Luang Prabang, in northern Laos, is an ancient capital, described as Southeast Asia’s ‘best preserved ancient city’ by UNESCO – it is definitely one of Indochina’s ‘must-see’ destinations.
Luang Prabang 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.
Luang Prabang and its ancient but beautiful look
Probably the best place to begin to discover Luang Prabang 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.
The 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.
1. Wat Xieng Thong
It is the most magnificent and significant wat in Luang Prabang, built in 1560. It consists of a tranquil compound filled with intricate carvings and mosaics, detailed paintings,… The sim is an excellent example of classic Luang Prabang temple architecture, with a series of elegant roofs sweeping downwards almost to the ground.
Wat Xieng Thong
Its rear wall has an impressive mosaic, and the interior walls and ceiling are decorated with beautiful frescoes and dharma wheels.
2. Wat Mai
Like Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai is also an exemplar of the Luang Prabang style of religious architecture after 70 years of construction. 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.
3. Other wats
There are too many wats in Luang Prabang to describe here. Although they are all built on similar lines, each one has its own distinctive features to attract tourists, and there are also plenty of good Laotian and international restaurants, coffee shops and bars to visit en-route.
4. Other 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 unmissable activity. A boat cruise on the Mekong, or hiking to the abandoned wats and caves, cycling around, taking photographs,… are other attractions.
A boat cruise in Luang Prabang
So there you have it: the perfect lounging destination for all flavor of tourist, a laid-back pace of life, stunning scenery and plenty of excuses – as if you needed them – to relax.