Luang Prabang - Things to See and Do

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Luang Prabang - Things to See and Do - Part 1

Luang Prabang, or Louangphrabang (Lao: ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ, literally: "Royal Buddha Image"), is located in north central Laos, at the confluence of the Nam Khan river and Mekong River. It borders the provinces of Oudomxay, Phongsaly and Houaphanh to the north, Vientiane and Sayabouly to the south and southwest and Xiengkhouang to the east and it covers an area of 16,875 square kilometers. The province has a population of 423,346 (2007) while the city of Luang Prabang has a population of over 50,000.

The population 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 mostly in lowland valleys and Luang Prabang Town. The province has 11 districts: Luang Prabang, Xieng Ngeun, Nan, Pak Ou, Nambak, Ngoi, Pakxeng, Phonxay, Chomphet, Viengkham and Phoukhoune.


Map of Luang Prabang

The city lost its capital designation in the 15th century but remained the seat of the royal family until the communists took over in 1975 and dissolved the monarchy. However, the town is still considered to be the spiritual and artistic center of Laos. More than 30 of the town’s original 60+ temples have been preserved and are scattered
across the narrow peninsula at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers that forms the heart of the city. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A bit of History: Muang Sua was the old name of Luang Prabang following its conquest in 698 A.D. by a Tai prince, Khun Lo. Khun Lo had been awarded the town by his father, Khun Borom, who is associated with the Lao legend of the creation of the world, which the Lao share with the Shan and other peoples of the region. Khun Lo established a dynasty whose fifteen rulers reigned over an independent Muang Sua for nearly a century.

In the second half of the 8th century, Nan-chao intervened frequently in the affairs of the principalities of the middle Mekong Valley, resulting in the occupation of Muang Sua in 709. Nan-chao princes or administrators replaced the aristocracy of Tai overlords. Dates of the occupation are not known, but it probably ended well before the northward expansion of the Khmer empire under Indravarman and extended as far as the territories of Sipsongpanna on the upper Mekong.


Monks collecting alms at dawn in Luang Prabang

In the meantime, the Khmers founded an outpost at Xay Fong near Vientiane, and Champa expanded again in southern Laos, maintaining its presence on the banks of the Mekong until 1070. Chanthaphanit, the local ruler of Xay Fong, moved north to Muang Sua and was accepted peacefully as ruler after the departure of the Nan-chao administrators.

Chanthaphanit and his son had long reigns, during which the town became known by the Tai name Xieng Dong Xieng Thong. The dynasty eventually became involved in the squabbles of a number of principalities. Khun Chuang, a warlike ruler who may have been a Khmu tribesman, extended his territory as a result of the warring of these principalities and ruled from 1128 to 1170. Khun Chuang, a single family ruled over a far-flung territory and re-instituted the Siamese administrative system of the 7th century. At some point, Theravada Buddhism was subsumed by Mahayana Buddhism.

From 1185 to about 1191 Xieng Dong Xieng Thong experienced a brief period of Khmer control under Jayavarman VII. By 1180 Sipsongpanna had regained their independence from the Khmers, however, and in 1238 an internal uprising in the Khmer outpost of Sukhothai expelled the Khmer overlords. Xieng Dong Xieng Thong in 1353 became the capital of Lan Xang. The capital was moved in 1560 by King Setthathirath I toVientiane, which remains the capital today. In 1707, Lan Xang fell apart and Luang Prabang became the capital of the independent Luang Prabang kingdom. When France annexed Laos, the French recognised Luang Prabang as the royal residence of Laos. Eventually, the ruler of Luang Prabang became synonymous with the figurehead of the French Protectorate of Laos.

When Laos achieved independence, the king of Luang Prabang, Sisavang Vong, became the head of state for the Kingdom of Laos.
During World War II the Japanese occupied the city although it remained under nominal Vichy French control. On March 9, 1945, independence was declared for Laos, and Luang Prabang was the capital. After the Japanese surrender, Colonel Hans Imfeld, commissioner of the French Republic, entered Luang Prabang on 25 August 1945 with a party of Franco-Laotian guerrillas and received assurances from the King that the protectorate was still in force.

