Luang Prabang is the jewel of Indochina, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. The ancient royal city is surrounded by mountains at the junction of the Mekong and its tributary, the Khan river. In the centre of the city is Mount Phousi with stunning views of the surrounding temples and hills. Luang Prabang is a city where time seems to stand still. As part of the UNESCO plan, new buildings have been limited and development must be in keeping with this magical place.
The National Museum
Until the communist takeover in 1975 this building directly opposite the town rock was the king's palace. The building itself is not very old. Its construction, consuming 20 years, was begun only in 1904. But it contains spectacular objects of art. However, the museum's most important piece of art can only be admired as a copy: a small Buddha statue by the name Pra Bang. The name of the town derives from the name of that statue: Luang stands short for Nakhon Luang = capital, Pra = holy. Luang Prabang may well be translated as Capital of Holy Bang.
In the 11th century it was kept in Angkor until it was brought to Luang Prabang by the Laotian King Fa Ngoum, after he had married a Khmer princess. When King Setthathirat made Vientiane the capital of Laos, he took the statue there. In 1779 it was robbed by the Siamese, but was returned in 1839. The statue is the most important holy object of Laotian Buddhism.
Mount Phousi is right in middle of Luang Prabang. On top of the mountain is Wat Chom Si, built in 1804. You have to climb 328 steps up Mount Phousi, but if you're fit enough, the beautiful view from the top is worth the effort. In the 18th century a number of other Wats were on the mountain.
Wat Pra Bath Nua
This Wat features a 3 meters long "footprint" of the Buddha. Such Buddha "footprints" are found in all Southeast Asian Buddhist countries. Usually they are richly decorated ornaments with the approximate outline of a footprint. They are supposed to express that the teachings of the Buddha have reached, and are respected, here.
Wat Xieng Thong
This royal Wat on the banks of the Mekong was built in 1559 during the reign of King Setthathirat. It has survived, comparatively well, the various invasions of mostly Chinese armies. Being a royal Wat it was well taken care of over the centuries. The Wat is impressively decorated with carvings, murals and mosaics.
This Wat south of Mount Phousi is a replica of an older Wat, which had been erected in the same place in 1513. Even though the replica has been built only in 1898, it does exude the atmosphere of a monastery of the middle ages. The Wat houses numerous religious art treasures.
Wat That Luang
This Wat to the South of the town dates to the year 1818. Urns with the ashes of kings and members of royal families are kept here. A golden Stupa reminds of the last Laotian king, Sisavang Vong. As he had been very popular among the citizens, many Laotian bring offerings.
The Pak-Ou Caves
These caves in the rocky walls of the sandstone mountains at the confluence of the Ou river and the Mekong, some 25 kilometers upriver from Luang Prabang, are the most important attraction out of town.
The caves are inhabited by thousands of Buddha statues, some allegedly more than 300 years old. Monks used to live in the caves, too. When Laos was still a monarchy, the caves were visited every year by the king. A small royal Wat is near the caves.
The citizens of Luang Prabang believe that many good-natured spirits have their homes in the caves. Thus they undertake short pilgrimages there on special occasions, especially traditional New Year's Day. The best way to visit the caves is by boat tour. The nature along the Mekong is absolutely beautiful, and a boat tour to Pak Ou is likely to be the most co memorable excursion from Luang Prabang.
Ban Phanom is a wavers' village a few kilometers east of Luang Prabang. Visitors have the opportunity to buy local cloth.
The waterfall is about 30 kilometers from Luang Prabang, on a Mekong tributary. In the surrounding area live a number of hill tribes.
sequent target of hostile visits by Thais and Vietnamese.
After invasions, many destroyed structures were rebuilt, some of them again and again, roughly the same as they have existed before an invasion. Though physically no longer present, architecture dating back many centuries shapes the town and contributes to Luang Prabang's unquestioned charm. To this, the numerous Wats in and around the town provide a spiritual component.