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Luang Prabang

Picturesque small town surrounded by rivers and mountains

Luang Prabang and the Mekong river
Luang Prabang on Mekong river

Located in the center of North Laos, Luang Prabang is a picturesque small town surrounded by limestone hills. The town is mostly enclosed by the Mekong and Khan rivers, that join at Luang Prabang. Its charming character and picturesque setting have made the town one of the most attractive tourist sites of Laos.

Founded in the 8th century, the town is dotted with ancient Buddhist temples and traditional Laos buildings. Along the banks of the Mekong river are restaurants serving Laotian and French food.

The town is a mix of traditional architecture and one or two storey French colonial houses. The town of Luang Prabang was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

Luang Prabang history

From 1354 until 1563 Luang Prabang was the capital of the Lan Xang Kingdom, a powerful Laotian Kingdom that finally split up in three Kingdoms in 1707. The town is named after the Phra Bang Buddha image, the most highly revered image in the country. In the year 1353 it was given by the King of Angkor to Fa Ngum, the first King of the Lan Xang Kingdom.

Luang Prabang was part of French Indochina from 1893 until 1953, after which Laos regained its independence.

To do & see in Luang Prabang

There are many historical and natural places worth a visit in the town of Luang Prabang and surrounding area.

Natural attractions

About 30 kilometers from Luang Prabang are the Kuang Si waterfalls, a very picturesque place with beautiful terraced turquoise pools, that local people come to swim in. There are picnic tables near the falls and food is available. There is also a bear rescue center with bears that have been rescued from poachers and bile farms.

About 25 kilometers North of town are the Pak Ou caves. Both the lower and upper cave in the limestone cliff facing the Mekong river are filled with Buddha images of various sizes and postures. The caves are reached by a two hour boat ride along the Mekong river with beautiful scenery.

It takes over 300 steps to reach the top of Phousi Hill, a hill in the center of town. On top is a temple with a display of Buddha images in various postures. The hill offers great views of Luang Prabang town and the Mekong river and is a good place to watch the sunset.

Wat Xieng Thong temple in Luang Prabang
Wat Xieng Thong temple in Luang Prabang

Buddhist temples & historical buildings

The Wat Xieng Thong is one of the most beautiful temples of Luang Prabang. The magnificent Buddhist temple dating back to the 15th century is found on the peninsula near the Mekong river.

There are several buildings on the grounds including the sim, a large building with a long multi tiered roof. The red chapel and the library are decorated with beautiful colored mosaics showing Buddhist depictions and scenes of everyday life.

The Royal Palace Museum (Haw Kham), a French colonial style building that was build in 1904 for the Laos Royal family.

In the 1970’s the Palace was converted into a museum, offering visitors a chance to see how the Laos Royals used to live. The building houses the Phra Bang Buddha, the most sacred Buddha image in the country. There are several buildings on the grounds, including the Haw Pha Bang, the very ornate Royal temple.

Other attractions

The hundreds of stalls of the night market held between 6 and 10 pm sell a variety of locally produced handicrafts and imported items. It is a good place to try some local food. The market is held on Sisavangvong road, close to the Royal Palace.

If you enjoy Laotian food, several local restaurants organise Laotian cooking classes. They start off with a trip to the local market to buy fresh ingredients. Participants learn to prepare several traditional Laotian recipes.

Getting to Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang can be reach by air and overland.

Air

The quickest, most comfortable way to get to Luang Prabang is by air. The towns international airport is located a few kilometers North East of town. A taxi or mini van to town will cost around US$ 7.

Bangkok Airways offers direct flights between Bangkok and Luang Prabang, that take about 2 hours.

Lao Airlines offers direct flights between Bangkok and Luang Prabang ( 1 hour and 40 minutes) and between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang ( 1 hour).

Bus

A much slower way to reach Luang Prabang is by bus from Vientiane or Chiang Mai. Although the scenery along the way is great, it is not the most comfortable trip given the condition of the roads and the duration of the trip. Busses arrive at Luang Prabang Southern bus station named Ban Naluang, on Route 13 a few kilometers from town. A tuk tuk to the town center will cost around US$ 3.

Vientiane to Luang Prabang

There is a choice of a VIP bus with air con and a local bus without air con. They take around 10 to 12 hours to Luang Prabang, the fare is between US$ 15 to 20. Tickets can be bought at most travel agents in town or at the bus station.

Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang

The bus from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang takes around 18 hours, the fare is 1,500 Thai Baht.

Train

Currently, there is no rail connection to Luang Prabang.