in northern Laos, is the country's ancient capital and a very
different proposition to the Plain of Jars. Its UNESCO World
heritage listing describes it as Southeast Asia's ‘best preserved
ancient city’ – it is definitely one of Indochina's ‘must-see’
population is tiny – it has yet to top 20,000, and the impact
of the modern world has been minimal. It’s located on a 250-hectare
peninsula protruding into the confluence of the Khan and Mekong
Rivers surrounded by attractive scenery.
became the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom in the middle of
the 12th century and remained so for nearly three hundred
years. Its attraction is a remarkable concentration of Wats
and other temples in such a small area, making it an easy
place to stroll around.
the best place to begin is the Royal Palace Museum, built
as a royal residence facing the Mekong River to receive dignitaries
and other official visitors. It’s an elegantly designed combination
of traditional Lao and French architecture.
museum has an excellent art object collection, including the
Prabang, an ancient standing Buddha cast in bronze, silver
and gold that gave its name to the town. Apart from housing
other collections of, for example, artifacts, votive objects
and musical instruments, most of the palace rooms have been
preserved as they were when the King departed.
The most magnificent and significant wat in Luang Prabang
was built in 1560. It consists of a tranquil compound filled
with intricate carvings and mosaics, detailed paintings, and
low, wide, tiled roofs. The sim is an excellent example of
classic Luang Prabang temple architecture, with a series of
elegant roofs sweeping downwards almost to the ground. Its
rear wall has an impressive mosaic, and the interior walls
and ceiling are decorated with beautiful frescoes and dharma
Like Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai is also an exemplar of the Luang
Prabang style of religious architecture after 70 years of
construction. The five-tiered roof protects walls of golden
bas-relief relating the story of the Buddha's incarnation
and depicting scenes of village life.
Inside, the central beam is carved with the Hindu epic of
Ravanna and Hanuaman. This wat once housed the golden Prabang:
each year, the statue is returned here for its ritual cleansing.
There are too many wats in Luang Prabang to describe here.
Although they are all built on similar lines, each one has
enough distinctive features to stave off ‘temple fatigue’,
and there are plenty of good Laotian and international restaurants,
coffee shops and bars to visit en-route.
things to do in Luang Prabang
After a day among the wats and the museum, a gentle climb
up Mount Phuosi to enjoy the sunset and the spectacular view
of the town and river, is a delight. A boat cruise on the
Mekong, or hiking to the abandoned wats and caves on the opposite
bank, are other attractions. For the more active, cycling
and rafting are possibilities.