30) and 15,000 Kip (about US$ 2) depending on distance and your negotiating skills.
Entrance fee & opening hours
The temple opens daily from 8 am until 5 pm. Admission is 5,000 Kip (about US$ 0.65) per person.