The temple and royal city of Luang Prabang is located at the mouth of the Nam Khan in the Mekong. For centuries it was the seat of the kings of Laos. The 30 Buddhist monasteries and temples are a reminder of these times. The magnificent royal temple Wat Xieng Thong from the 16th century is outstanding.
Luang Prabang: facts
|Official title:||Luang Prabang with the royal palace and Buddhist monasteries|
|Cultural monument:||Temple and royal city with 30 monastery complexes and temples such as Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Xieng Mouan, Wat Sene, Wat Mai Suvanna Phumakam, Wat Pak Khan and Wat Visounnarat|
|Location:||Luang Prabang on the Mekong and Nam Khan, north of Vientiane|
|Meaning:||an extraordinary combination of traditional Southeast Asian architecture and European colonial architecture of the 19th and 20th centuries.|
Luang Prabang: history
|1353||Establishment of the Lane Xang Empire (“Land of Millions of Elephants”)|
|around 1353-73||under Fa Ngum empire unification to “land of millions of elephants”, capital Luang Prabang|
|since 1356||because of the Phra Bang, a venerable Buddha statue, place of pilgrimage|
|1563||Relocation of the capital to Vientiane|
|1707||Disintegration of the empire into three states, Luang Prabang, Vientiane and Champassak|
|1887||Destruction of all wooden structures by a major fire|
|1893||French protectorate and incorporation into the General Government of Indochina|
|1904-09||Construction of the Royal Palace|
|1945||Independence under Prince Phetsarath|
|1958||Overthrow of Souvanna Phouma and civil war|
|1975||Abolition of the monarchy and proclamation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic|
|1994||Luang Prabang listed as a historical monument|
With the rest of the Buddha
It is like entering another world that one becomes present when the noise of the aircraft engines subsides and one is only surrounded by the silence that has become the symbol of the ancient Lao royal city. On the short way into the city, there are no monumental structures made of stone that slide into view, but rather simple buildings that never rise above the second floor.
The unique tranquility alone that emanates from the former center of the “Land of Millions of Elephants” would be worth enjoying the protection of UNESCO. However, it is difficult to define atmosphere in the criteria of cultural heritage. At least the stone framework of silence, which can be statistically recorded and protected by monument preservation, enjoys the status of world cultural heritage. And this for very strange reasons: Political uncertainty as well as world and Indochina wars left time to freeze in the town of 12,000 souls, the current development of which largely dates back to the thirties. And since then the city has remained almost unchanged, only the time and whims of nature covered Luang Prabang with a cozy patina, and no economic boom let concrete castles, department stores and traffic chaos grow.
The architectural heritage in its mix of traditional and European building ideas makes the city on the Mekong so particularly attractive: here the traditional Laotian stilt houses made of dark tropical wood, often adorned with rich carvings, there the public and private buildings from the years of the French colonial era and finally the Residential houses with a Vietnamese or Chinese touch. But the greatest splendor and attraction comes from the pagodas, the Buddhist temples and monasteries. Like pearls on strings, they line the only three streets of the old city center. It lies, like an outstretched finger, between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers, which flow here parallel but in opposite directions. At the mouth of the Nam Khan, as it were on the fingertip, there is one of the oldest pagodas in the city – Wat Pak Khan. From there it is only a few steps to the most famous temple of Luang Prabang – Wat Xieng Thong. Its Sim, the main building of Buddhist monasteries, is considered the masterpiece of Laotian architecture par excellence, its nine-fold curved roof that almost reaches to the ground gives it an inimitable lightness. Golden decorations emphasize simplicity and perfection rather than conveying pomp and richness. Incidentally, this temple complex is the only significant building in the city that dates from before 1887. At that time, hordes of the “black flags” coming from southern China had almost razed the city to the ground. Only Wat Xieng Thong, where the leader of the gang spent part of his childhood, was spared the pillage. Because of the destruction at the end of the 19th century, many of today’s pagodas are replicas of their wooden predecessors.
Following the finger in the direction of the hand, one arrives at Mount Phou Si, the top of which is adorned with a stupa, a bell-like cult building. At its feet, facing the Mekong, lies the former royal palace, which was built in the first decade of the 20th century as a sign of the emerging modernization by the colonial power France. “Ho Kham”, the “Golden Palace”, was preserved as the royal family left it after the founding of the People’s Republic. This fact and the extensive collection of Buddha figures from destroyed pagodas housed here today made the palace, which is modest in its structural form, a link between the ages. Last but not least, the palace is home to the cult image of the Laotian kingdom and the patron saint of the city – the golden Buddha statue “Phra Bang”.