Luang Prabang province has one National Biodiversity and Conservation Area (NBCA) in the form of the Phou Loei NBCA which, together with the Nam Et NBCA in Houaphanh province, forms a contiguous area and share a common boundary along a 30-km stretch. As a result they are often treated as a single ecological and management unit known by its acronym of NEPL.



View over the Phu Loey NBCA

The Vietnam border bounds Nam Et NBCA on the north side while Highway 1C bisects the upper part of Phou Loei NBCA. Originally gazetted to cover an area of just over 4,200 sq. km, the combined NBCA’s are being extended to 5,500 sq. km. Most of the land in NEPL is hilly or mountainous (over 60 per cent of the combined area is over 1,000 metres ASL). Nam Et contains a mosaic of secondary mixed deciduous forest, with areas of bamboo and shrubland indicating extensive slash and burn agricultural practices in the past. Phou Loei has significant old growth mixed deciduous forest, with montane evergreen forest dominating the higher altitudes.

The Nam Et Phou Loey NBCA has a high conservation value, with some of the highest faunal biodiversity of any protected area in northern Lao PDR. It supports a tiger population of international importance, as well as at least 17 other key large mammal species of conservation concern. There are sizeable numbers of Gaur (Bos gaurus), Banteng (Bos javanicus), the goat-like black muntjac (a species new to science), various medium-size cats such as Golden cat (Catopuma temmincki) and Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), two species of bears including Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), at least six species of primate, including the White-cheeked gibbon (Hylobates leucogenys), at least three bat species previously unrecorded in Lao PDR and one species of bat unrecorded anywhere else. Nearly 300 bird species have been recorded, 35 of which are key species of conservation concern.

Half of the NEPL area has been the focus of a conservation project between the government and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) for the last decade. This has established a solid foundation of staff, equipment, monitoring and institutional. WCS has had a systematic program of infra-red camera trapping and as a result has some of the best wildlife photos – including tigers – These pictures can be seen online at: WCS Lao Camera trap photo exhibition



Many local people rely on the forests for food, medicine, and building materials and for the Nam Et-Phou Louey NBCA some 30,000 people live in and around the NPA. The livelihood of these people is threatened by commercial hunting. If you illegally buy wildlife in markets and restaurants, you are contributing to the extinction of wild animals in Lao and are contributing to poverty of rural communities that depend on managed species for their subsistence. What can you do to support poverty eradication and wildlife conservation in Lao PDR? Please follow the law: do not buy or sell wildlife!

Useful Contacts and Information

Luang Prabang Provincial Tourism Department and Tourism Information Centre, Phakham village, Sisavangvong Road, Luang Prabang. Opening Time: 08.00 Am – 11.30 am and 13.30 -16.00 (From Monday to Friday). Tel: 00856-71-212-487Fax: 00856-71-252-904, E-mail: lpqtourinfos@gmail.com

Luang Prabang Provincial Tourist Police, Phakham village, Sisavangvong Road, Luang Prabang, Beside Luang Prabang Tourism Department. Opening Time: 08.00 Am – 11.30 am to 13.30 -16.00 (From Monday to Friday). Tel: 00856-30-5140-195, Fax: 00856-71-254-568.

ATM for International Bank Cards
BCEL ( service 24 hours)
- Phakham, Sisavangvong Road, In front of Tourist information centre, Luang Prabang
- Xiengmoun, Sakarin road, in front of BCEL service unit, Luang Prabang
- Kaysone Pomvihan Road, Phonpheng village, in front of BCEL Branch, Luang Prabang
- Luang Prabang International Airport, Hathian village, Luang Prabang
- Opposite Dara Market, BCEL service Unit, Thongchaleun village, Luang Prabang
- Viengxay village, Luang Prabang, Next to the Lao Airlines office
- Nong Khiow on road 1C near to the bridge over the Nam Ou river

