Wat Sok Pa Luang

Famous for its herbal saunas, which are usually administered by lay people who reside at the temple, this wat paa or forest temple (War Mahaphutthawongsa Pa Luong Pa Yai; Thanon Sok Pa Luong) is in Muang Sisauanak. After a relaxing sauna, you can take herbal tea on the veranda while cooling off; expert massage is also available. You're not supposed to wash away your accumulated perspiration for two or three hours afterwards, apparently to allow the herbs to soak into your pores. The temple charges around US$1 for use of the sauna, about US$2 for an' hour-long massage. Nearby Wat 51 Amphon (Thanon Si Amphon) also does herbal saunas.

Wat Sok Pa Luang is known for its course of instruction in vipassana (Lao vipatsanda), a type of Buddhist meditation that involves careful mind-body analysis. The abbot and teacher is Ajahn Sali Kantasilo, a Thai who came to Laos in 1953 at the request of monks and laity in Vientiane. He accepts foreign students but only speaks Lao and Thai, so if you are interested you may have to arrange an interpreter. (See also Vipassana Meditation under Activities later in this chapter.)

Getting There & Away

Taxi, jumbo and tuk-tuk drivers all know how to get to Wat Sok Pa Luang. If you're traveling by car or bicycle, take Thanon Khu Vieng south past Talat Sao for about 2.5km until you come to a fairly major road on the left (this is Thanon Sok Pa Luang, but it's unmarked). Turn left here; the entrance to the wat is about 500m on the left. The temple buildings are back in the woods so all you can see from the road is the tall, ornamented gate.

For Wat Si Amphon, a few hundred rafters past Thanon Sok Pa Luang, turn right on Thanon Si Amphon; Wat Si Amphon is on the left.