One of the most pleasant cities in South-East Asia, Luang Prabang is the the only place (perhaps other than Chiang Mai) that would appeal to me as a place to live, as a friend of mine, a tour leader, does. It was the ancient capital of Laos, and is made up of 58 villages, of which 33 comprise the UNESCO World Heritage Site listed in 1995. It’s home to around 55,000 people, 24,000 of whom live in the old part of town.
The best place to get your bearings is the 100m high Mount Phou Si, which the heat and hummidity makes more of a challenge to climb that it’s height would suggest. I spent three days in Luang Prabang, and went up it everyday, for views of the town and Mekong River below.
Half way up Mount Phou Si is the Buddha’s Foot, close to Wat Tham Phu Si. The rock formation was unusual, but the views over the town and Mekong River were more interesting to me.
Luang Prabag has become very popular with tourists, demonstrated by the ever expanding (until Covid-19) night markets, which have grown from a few stalls to a lengthy colourfully covered market.
Of course there are many Buddhist templates, the largest of which is Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, dating from the start of the 18th century.
The most important though is Wat Xieng Thong (Golden City Temple), which dates from 1590, though it has undergone significant restoration over the past 90 years. The decorations were exquiste and unlike any temple I saw during my five weeks in South-East Asia.
During French rule the Royal Palace was built in 1904 in a mix of Lao and French styles. After the monarchy was overthrown in 1975, the palace became the National Museum of Luang Prabang in 1995. Given that I have no photos from inside I suspect that photography wasn’t allowed but there were interesting sights outside to share.
Vat Pak Khan dates from mid-17th century, and was restored in 2011.
Thankfully much of the old town has been preserved, and is an enjoyable place to explore on foot.
I loved my home for three nights, the lush Thong Bay Guest House, a little way out of town on the banks of the Mekong River.
Wandering out of town I found the pagoda of Vat Aham.
I continued across the Old Bridge, built during French colonial times in the 1920s.
3km from the city centre is the unusual Vat Phonpao, built in the 1950s on a small hill. The interior is apparently beautiful but it was unfortunately closed. It was good to get out of the town centre though to enjoy some tranquility and different views.
Outside town is the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre, a charity set up by an Australian grandmother in 1995, which is now the largest sanctuary in the world for sun bears, rescuing them from abuse.
29km south of Luang Prabang are the Kuang Si Falls, which were particularly impressive in near flood conditions, with water covered walkways in front of the 60m high waterfall.
To end with sunset on the Mekong River, a magical end to each day.
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