Luang prabang

Luang prabang

Things to do - general

Luang Prabang is a city in north central Laos, at the confluence of the  Nam Khan and Mekong rivers about 300 km north of Vientiane. It is the capital of Luang Prabang province. The population of the city is about 50,000.

The city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. It had also been known by the ancient name of Chiang Thong Until the communist  takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos. The old town centre is Unesco World Heritage sites.

The main part of the city consists of four main roads on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers. The city is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. Every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms. One of the major landmarks in the city is a large steep hill on which sits Wat Chom Si.

Luang Prabang has both natural and historical sites. Among the natural tourism sites are the Kuang Si Fall, Tat sea waterfall, and Pak Ou caves. Elephant riding is offered at some sites. Phousi, in the center of the town, has broad views of the town and river systems, and is a popular place to watch the sun setting over the Mekong River. At the end of the main street of Luang Prabang is a night market where stalls sell shirts, bracelets, and other souvenirs. The Haw Royal Palace Museum and the Wat Xieng Thong temple are among the best known historical sites. The town, particularly the main street, is dotted with many smaller wats such as Wat Hosian Voravihane . Every morning at sunrise, monks walk in a procession through the streets accepting alms offered by local residents, an event popular with tourists but subject to some controversy surrounding tourist etiquette.Mountain biking is quite common, with people often biking around the town or to the waterfalls for the day. Down the Mekong River, a 15 minute boat ride from town center, Ban Chan (the pottery village ) is an interesting place

Country Laos
Visa requirements

Visa to Laos

Languages spokenLaos
Currency usedKip
Area (km2)16875

Luang Prabang is truly a town that offers something for everyone. Between relaxing on boat trips and trekking to mountain villages, cruising day and night markets for beautiful handicrafts, indulging in massages and spa treatments and visiting the myriad cultural sites in the town there are just no excuses to be bored. And at the end of the day there are hundreds of bars, cafes and restaurants offering an impressive array of local and international fare to slake your thirst and satisfy your well-earned appetite.

The National Museum

Luang prabang National museum

Luang prabang National museum

The National Museum, constructed in 1904. Various royal religions objects are displayed in the large entrance hall. Many gifts from foreign envoys (including a rock brought back from the moon!) and religious and cultural artifacts are on display here including the 14th century gold Phabang (Buddha image) from which Luang Prabang derives its name.

Open 08:00 to 11:30, 13:30 to 16:00, open daily except Tuesday Fee 30,000kip (US$4) Children under 10 free

Wat Xieng Thong



Built during the 16th Century by King Saysetthathirath, Wat Xieng Thong temple is one of the most interesting examples of Buddhist art and architecture in Luang Prabang and arguably one of the most beautiful temples in Asia. The ornate carved and gilded funeral vehicle of the former king is kept in one of the buildings in the temple grounds. This temple was used for the the most important Royal ceremonies and houses the bones of King Sisavangvong.

Open 08:00 to 17:30 open daily Fee 20,000kip (US$3)

Phousi Mountain



This incredible mountain is located in the center of town. After climbing 328 zigzag steps you will be rewarded with a perfect 360 panoramic view of the whole town. Mount Phousi is Luang Prabang’s Holy Mountain where you will find the 20 meter high Wat Chomsi stupa.
Wat Sene
A donation of 100,000 kip was used to construct this temple in 1781. The Vat houses the bird of the Buddha, as well as two longboats used in the annual Boat Racing Festival.

Open 08:00 to 17:00 open daily Fee 20,000kip Children under 10 free (US$3)

Wat Mai Sowannaphummaham
Built in 1796, Vat Mai (New Monastery) was given its present name following the restoration undertaken in 1821 by King Manthathourat. Notice the 4-tiered roof, as well as the scenes from daily life and the legend of Prince Vessantara (a previous incarnation of Buddha) on the bas-relief walls.

Open 08:00 to 17:30 open daily Fee 10,000kip (US$2)

Wat ViSounnarath
The most ancient temple of Luang Prabang, Wat ViSounnarath was originally erected in 1515 and rebuilt in 1898. Within the walls you will see That Mak Mo known as the “watermelon stupa” because of its similarities to the fruit.

