Luang Prabang Province
Luang Prabang is situated in the centre of northern Laos, bordering provinces of Oudomxay, Phongsaly and Houaphanh to the north, Vientiane and Sayabouly to the south and southwest and Xiengkhouang to the east.
Total area: 16,875 square kilometers.
Population: Luang Prabang province has a total population of just over 400,000 that includes 12 distinct ethnic groups. The Khmu are the largest ethnic group in the province and make up the majority (about 44%) of the provincial population. They are a Mon-Khmer speaking people known for their knowledge of the forest, and they are believed to be the original inhabitants of Laos. The Hmong are the second most populous ethnic minority (16%). Lowland Lao comprise 39% of the population and live mostlyin lowland valleys and Luang Prabang Town.
11 Districts: Luang Prabang, Xieng Ngeun, Nan, Pak Ou, Nambak, Ngoi, Pakxeng, Phonxay, Chomphet, Viengkham and Phounkhone.
Capital: Luang Prabang.
History : Archaeological evidence suggests that Luang Prabang has been inhabited since at least 8,000 BC. The first Laos kingdom, Lane Xang, was founded here in the 14th century by King Fa Ngum after he conquered and unified the lands of modern-day Xiengkhouang , the Khorat Plateau and Luang Prabang. The city was first reffered to as Muang Swa and by 1357 the name was again changed to Muang Xieng Dong Xieng Thong by local inhabitants. Shortly thereafter, King Fa Ngum accepted a golden Buddha image called the Pha Bang as a gift from the Khmer monarchy and the thriving city-state became known as Luang Prabang.Luang Prabang was the capital of Lane Xang until moved to Vientiane in 1545 by King Setthathirath (although Luang Prabang remained the country's main religious centre). The city's first contact with western emissaries occurred in the mid 17th century during the reign of King Surigna Vongsa. After his death in 1694, Lane Xang broke up into three separate Kingdoms; Vientiane, Champasack and Luang Prabang.
By the late 19th century Luang Prabang was under attack by marauding Black Flag bandits who destroyed many sacred Buddha images, temples and historical documents. Under King Sisavang Vong (1904-1959) a number of restoration and beautification projects were launched, many of which are still evident today. French influenced buildings began to appear in the later 1800's, adding to the mixture of Lao, Tai-Lue, Burmese, Chinese and Tai architecture.
Luang Prabang is rich in cultural heritage, and is known as the seat of Lao culture, with monasteries, monuments traditional costumes and surrounded by many types of nature's beauty. Luang Prabang province has a total population of 365,000. It is one of two World Heritage Sites in Laos named by UNESCO.
How do I get there
* By air
Luang Prabang is served by Lao Airlines, Thai Airways International, Bangkok Airways and PB Air, with regular services to Vientiane, Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
* By bus
Southern bus station: To Vientiane (10 hours), Vang Vieng (6 hours), Xiengkhouang (8 hours) and Luang Namtha (8 hours).
Northern bus station: To Oudomxay (5 hours), Nong Khiaw (3 hours), Pakmong (2.5 hours), Nambak (2 hours) and Vieng Kham (5 hours).
* By boat
Slow boat: to Houay Xay (16 hours), Pakbeng (8 hours), Thasouang (8 hours), Meuang Khuea (7 hours), Nong Khiaw (7 hours), Thadeu (5 hours) and Paklay (24 hours).
Speed boat: To Houay Xay (6 hours) and Pakbeng (3 hours).
Please be aware that transportation schedules and prices are subject to change, so we suggest you check the above information at transportation terminals or through a travel agent prior to your trip.
Transport within Luang Prabang : Tuk-tuks, trishaws (lot-sam-lor) and jumbos (small tuk-tuks) are available all over town and are an easy way to get around. Taxis and mini buses can be hired through guesthouses, hotels and tour operators. It is also possible to rent bicycle for about $1 per day. Please note that tourists are not permitted to rent motorcycles.
Accommodation in Luang Prabang
In Luang Prabang town there are 17 hotels, two resorts and over 150 guesthouses. With prices from $3 to $350 per night, there ae choices to suit the needs of everyone, from the budget traveller to those who wish to enjoy their holiday in style. In Ngoi and other districts in the province, small guesthouses are available for between $2-$5 per night.
