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CULTURAL VISIT IN SAYABOULY
The nation’s dominant Lao Loum-Mekong River valley dwellers-make up more than 75% of Sayabouly population, while Khmu, Hmong, and Tai Lue account for most of the rest, though the province’s steep mountains hide obscure ethnic groups such as the Iu Mien, Tong Luang, and Phrai.
The Khmu migrated to Sayabouly centuries ago, and practice animism and spirit worship. Taleo, a decorated bamboo gate separating the human world from the natural world, mark each village’s entrance, and the people rely on the forest for growing rice, hunting and gathering, and producing rattan and bamboo products.

The Hmong tend to establish hilltop villages, and are skilled at hunting, mixing herbal medicines and raising animals. Intricate embroidery and heavy silver jewelry adorn their clothes. The Tai Lue began migrating from southern China in the 15th century, and are known for their intricate silk and cotton textiles. They practice a mix of animism and Buddhism, and most villages have a temple and monks.

Sayabouly’s District is one of only two Lao Provinces the country’s 15.000 some Phrai call home, and their distinct culture, language and lifestyle varies widely form most other minority groups. Even fewer Tong Luang (Banana Leaf People) carry out their subsistence lives in the mountaintops (800-1.200 meters) of Sayabouly’s Nam Phui National Protected Area moving camp every week to seek food, and a small group of Iu Mien practice their unique lifestyle about 30 km south of Sayabouly District and other outlying villages.
Wat Si Boun Yeun Temple
Locals consider Wat Si Boun Yeun as Ngeun’s most sacred temple, with a tale beginning in 1736, when Lane Xang viceroy, Jao Luang, was forced from Luang Namtha by his nephew, and moved to govern the area around Ngeun’s Ban Don Keo Village. After four years, Jao Luang invited craftsman, Khou Ba Khamsaen, to construct “Wat Luang”. When long-living Khou Ba Khamsaen passed away, villagers built a stupa in his honor, and named it and the temple Si Boun Yeun, which means “long life”. The temple’s current Buddha dates to 1816. Murals cover the exterior walls of the wood-pillared temple, and hanging from the rafters are patterned toung (flags), steps for the deceased to cross the “River of Death”. A small booth (haw thama) once acted as the Lane Xang viceroy’s office for giving orders to his troops.
Location: Wat Si Boun Yeun is located in Ban Luang Village in the district center.
 
Wat Sibounheuang Temple
Built in 1456, Sayabouly’s oldest and amongst its most beautiful temple houses a 7-meter-long reclining golden Buddha…the province’s largest. Located on a hilltop overlooking the Nam Houng River in Sayabouly District, the mural adorned Wat Sibounheuang attracts locals who come to ask for blessings before a trip and go to make merit upon their return. Also visible are the remains from the original temple. A Stupa on the grounds sits on a singkhone with four spirit ghosts-two small and two large-who are honest and strong. The village ghost also resides at Wat Sibounheuang, and each year in mid-March, the district’s three-day Boun Phavet (Ghost Festival) procession, held in remembrance of Phavet starts at the cemetery and ends with the burning of clothes and throwing them in the river.
Location: Wat Sibounheuang is located in the center of Sayabouly District.
 
Wat Sisavangvong
One of three Lao temples regarded as of the highest rank (the other two being in Paklay District and Attapeu Province), it is considered a privilege for aspiring novices to study, meditate and be ordined  for the monkhood at Wat Sisavangvong, as only some 100 are chosen for the honor.
The temple stands out for its long decorative Naga banisters, which represent the guardian water serpent, and tiger figures, which are the earth’s protectors. According to legend, if a male wants to be a monk, he must first ask Naga and make merit by presenting it with gold. Then the resident monks decide on admission.
Location: Wat Sisavangvong is located in the center of Sayabouly District next to the Governor’s building.
 
Wat Natornoy
Constructed in 1950, fire razed the original wooden temple in 1959, but a local villager rebuilt the hilltop Wat Natornoy the following year. Inside, villagers hang baskets to make merit to Phavet.
A 100 year old Don Pho tree rises over the well-landscaped compound’s religious structures, including a curiously-configured “Heaven’s Tower”, which play a prominent role during Pi Mai (Lao New Year) in mid-April. Locals carry perfumed water and flowers for merit-making, climb its stairs to pray, and pour the water down a wooden trough into a small hut and the hands of an awaiting Buddha image. Back downstairs, the faithful bow under Buddha’s hands, allowing the holy water to drip on their heads for good luck.
Location: From Sayabouly District, head south towards Paklay, pass the airport, and follow the road to the right, and then turn left. A small road leads to the river and temple.
 
