Buddhist temples in Laos are known as Wat or Vat. These are a central part of a village and not only serve as a place of worship but also a centre for the community for meetings, education and festivals. Though there are many variations, they usually have the following structures:
The Ordination Hall (Sim)
The Sim is the main building of a Buddhist temple, and often the most decorated. It is usually surrounded by eight boundary stones which mark the holiest area. At least one prominent buddha image sits inside this structure, in which monks are ordained and special rituals performed.
The Assembly Hall (Sala Hong Tham)
This is usually an open-air pavilion where monks can instruct lay people in Buddhist principles. It can also be used in some ceremonies or even for village meetings. Monks often take their meals here, as well as receive offerings.
Living quarters (Kuti)
Kutis provide housing for the community of monks inside a temple. Lay people, especially women, should not enter these private living areas.
The Library (Ho Trai)
Temples often house old collections of Buddhist manuscripts written on palm leaves. These buildings protect these valuable cultural treasures from the elements and from insects.
The Reliquary (That)
There is usually one central that near the sim which houses a relic of the Buddha. These are often four-sided with a pyramidal crown. When Buddhists celebrate on holy days, there is often candle-lit procession around this that. There are many other smaller that around the complex that hold the remains of monks and local people.
The Crematorium (Mene)
Some temples also have special areas for the cremation of bodies of local people. The remaining ashes and bones are interred in one of the that around the complex.
The Drum Tower (Ho Kong)
The drum tower houses a large drum that is used to wake the monks, and call people to worship on holy days.
Credit: Jason Rolan
A that or stupa is a dome or bell shaped structure used as a monument to store religious sacred relics of the Buddha. They are often elaborately decorated.
Unlike Wats, which can be entered, stupas are enclosed and without entrances, to protect the sacred relics contained within.