Open 08:00 to 17:30 open daily Fee 10,000kip (US$2)

Wat That Luang

Located out of town on the way to Kuang Si Waterfall, Wat That Luang was built on a knoll in 1818 by king Manthatourath. Before 1975, Wat That Luang was used to hold funeral rites and cremate the country‘s highest dignitaries.

Useful information

Luang Prabang is easily accessible by air, road and boat. BY AIRLaos Airways offers services from a number of major Asian cities. Check their web site for details. Luang Prabang’s airport is close to the city and well serviced by road transport to take you to your guest house or hotel.BY ROADHighway 13 connects Luang Prabang to Vang Vieng and Vientiane in the south and via Highway 1 to the north. There is a regular bus service between Luang Prabang and Vientiane. The 390km trip takes 8 to 9 hours. Other bus services to and from Luang Prabang are available. Please check with your travel agent or tour company for details.BY BOATLuang Prabang is situated on the Mekong River. There a number of fast and slow boat services connecting Luang Prabang to other river towns. Please check with your travel agent or tour company for details.GETTING AROUND TOWNGetting around Luang Prabang is easy. You can hire a pushbike and take your time exploring the old town and the closer suburbs or for travel further afield there are plenty of Tuk Tuks for hire as well as mini vans for those looking for a bit more comfort. Cost of bicycle hire, for example range is between 15,000kip to 35,000kip (US$2-5) Cost of motor bike 35,000kip to 45,000kip (US$5-6) Airport taxi ( mini van ) service to town, 50,000kip (US$7)BUS BOAT & PLANE TIME TABLES (Please note schedules and prices may vary)Luang Prabang AirportLaos AirlinesBangkok AirwaysVietnam AirlinesFestivals and EventsRituals and festivals, whether they occur once a day or once a year, convey the spirit and essence of a culture, identifying what is unique to a locality. In Luang Prabang, the ritual cycle is dominated by Thervada Buddhist customs and traditions, integrated with tributes paid to the animistic spirits (Phi) of the land and water. Because it is the traditional center of Laos and the seat of the former royal family, Luang Prabang’s annual festivals (Boun) are often organized on a grand scale. Festivals are governed by different phases of the moon, but in general are held in the same month each year.JanuaryBoun Khoun KhaoAfter the rice has been harvested the Boun Khoun Khao festival is held to give thanks to the spirit of the land and ensure the next harvest will be plentiful.Boun Pha VetThis is a temple based festival where the story of Prince Vestsantara (the Buddha’s penultimate life) is recited. The festival lasts 3 days.FebruaryBoun Makha BousaHeld during the full moon this festival commemorates the speech given by Buddha to 1,250 enlightened monks.AprilBoun PimaiThis is the New Year Festival held in mid April and lasting 3 days. Held before the onset of the rainy season, it recognizes the importance of water in people’s lives. It’s also a purification festival during which Buddha images in the household and temples are ritually cleaned with sacred water. Water from the cleaning ceremonies is then splashed around onto other people to clean them and bring them luck for the coming year.MayBoun Visakha BousaThis festival falls on the fifteenth day of the sixth lunar month and celebrates the birth, death and tatsahou (enlightenment) of Buddha.Boun Bang FaiThis is a rain-making and fertility festival. Held just before the rainy season, it is a wild and happy ceremony, involving music, dance and street processions, culminating in the firing of rockets to tempt the gods to produce rain needed for rice cultivation and send the naga (water snake deities) from the river to the rice fields.JulyBoun Khao PhansaHeld on the full moon, this festival marks the beginning of Buddhist lent, the three month period of monastic seclusion and meditation during the rainy season when monks are required to stay within their Vat.

