Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, more simply known as Wat Mai (the New Monastery), is Luang Prabang’s largest wat.
Centrally located on Sisavangvong Road and an important site during the annual Pimai Lao festival, Wat Mai is one of the city’s most photographed temples.
Founded at the end of the 18th century, construction, additions and expansions of this temple beside the Royal Palace meant it wasn’t finished until the late 1890s (the temple was spared during the Black Flag attack). Further structures were added to the compound through the 20th century, with the latest renovations completed in the early 1960s. The sim is the highlight, with its five-tiered roof extending protection over the spectacular gilded bas relief depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the life story of the Buddha.
Wat Mai once housed Luang Prabang’s most valuable artifact, the Phra Bang: an 83-centimetre tall, 50-kilogram, mostly golden Buddha statue. In 1947 it was shifted to the Royal Palace Museum (or duplicated, with the original shifted to a vault in Vientiane or Moscow, depending on your penchant for conspiracies). Every year during the Pimai Lao festival, the Phra Bang is carried from the museum to Wat Mai, ceremonially washed and displayed out front for three days. Otherwise, a different large golden Buddha sits on an altar inside the sim.
Over the years, we haven’t see anyone collecting entrance fees at this temple — it seems there are too many entrances and too much pedestrian traffic around it to bother.