Lao Development Bank( ATM) 24 hours
- Visoun, in front of Lao Development Bank, Luang Prabang
- Phakham, Sisavangvong Road, in front of Lao Central Bank, Luang Prabang
- Phongkham, Kaysom Phomvihan road, next to Phouvao Gas station, Luang Prabang

Joint Development Bank(ATM) 24 hours
- PhongKham, Kayson Phomvihan road, in front of Joint Development Bank, Luang Prabang
- Phakham, Sisavangvong Road, in front of Luung Prabang Library


Things to See and Do

There are lots of things to see and do in Luang Prabang and some of its districts. There are numerous temples in Luang Prabang City as well as in Chomphet which lies just opposite Luang Prabang city on the other side of the Mekong. In addition there are caves, waterfalls, etc.

National Museum formerly the Royal Palace also known as the “Haw Kham”
The former Royal Palace, which was constructed between 1904 and 1909 during the French colonial era during the reign of King Sisavangvong, has now been converted into the National Museum. A collection of personal artifacts belonging to the former Royal Family, historical photographs, musical instruments and gifts to the nation from foreign countries are on display.

The site fоr the palace wаs chosen sо thаt official visitors tо Luang Prabang cоuld disembark frоm theіr river voyages directly below the palace аnd be received there. Аfter the death оf King Sisavang Vong, the crown Prince Savang Vatthana аnd hіs family were the last tо occupy the grounds.

Іn 1975, the monarchy wаs overthrown аnd the Royal Family were taken tо re-education camps and the palace wаs then converted іntо а national museum. Оn the palace grounds, there аre several other buildings such as: the Haw Pha Bang, the Conference Hall, the Kitchen/Storage building, the Royal Barge Shelter and the Staff Quarters. There іs а lotus pond оn the grounds аnd аlsо twо cannons аt the entrance оf the palace. A statue оf King Sisavang Vong stands оn the ground, outside the conference hall.

The architecture оf the building has а mix оf traditional Lao motifs аnd French Beaux Arts styles. Above the entrance іs а three-headed elephant sheltered by the sacred white parasol, the symbol оf the Lao monarchy. There аre а variety оf royal religious objects оn display іn the large entrance hall.



The Three-Headed Elephant and White Parasol on The National Museum

Оn the right оf the entrance іs the King's reception room, where busts оf the Lao monarchy аre displayed along wіth twо large gilded аnd lacquered Ramayana screens, crafted by the local artisan Thit Tanh. The room's walls аre covered wіth murals thаt depict scenes frоm traditional Lao lifestyles, painted іn 1930 by а French artist, Alix de Fauntereau.

In the right front corner room оf the Palace, whіch opens tо the outside, іs а collection оf the palace's mоst prized art. Аlsо іn the room is a Buddha statue, engraved wіth large elephant tusks, аnd three beautiful saew mâi khán (embroidered silk screens) thаt were crafted by the Queen.

On the left оf the entrance hall, the secretary's reception room іs filled wіth paintings, silver аnd china thаt hаve been presented tо Laos аs diplomatic gifts frоm Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Japan, Vietnam,China, Nepal, USA, Canada аnd Australia. These objects аre grouped by "socialist" аnd "capitalist"
countries. Аn interesting exhibit donated by the USA іs а piece оf moon rock taken by оne оf the Apollo missions!

The next room tо the left wаs once the Queen's reception room. Large royal portraits оf King Savang Vatthana, Queen Khamphoui аnd Crown Prince Vong Savang, painted by Russian artist Ilya Glazunov іn 1967, аre hung оn the walls. Аlsо displayed аre friendship flags frоm China аnd Vietnam аnd replica's оf sculpture frоm the National Museum, New Delhi.

Іn the far rooms аre the royal family's bedrooms аnd living quarters. The bedrooms hаve been preserved аs they were іn 1975 when the king departed. There іs а dining hall аnd а room thаt contain royal seals аnd medals. The throne room contains the Crown Jewels оf Laos.

