On the grounds of the Royal Palace Museum is the Haw Pha Bang, one of Luang Prabang’s most attractive monuments. A very ornate temple, the Haw Pha Bang which translates to “Royal temple” is also known as the Wat Ho Pha Bang. It was built to house Laos’ most sacred Buddha image.
Although the temple appears old at first glance, it is a fairly new structure completed in 2006, built in traditional Laos style. Construction of the temple started in 1963. The works were halted when the communist Pathet Lao party came to power and resumed in the 1990’s.
The Royal temple
The very ornate structure with extensive glass and gold decoration is set on a multi level raised platform. Its multi tiered roof is adorned with stylized Naga finials at the roof’s ends. At the center top of the roof is a “Dok so faa”, an ornamental element consisting of 17 spires found on many Laos temples. The very ornate wooden front façade is carved with Buddhist depictions in green and gold colors. Stairways with multi headed mythological Naga serpents lead to the entrance, the body of the snake extending all across the balustrades. Inside the Haw Pha Bang is a large, very elaborate gilded alter where the Phra Bang Buddha image is to be enshrined.
Phra Bang Buddha image
The Haw Pha Bang temple was built to enshrine the Phra Bang Buddha, the most highly revered Buddha image in the country. The image after which the town of Luang Prabang is named is now housed in a richly ornamented shrine in the Royal Palace Museum.
The 83 centimeter tall Phra Bang image is in the Abhaya mudra, representing dispelling of fear. According to Laos legend the image was made in Sri Lanka almost 2,000 years ago. Judging from its style, it likely dates from the 14th century. The Phra Bang image was given to Fa Ngum, the first ruler of the Lan Xang Kingdom in 1353 by the King of Angkor. On two occasions during the following centuries the image was taken to Thailand by Siamese invaders. In 1867 it was returned to Laos, after which it was housed in the Wat Wisunalat and the Wat Mai.
Currently the image is kept in a richly ornamented shrine in the Royal Palace Museum, soon to be enshrined in the Haw Pha Bang temple. As part of the Laos new year celebrations the image is carried in procession to the Wat Mai temple where it is ritually cleansed.
How to get to the Haw Pha Bang
The temple is located in the South East corner of the Royal Palace complex on Sisavangvong road. Since distances are small, most of the town can be reached on foot. A tuk tuk or jumbo ride in the center of town will cost between 10,000 Kip (about US$ 1.30) and 15,000 Kip (about US$ 2), depending on distance and bargaining skills.
Entrance fee & opening hours
The Haw Pha Bang is located on the grounds of the Royal Palace Museum on the Luang Prabang peninsula. Admission to the temple is included in the Royal Palace Museum ticket. The temple opens daily except Tuesday from 8 am until 11.30 am and from 1.30 pm until 4 pm.