A Visual Travel Guide to Luang Prabang, Laos
One of Southeast Asia’s most romantic, tranquil, peaceful, charming cities is definitely Luang Prabang, a place packed with Buddhist monks seeking to enhance their spiritual life, and beautiful art expressions that go from the extraordinary intricate and glorifying design of the religious temples, to multiple lovely accessories made by the different craft artists of the region. The city has simple yet elegant Indochinese architecture uniformly followed across town, dominated by white houses with wooden applications.
Laos has no strong national pride because of their ethnic diversity; its population is comprised of 132 different ethnic groups. It even has Siamese, French and Japanese influences (Japan invaded Laos during WWII) that mingle in the already multicultural country. Luang Prabang’s inhabitants are characterized by their kind, tasteful, easy going nature; they have an unusual serenity to them that might be triggered by the Theravada Buddhism (Lao’s official religion), which emphasizes in “controlling extreme emotions by keeping a cool heart and making merit” as well as “doing good in order to receive good”. Most Laotian males go through a period of spiritual training in which they are ordained as Buddhist monks anywhere from one month to a few years. Imagine the effect these religious teachings have on the population….
Laos has very recently been liberated from the USA’s embargo they were submitted to since the communists took control of the country in 1975. It was until 2004 that it was promoted to normal trade relations with the rest of the world.
Luang Prabang's Old QuarterClick thumbnail to view full-size
Luang Prabang is located in the north of Laos, where the Mekong and the Nam Khan rivers come together. The old quarter of the city, from which Luang Prabang expanded, is situated on a peninsula bounded by these two rivers. The town’s center is marked by a 100 m hill called Phu Si, to which one can climb and get a very good view of the landscape: unmanaged green vegetation of the mountainous regions beyond the two rivers.
One of the best ways to explore Luang Prabang is cycling through the slow traffic roads. There are many places where you can rent a bicycle in the old quarter, which radiates from Th Sisavangvong (main street) and its parallels Th Khem Kong (along the Mekong River) and Th Kingkitsarat (along the Nam Khan River). Most of the shops, cafés, restaurants, internet services, hotels, temples and tourist attractions, including the Royal Palace Museum and its theater are located in this area.
Luang Prabang has a long list of beautiful Buddhist Temples (Wats) to visit; no matter how many of them one sees, it is always surprising to observe their delicate, sophisticated beauty, in contrast to the humble nature of their worshiping monks and fellow religious followers. Some of them include: Wat Tham on the summit of Phu Si –from which you can watch the sunset-, Wat Mal Suwannaphumaham, Wat Pa Phai, Wat Si Bun Heuang, Wat Sirimungkhun, Wat Sop, Wat Xieng Thong.
Wat Xieng ThongClick thumbnail to view full-size
Wat Tham & View from the 100m-high Phu SiClick thumbnail to view full-size
Other Buddhist Temples in Luang PrabangClick thumbnail to view full-size
Royal Palace Museum and Ballet TheaterClick thumbnail to view full-size
Royal Palace Museum & Ballet
Another interesting place to visit is the Royal Palace Museum, which has religious objects and Buddha sculptures in exhibition, including the gold standing Buddha, the “Pha Bang Buddha”, symbol of Lao’s sovereignty and the one that gives Luang Prabang its name. Within the premises of the Royal Palace Museum stands the Royal Ballet Theater, where traditional dances are performed in the evenings. These dances have very particular moves (not always what I would call “dancing”) and blend in some theatrics. Dancers are dressed with colorful, embroidered costumes and masks as you can see in the pictures.
Other Sites & Activities
- A very nice place to shop around for arts & crafts as well as souvenirs is the Hmong Night Market. It is as interesting to observe the sellers that come from different parts of the region, as it is to observe the merchandise in offer. Crafts include gold and silver pieces -among the Hmong and Mien tribes-, and tribal Thai weaving. Starts 5:30pm until 10:00pm and takes place in several downtown streets that are closed for this purpose at dusk.
- Phosy Market. This is a permanent market located in the south of the city. It is a huge market where fresh produce, candy, cookware, home accessories and much more is in offer.
- Cooking Courses at (1) Tamarind Laos or (2) Tum Tum Cheng Restaurant and Cooking School.
- Annual event of Pii Mai (Lao or Lunar New Year) in April.
- Boat races during Bun Awk Phansa (end of the rains retreat) in October.
Luang Prabang Tours
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