Luang Prabang Temples (in no particular order)

Haw Pha Bang (built in 1963 and re-started in 1993) The Haw Pha Bang (Ho Pha Bang), Royal or Palace Chapel, is located at the northeastern corner of the grounds of the Royal Palace Museum. Although it is a new structure, it is built in the traditional style and is tied directly to the history and traditions of this World Heritage City. The Haw Pha Bang has been designed as the permanent home/shrine for the Pha (or Pra) Bang, Luang Prabang's namesake and most sacred image. The Pha Bang is a 83cm tall Buddha cast of a gold, silver and bronze alloy, and is said to weigh 53.4kg.

Although it appears to be of 14th century Khmer origin, legend dates it from Sri Lanka in the first century AD. In 1359 the Khmer king Phaya Sirichantha gave the Pra Bang to his son-in-law, the first Lang Xang monarch Fa Ngum (1353-1373); it was to provide Buddhist legitimacy both to Fa Ngum's rule and theoretically to the sovereignty of Laos. In 1563 King Sai Setthathirat (1548-1571) brought the Pra Bang with him to his new capital at Vientiane.

The Siamese twice carried the image off to Thailand (in 1779 and 1827) but Rama IV (King Mongkut) finally returned it in 1867. It was placed first in Wat Wisunalat; then the French moved it to Wat Mai. After a rather complicated series of changes it was placed in the Royal Palace Museum in 1947. There remains doubt whether the image in the museum is the same object that was given to Fa Ngum. Some suggest that it is a copy and that the original is in a vault either in Vientiane or perhaps even in Moscow. Nonetheless the Pra Bang remains an object of veneration and a reminder of the rich traditions of Luang Prabang


Haw Pha Bang

Work on the Haw Pha Bang began in 1963 during the reign of Sisavang Vatthana (1959-1975) but the accession of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, popularly known as the Pathet Lao, to power in 1975 led to the denigration of the Pha Bang being a royalist "left-over". However, later on government policies and practices changed dramatically and this change of policy also included the construction, or reconstruction, of the Haw Pha Bang, which began in earnest again in 1993.

Wat Xieng Thong Built during the 16th Century by King Saysetthathirath and completed in 1560, the wat wаs under royal patronage during the Kingdom оf Laos. Lіke the royal palace, the wat wаs placed near the Mekong. Іn 1880, the Tripitaka library wаs added аnd then the drum tower іn 1961. Wat Xieng Thong temple is one of the most interesting examples of art and Buddhist architecture. This temple was used to organize the highest Royal Ceremonies and houses the bones of King Sisavangvong. The intricate golden facades, colorful murals, glass mosaics and unique three-layered roof make this one of the most beautiful temples in Laos.




Wat Xieng Thong





Xieng Thong Temple buildings

Thіs temple, along wіth Wat Suwannaphumaham, wаs spared by аny damage during the sacking оf the city іn 1887. Thіs wаs becаuse the Black Flag Haw leader, Deo Van Tri, hаd studied here аs а monk іn hіs early life, аnd used іt аs hіs headquarters during the sacking оf Luang Phrabang.

Оn оne side оf the sim, there аre several small halls аnd stupas thаt contain Buddha images оf the period. There іs а reclining Buddha sanctuary, whіch contains а especially rare reclining Buddha thаt dates frоm the construction оf the temple. Іn 1931, the image wаs taken tо Paris аnd displayed аt the Paris Exhibition аnd wаs kept іn Vientiane until 1964, where іt returned tо Luang Phrabang.

Near the compound's eastern gate stands the royal funerary carriage house which houses the ornate carved and gilded funeral vehicle of the former king. The funeral carriage stands 12 metres high аnd there аre various urns fоr the members оf the royal family.


The building in which the funeral carriages and urns are kept.

Wat Xieng Thong іs оne оf the mоst important оf Lao monasteries аnd remains а significant monument tо the spirit оf religion, royalty аnd traditional style оf а fascinating city. There аre оver twenty structures оn the grounds including shrines, pavilions аnd residences. А number оf restorations hаve taken place іn the twentieth century, including оne іn which the French participated. Іn 1928, when the French Governor General visited Luang Prabang, then King Sisavangvong successfully demanded thаt the French share іn the cost оf restoration.

