Led by Toon’s father Khamsi, the Phapphayboun family helped establish Wat Lao Sayaphoum in 2003. Not long after moving to North Carolina from Connecticut, Khamsi drew together other community leaders in the living room of Dara’s home and decided to establish a temple in Morganton. Only about thirteen Lao families lived in the area then, but with their support, Khamsi and the management team transformed a rental house into a temporary temple. In 2005, with community donations, temple leadership bought the trailer and plot of land where Wat Lao Sayaphoum now stands.
The trailer includes a semi-public kitchen, a secondary altar, and private bedrooms for the temple’s two monks. The community cleared the plot of land of its trees and erected a carport for the temple’s main worship space and altar. The building was erected quickly; as Toon noted, the community “did the Lao thing with construction—they just built it.” The volunteers customized the red-metal-siding carport by designing a front porch in wood and cement.
Indoors, the structure’s simplicity is masked by the oranges, golds, and reds of the many Buddhist objects displayed here—including the six-foot-tall golden Buddha donated by Khamsi seated at the center. Wat Lao Sayaphoum, like the Buddhist temples of Laos, is in a constant state of improvement. Humble in size, but with essential elements in place, the temple receives the local Lao community from Morganton and its surrounds, with special ceremonies drawing Lao visitors from as far as Charlotte.
Quotes taken from an interview by the author with Toon Phapphayboun and Khamsi Bounkhong Siluangkhot on September 21, 2014, Morganton, North Carolina.