Wat Siphoume
Phengsi honored her grandparents by building Wat Siphoume, the district’s most sacred site, on the Nam Heuang Riverbanks, and a visit to Kenthao’s 15th century temple reveals stupas for Phengsi and Thodam. Known for her strong and distinct character, Phengsi was more interested in weapons than weaving. With no male successor to the throne, Phengsi was crowned, and word of the new ruler quickly spread. According to custom, any man fighting and defeating Phengsi would become king, but no one succeeded. Phengsi never wed, as her love for her father’s cousin was considered taboo, and she died childless.
Location: Wat Siphoume is located in the center Kenthao Town.
 
The Golden Flea Stupa
Steeped in legend, the Golden Flea Stupa (Prathat Mudkham) is the “soul” of Ngeun’s ethnic Tai Lue, who hold an annual ceremony coinciding with April’s Pi Mai (Lao New Year). Historians suggest migrating Burmese, who had settled in present’day Nam Ngeun Village, built the stupa in 1576.
According to lore, the ancient villagers saw a silver-skinned elephant walking along the river, when it suddenly vanished. They investigated and discovered the elephant had fallen into a sinkhole and was buried alive. They tried to dig the elephant out, but they reached the bottom only to find a massive swarm of golden fleas, which covered their bodies. They raced from the hole, and built the stupa to cover it. Centuries later, thieved raided the stupa, and according to local elders, American bombers damaged the site, but villagers renovated it in 1968 and again in 1997. The district also constructed a center to celebrate special occasions and Buddhist ceremonies.
Location: Travel 3 km north of Ngeun District center to Ban Don Keo Village. The stupa is located on a hill on the eastside of the road.
 
Xienglom Stupa
Ethnic groups migrated via southern China to Xienghone municipal center hundreds of years ago, and established villages united by the Lane Xang Kingdom into Xienglom (City of Wind). According to local lore, the residents’ ancestors were hunting and stumbled into a 27-meter-tall stupa on a 40 m2 square base.
A stone inscription, houses inside Wat Xienglom Temple, states the Burmese-style stupa was built in 1304, and every year on the full moon of the Buddhist calendar’s 5th month, ethnic yuan and Tai Lue from 10 surrounding villages pay homage at the site, and celebrate for seven days.
 
That Puak Stupa
That Puak Stupa is Khop’s most sacred monument dating to 1538 and the Lane Xang Era. Legend claims eagles from India left some of Buddha’s remains on a don pho tree, and went to nearby Nong Tao Lake. When they returned, Buddha’s bones were missing. Thousands of birds joined he eagles in scouring the forest for the remains. A local hunter noticed the birds and investigated. He stopped at the don pho tree where termites were building a dirt mound around mushrooms (pauk), and removed the soil to find the sacred bones. The termites, prohibited from touching the remains, quickly rebuilt their hill. The hunter told the viceroy, who ordered villagers to build a 14-meter-tall stupa over the termite mound.
To this day, locals make merit at That Puak to pray for spring rains, and before departing on a trip, locals take soil from around That Puak for good luck.
Location: Located south of the Khop District (Ban Phabong) between Ban Don Moun and Ban Keung Villages.
 
Ban Tham Village
Located 8 km southeast of Khop District, Ban Tham Village presents the gateway to a pair of caves and an ancient stupa
A 1-km walk through rice fields surrounded by limestone outcrops leads to Tham Phounoy and Water Caves, drilled into the same karst. Tham Phounoy (Small Crab Cave) is fed by a stream with freshwater shrimp and small fish, while the neighboring Water Cave contains interesting formations including ones resembling a standing  Buddha, elephant head and butterflies. Though accessible year-round, the Water Cave becomes too deep during the rainy season (April-November) to explore the entire cavern. A guide is needed to find the caves Little is know about Mann Stupa that sits about 4 km from Ban Tham Village, though villagers have been worshipping there for generations. Archaeologists believe the stupa was built by Burmese centuries ago.
 
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