Wat Visounnarath (Vat Visoun) This is the oldest surviving temple in Luang Prabang, originally erected in 1503 (some indicate 1513 or 1515) by King Photisarat (King Wisounarat or King Visoun) and rebuilt in 1898 following an 1887 fire set by Black Flag Haw raiders. The original wat was built out of wood and in the brick and stucco restoration the builders tried to make the balustraded windows of the sǐm appear to be fashioned of lathed wood (an old South Indian and Khmer contrivance that is uncommon in Lao architecture). The front roof that slopes sideways over the terrace is another unique feature.

Inside the high-ceilinged sǐm is a collection of gilded wooden ‘Calling for Rain’ Buddhas and 15th- to 16th-century Luang Prabang sǐimáa (ordination-precinct stones). These were placed here by Prince Phetsarat after the Haw invasion. The Pha Bang was kept here from 1507 to 1715 and from 1867 to 1894.

Within the walls you will see That Mak Mo known as the “watermelon stupa” because of its similarities to the fruit. However, its real name is "That Pathum (Phathoume)" or the "Lotus Stupa."



Wat Visoun and That Mak Mo

Wat Pa Huak The decaying sǐm at Wat Pa Huak - on the lower northern slope of Phu Si, near the Royal Palace Museum - has a splendid carved wood and mosaic façade showing Buddha riding Airavata, the three-headed elephant of Hindu mythology (in which he is usually depicted as Lord Indra's mount). The gilded and carved front doors are often locked, but during the day there's usually an attendant nearby who will open the doors for a tip of a couple of hundred kip. Inside, the original 19th-century murals have excellent colour, considering the lack of any restoration. The murals show historic scenes along the Mekong River



Wat Pa Huak

Wat Manolom Although its outer appearance is not very impressive, Wat Manolom (Manorom, or popularly, Vat Mano) Sattharam stands just outside the barely visible city walls and occupies possibly the oldest temple site in Luang Prabang. City annals say it was founded in 1375 on the site of a smaller temple established by King Fa Ngum. The decaying sǐm held the Pha Bang from 1502 to 1513 and still contains a sitting bronze Buddha cast in 1372. This image is about 6m high and weighs an estimated two tonnes – some parts of the bronze are 15mm thick and because of its size and weight it is sometimes also called “The Waiting One” as it probably would be moved to another temple if anyone could figure out how!



'The Waiting One' is the oldest and largest bronze statue of the Buddha in Laos. Cast in 1372 (or 1375), the destroyed left arm was remade in cement when the statue was placed inside the new sim.
 

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Luang Prabang - Things to See and Do - Part 2

Wat That Luang
Located out of town on the way to Kuang Si Waterfall was built on a knoll and legend has it that Wat That Luang was originally established by Ashokan missionaries from India in the 3rd century BC. However, there is no evidence whatsoever to confirm this, and the current "sim" was built in 1818 under the reign of King Manthaturat. Before 1975, Wat That Luang was used to hold funeral rites and cremate the country‘s highest dignitaries and the ashes of King Sisavang Vong and his brother are interred inside the large central stupa, which was erected in 1910. A smaller thâat or stupa in front of the sǐm dates back to 1820. Inside the sǐm are a few Luang Prabang Buddha images and other artefacts.



Wat That Luang

Wat Sene (Sene Soukharam) This Thai style wat is covered with yellow and red tiles that glow orange in the setting sun. Some insist its name relates to a donation of 100,000 Kip (Saen Kip) while others indicate that it translates to “Temple of 100,000 Treasures,” which refers to 100,000 stones from the Mekong River used in its construction. Again others claim it refers to the number of golden lotus blossoms on its walls. Whichever story is true, there is little doubt that this is one of the most beautiful temples in Luang Prabang. The Vat houses the bird of the Buddha, as well as two longboats used in the annual Boat Racing Festival.


Wat Sene (Saen)

Wat 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 4-tiered roof, as well as the scenes from daily life and the legend of Prince Vessantara (a previous incarnation of Buddha) on the bas-relief walls.



