Korean assistance breaths a new life to a Khmer monument in Laos
Located in the southern part of Laos, Vat Phou, a World Heritage Site, showcases Hong Nang Sida Temple, which bridges Laos’ past and present. “Despite its importance, many remain unaware of the temple’s nature and its location. Hong Nang Sida Temple, which held a thousand-year-old secret and remained dormant for a long period, is now undergoing restoration with the support of the Korean government. I hope that more Lao and foreign tourists will visit Hong Nang Sida Temple and witness the restoration site of a key chapter of Laos’ illustrious past,” said Amphol Sengphachanh, Deputy Director of the Champasak Department of Information Culture and Tourism.
The Champasak Plain in southern Laos spans the Mekong River, and it is here that the globally renowned Vat Phou Temple is situated. In 2001, UNESCO registered this temple as part of the “Vat Phou and Associated Ancient Settlements within the Champasak Cultural Landscape.” Every February, the Vat Phou Festival draws in 200,000 visitors. Yet, many remain unaware of another enchanting temple in the vicinity: Hong Nang Sida Temple. This temple, long in ruins, was not as widely recognized as its counterpart.
According to local legend in Champasak, Princess Sida, the daughter of the king of Kammatha, once decided to sacrifice herself to a monster to save her kingdom and her father from crisis. Thankfully, with the bravery of Katanam, the princess was rescued. The two are believed to have married and lived happily ever after. It is said that Hong Nang Sida Temple was erected in honor of Princess Sida’s noble willingness to sacrifice herself.
Hong Nang Sida Temple is believed to date back to the 11th to 12th centuries. Built of sandstone, the temple had completely collapsed, obscuring the interior of the main shrine. Currently, the ruins of Hong Nang Sida Temple are undergoing restoration by the Korea Cultural Heritage Administration and the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation, slowly returning it to its original state.
The restoration project of Hong Nang Sida Temple in Laos, Korea’s first overseas cultural heritage restoration project, began in earnest in 2013 after the signing of an agreement between the Republic of Korea and Lao governments in 2011. For a systematic restoration, the initial four years were dedicated to detailed planning through humanistic, scientific, and engineering academic investigations, which included monitoring, excavation, and ground stability studies. The subsequent four years focused on infrastructure development such as improving access roads, establishing stone conservation treatment facilities (often referred to as “stone hospitals”), providing crane equipment, and restoring the platform and mandapa. During the first phase of the project in 2019, we discovered a gold-plated yoni, which has the potential to be designated as a national treasure of Laos. Additionally, the restoration of Hong Nang Sida gained international recognition for its integrity. The second phase of the project began in 2021, with plans to complete the restoration of the Hong Nang Sida main shrine by 2025.
The goal of this project is to restore Hong Nang Sida Temple and foster self-reliance of the Lao government and the Vat Phou World Heritage Office for the sustainable growth of the Lao cultural heritage sector. As such, the restoration process emphasizes strengthening Laos’ capabilities and transferring crucial technologies for cultural heritage restoration.
Various processes are involved in the restoration of Hong Nang Sida Temple. Stones from the collapsed structure are carefully dismantled one by one. Each dismantled stone is documented using 3D technology, and those requiring preservation are treated at a specialized facility known as the Stone Hospital. The entire process, from before the dismantling to after, is meticulously documented using digital technology. The Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation is providing full support to enable the local Vat Phou World Heritage Office to oversee and execute the process directly.
Hong Nang Sida Temple can be accessed from the entrance of Vat Phou Temple by following the sign to the left (south) for another 2 km. Since the road has been cleared for restoration work, you can easily reach Hong Nang Sida Temple by various means, such as car or motorbike. After arriving at the entrance of Hong Nang Sida Temple, follow the crushed stone path to reach the Stone Hospital. For transportation, park near the Stone Hospital and explore Hong Nang Sida Temple.
Hong Nang Sida Temple is a significant site where a new chapter in Korea’s cultural heritage overseas development assistance project is unfolding. By leveraging Korea’s advanced technology to enhance the skills of the Lao people, tireless efforts are being made to awaken Princess Sida, who lies dormant. If you visit Hong Nang Sida now, you can witness this historic scene firsthand. By the end of the project in 2025, the newly restored Hong Nang Sida will be unveiled. If you wish to be part of a moment where the splendor of Khmer culture comes to life, we recommend visiting Hong Nang Sida Temple now.
The Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation, a public institution under the Cultural Heritage Administration of the Republic of Korea, specializes in promoting and preserving Korean traditional culture through international exchange and cooperation.
For more details about the restoration project by the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation, please visit the foundation’s website at www.chf.or.kr
Text BY The Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Phoonsab Thevongsa