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Home : Holidays : Southeast Asia : Laos : Laos City: -Luang Prabang

Laos City: -Luang Prabang

The Town Luang Prabang, by the banks of the Mekong, some 500 kilometres upriver from Vientiane and 300 metres above sea level, is Laos' oldest town still in existence. For the most part of her history the town was the seat of kings. In 1563 King Setthathirat moved his government to Vientiane; but by then, Luang Prabang had already been capital for some 800 years.

True, the kingdoms ruled from Luang Prabang had not been large for the first 600 years of her history. Only Prince Fa Ngoum made Luang Prabang the capital of a kingdom of significant size.

The small town (about 20,000 inhabitants today) is beautifully located at the foot of a high, rocky mountain - Mount Phousi - by the banks of the Mekong river, and the town has a romantic atmosphere even though most buildings are not very old (despite the town's history of many centuries). The reason: surrounded by almost infinite forests the town's inhabitants always used as building material what they had, in abundance, at their disposal: wood.

In the course of its long history the town had often been conquered and burnt down. The last time this happened in the 80's of the 19th century at the hands of the Chinese. The town had also been a frequent 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.

Attractions in Luang Prabang

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.

The original statue is from 80 % gold. It is 83 centimetres high and weighs 50 kilograms. Allegedly, it was made in Ceylon in the first century of Christian reckoning. 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.

For security reasons the original statue is said to be kept in a bank safe.

Mount Phousi

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 metres 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.

Wat Visoun

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.