Whether it's a traditional Lao meal in a restored Lao town house or just a cold Beer Lao at a bar on the Mekong river bank, dining in Luang Prabang can be an experience in itself. There are restaurants serving a wide variety of eastern and western cuisine including Vietnamese, Swiss and French and of course, most places serve Lao food. Indeed, Luang Prabang is well known for its unique cuisine.
Where to visit
* Vat Visounarath : This is the oldest surviving temple in Luang Prabang, originally erected in 1503 by King Photisarat and rebuilt in 1898. The carved wooden railings in the temple's windows are reminiscent of those found in the Vat Phou temple in southern Laos. Inside you can admire ancient statues and steles. Also located on the grounds of this temple is That Pathoume, also known as that Mak Mo (watermelon stupa) because of its shape.
* Vat Mai Suwannaphummaham : Built in 1796, Vat Mai (New Monastery) was given its present name following the restoration undertaken in 1821 by King Manthathourat.
Notice the four-tiered roof when visiting the temple, as well as the scenes from daily life and the legend of vessantara on the bas-relief walls.
* Vat Chomphet : Located across the Mekong river to the north of Ban Xieng Mene, Vat Chomphet is built on the top of a hill, and offers stunning views of Luang Prabang town and the river. The temple was built in 1888, and although currently undergoing renovation, the dragon and bird designs on the ceiling still retain their mystical power.
* Binthabat : While in Luang Prabang, you may observe the morning alms giving ceremony where monks walk through town in single file carrying their alms bowls to give laypeople the opportunity to offer alms and gain merit. Offerings by the people are usually comprised of sticky rice, fruit or simple traditional snacks. Known as Binthabat in Lao, this is a sacred religious ceremony. Tourists may participate and photograph the ceremony. However, the people of Luang Prabang, especially the monks, ask that this is done is a respectful way and visitors do everything they can not to disrupt this ancient tradition.
* Tham Ting Cave (Pak Ou Cave) : The caves are located 25km upriver from Luang Prabang, at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Ou Rivers. These caves are a well known Buddhist site and a place of pilgrimage with 5,000 statues-mainly Buddha images in the traditional Luang Prabang style. To get to the cave, take a slow boat 1.5 hours upriver or a car/tuk-tuk for about one hour.
* Ban Phanom : This village located 4km to the north of Luang Prabang was a former royal weaving village. You can view women working on their looms, buy their products and take a stroll through the vaillage. It can be reached by bicycle or tuk-tuk.
* Ban Long Lao/Ban Nong Heo : A Hmong and Khmu village one hour's journey from Luang Prabang (travel by car or tuk-tuk). This village is located in a beautiful valley is the starting point for a three hour trek that finishes at the Kuangsi waterfall. Local guides are available to lead you to the falls (note they speak only Lao). You can also begin a longer five hour trek to Kuangsi Waterfall from Ban Nong Heo, which has a spectacular view over the valley and river. Ban Nong Heo is 20 minutes from town by tuk-tuk.
* Ban Xieng Mene : Located across the Mekong from Luang Prabang Town in Chomphet District, Ban Xieng Mene is part of the World Heritage Site and offers a glimpse into Lao village life. There are several temples worth visiting in the village, including Vat Chomphet (visible up on the hill) which offers a spectacular view of Luang Prabang Town and the Mekong. Ban Xieng Mene is also the starting point for several short walks and bike-rides in the district, as well as longer two and three day treks.
* Ban Chan : This village is famous for its traditional pottery-making, where you can watch pots being hand-thrown and fired in old ovens. The village's lamps and pots decorate the small streets of Luang Prabang's old town, and are known all over northern Laos. Ban Chan is located in Chomphet District, across the Mekong River and to the south. It can be by boat in 15 minutes, or by taking a boat across to Xieng Mene and walking downstream along the river for 25 minutes.
Where to shopping / what to buy
* Night Market : Open between 5pm-10pm, the atmospheric night market is set up on the main road between the post office and the museum, selling a large variety of local textiles and ethnic handicrafts, There is also a small lane with lots of food stalls serving inexpensive local fare located next to the Ancient Luang Prabang Hotel.
* Phosi Market : The largest market in Luang Prabang, the newly constructed Talat Phosi has lots of fresh produce, meat, household goods and clothing. It is a located on the road to Kuangsi Waterfall and can be reached in about 5 minutes by bicycle or tuk-tuk.
* Handicraft Market : On the corner across from the Phousi Hotel and Post Office, the handicraft market is open during the day (the vendors then move to the night market after 5pm) and is filled with ethnic handicrafts made mostly by the Hmong.