Culture and history info

Muang Sua was the old name of Luang Prabang following its conquest in 698 CE by a Tai prince, Khun Lo. Khun Lo had been awarded the town by his father, Khun Borom, who is associated with the Lao legend of the creation of the world, which the Lao share with the Shan and other peoples of the region. Khun Lo established a dynasty whose fifteen rulers reigned over an independent Muang Sua for nearly a century.[citation needed]

In the second half of the 8th century, Nan-chao intervened frequently in the affairs of the principalities of the middle Mekong Valley, resulting in the occupation of Muang Sua in 709. Nan-chao princes or administrators replaced the aristocracy of Tai overlords. Dates of the occupation are not known, but it probably ended well before the northward expansion of the Khmer empire under Indravarman I (r. 877-89) and extended as far as the territories of Sipsong Panna on the upper Mekong.[citation needed]

In the meantime, the Khmers founded an outpost at Xay Fong near Vientiane, and Champa expanded again in southern Laos, maintaining its presence on the banks of the Mekong until 1070. Chanthaphanit, the local ruler of Xay Fong, moved north to Muang Sua and was accepted peacefully as ruler after the departure of the Nan-chao administrators. Chanthaphanit and his son had long reigns, during which the town became known by the Tai name Xieng Dong Xieng Thong.[citation needed]

The dynasty eventually became involved in the squabbles of a number of principalities. Khun Chuang, a warlike ruler who may have been a Kammu (alternate spellings include Khamu and Khmu) tribesman, extended his territory as a result of the warring of these principalities and ruled from 1128 to 1170. Khun Chuang, a single family ruled over a far-flung territory and reinstituted the Siamese administrative system of the 7th century. At some point, Theravada Buddhism was subsumed by Mahayana Buddhism.[citation needed]

Xieng Dong Xieng Thong experienced a brief period of Khmer suzerainty under Jayavarman VII from 1185 to 1191. By 1180 the Sipsong Panna had regained their independence from the Khmers, however, and in 1238 an internal uprising in the Khmer outpost of Sukhothai expelled the Khmer overlords. Xieng Dong Xieng Thong in 1353 became the capital of Lan Xang. The capital was moved in 1560 by King Setthathirath I to Vientiane, which remains the capital today.

Market in Luang Prabang pre-1901
In 1707, Lan Xang fell apart because of a dynastic struggle and Luang Prabang became the capital of the independent Kingdom of Luang Phrabang. When France annexed Laos, the French recognised Luang Prabang as the royal residence of Laos. Eventually, the ruler of Luang Prabang became synonymous with the figurehead of Laos. When Laos achieved independence, the king of Luang Prabang, Sisavang Vong, became the head of state of the Kingdom of Laos.

World War II

Statue of Sisavang Vong, King of Luang Phrabang 1904-46, King of Laos 1946-59
The town was the scene of many events during and in the aftermath of World War II and it was occupied by several foreign counties during the war (Vichy France, Thailand, Imperial Japan, Free France, and Nationalist China). Initially the Vichy French controlled the city but lost it to the fascist Thai government following the Franco-Thai War of 1940-1941. On 9 March 1945, a nationalist group declared Laos once more independent, with Luang Prabang as its capital but on 7 April 1945 two battalions of Japanese troops occupied the city. The Japanese attempted to force Sisavang Vong (the King of Luang Phrabang) to declare Laotian independence but on 8 April he instead simply declared an end to Lao's status as a French protectorate. The King then secretely sent Prince Kindavong to represent Laos to the Allied forces and Sisavang Vatthana as representative to the Japanese.Following Japan's surrender to the Allies Free French forces were sent to reoccupy Laos and entered Luang Prabang on 25 August, at which time the King assured the French that Laos remained a French colonial protectorate. In September the Chinese Nationalist forces arrived to receive the surrender of the remaining Japanese forces but also quickly set about buying up the Laotian opium crop.

Laotian Civil War era

Damage caused by a communist ground attack on Luang Prabang airfield, 1967
In April and May 1946 the French attempted to recapture Laos by using paratroops to retake Vientiane and Luang Prabang and drive Phetsarath and the Lao Issara ministers out of Laos and into Thailand and Vietnam. During the First Indochina War the Viet Minh and Pathet Lao forces attempted to capture the city several times in 1953 and 1954 but were stopped before they could reach it by French forces.[7] During the Laotian Civil War of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, a secret American airbase was located at Luang Prabang[citation needed] and it was the scene of fighting. Luang Prabang remained the royal capital until 1975, when the Pathet Lao communist forces seized power with North Vietnamese support and dissolved the ancient monarchy

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