Luang Prabang

The royal capital of Laos until the 1975 revolution, this World Heritage site remains a charming curiosity of ancient temples and French colonial architecture.

Second City When Fa Ngum founded the Lan Xang kingdom in 1353, he named his capital Muang Sawa. Later, when he received a Sri Lankan Buddha image (Phra Bang) from the Khmers, he renamed the capital Luang Phrabang. Vientiane became the new capital in 1545. Now, as Laos second biggest city, Luang Phrabang remains a sleepy town still awaiting modernity. The ethnic mix is Laos, Mien, Hmong and various other Thai tribes. The architecture is assorted, with northern Laos temples and French colonial buildings standing among humbler private dwellings: mountains surround the area, giving an isolated feel.

Palace Museum For the citys history, try the French colonial-era Royal Palace Museum by the Mekong River. Built in 1904, it was a residence of King Sisavong Vang. He died in 1959, leaving it to Crown Prince Sisavang Vatthana. Following his exile during the 1975 revolution, the palace became a museum. It contains a 38-cm solid gold Buddha image from the 1st century, carved elephant tusks and other unusual Buddha statues.

Temple Finery Interesting temples: The classic Wat Xieng Thong (1560) is the citys finest temple. It features some unique Buddha effigies and a beautiful tree of life mosaic. Stunning gold relief adorns the doors of Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham (1797). Wat Wisunalat (1513) is Luang Phrabangs oldest, continually used temple. Burned by Chinese Ho bandits in 1887, it was rebuilt in 1898.The main stupa of Wat That Luang (1818) holds the ashes of King Sisavang Vong. Local lore dates the site to the 3rd century BC.

River Attractions Outside Luang Phrabang: Pak Ou Caves on the Mekong River are a 25-km boat ride away and contain hundreds of Buddha statues. 29 km south of the city are Kuang Si Falls, where water cascades from several tiers into the green pools below. This is a public recreation area.

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