Wat Mai Suwannaphummaham

Wat Aham (built from 1818 onward) Wat Aham, the "Monastery of the Opened Heart" ("Le Monastère du Cœur épanoui") much of the time is serene, except when children from the near-by school are passing through the grounds. For much of the nineteenth century, before Wat Mai succeeded toward the end of the century, Wat Aham served as the residence of the Sangkhalat, or the Supreme Patriarch of Laotian Buddhism; at the same time it also remained the center of devata luang worship. There is a small structure on the grounds that continues to hold ancestral wooden ritualistic masks associated with the guardian spirits. During Bun Pi (Mai Pimay), the Laotian Lunar New Year, the masks are taken from their storage (in gilded chests suspended by ropes above the ground) to play an important role, the "Dance of the Masks" in the pageantry of the festival.



Wat Aham with That Chomsi in the background

Wat Choum Khong (built 1843) The small but attractive Wat Choum Khong (Chum Khong, Chom Khong; its “surname” is spelled either Sourintharame or Sulinthaham), “the Monastery of the Core of the Gong,” is located northeast of the Royal Palace Museum in Luang Prabang’s heritage zone. The name “Choum Khong” is derived from the raised boss in the center of a bronze gong, from
which, it is suggested, the sim’s central Buddha figure was partially made.


Wat Choum Khong

Wat Ho Xiang (built around 1705 and onward) Wat Ho Siang (Sieng, Sian, Xiang, Xieng) Voravihane, the Lottery Pavilion, adjoins Wat That on a small hill to the southwest of Mount Phousi and the Hotel Phousi. As with Wat That, there is a stairway with naga guardians flowing from the site to the entry below. The wat was named in honor of a 1548 ceremony, presided over by King Setthathirat, to choose the site of the viharn of the now adjoining Wat That. Most suggest that Ho Siang was formally founded by Khouane Sene Muxa in 1705 or early 1706, though doubtless there were earlier buildings on the site.


Wat Ho Xiang

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 rivers. The temple was built in 1888 and although the wat has been renovated , the dragon and bird designs on the ceiling add a sense of mystical powers.

Wat Long Khun (built 18th century, 1937 onward) Wat Long Khun (or Long Khoun), the Monastary of the Happy or Blessed Song (Monastère du chant bienheureaux) sometimes also is called the Monastery of the Willow Stream. The wat is sited on a 1.5 hectare (3.7 acre) flat area at the top of a long stairway leading from the river’s edge almost directly across the river from Wat Xieng Thong.

The monastery historically had important ties with the royal family of Luang Prabang. From its beginnings Long Khun served as a retreat center for spiritual revitalization. It was traditional practice that the new king-designate spend three days there in ceremonial bathing and meditative retreat before returning across the Mekong to Wat Xieng Thong on the eve of his formal coronation.


Wat Long Khoun (Khun)

With the dissolution of the monarchy, however, the monastery was abandoned and fell into disrepair, as did the other wats on the Chomphet (right or western) bank of the Mekong. The Luang Prabang style sim has two sections of almost equal size. The rear and older half is the sim proper and dates from the 18th century. It has some murals depicting the various lives of the Buddha. Unfortunately many are in poor condition because of moisture seeping into the building and from the years of neglect following the end of the monarchy.

The front section is an extended portico added during the reign of King Sisavonvang in 1937. The Lao Department of Museums and Archeology and L’École Française d’Extrême Orient carefully restored the complex the mid-1990s using traditional materials and techniques.

Wat Tham Xieng Maen Founded in 1889 and since abandoned, Wat Tham Xieng Maen is in a 100m-deep limestone cave called Tham Sakkarin Savannakuha, a little northwest of Wat Long Khun. Many Buddha images from temples that have been torched or otherwise fallen into decay are kept here; during Bun Pi Mai Lao many local worshippers come to Wat Tham to pay homage and cleanse the images. The large stone-block entrance built around the mouth of the cave displays good relief work on stair pedestals, and is flanked by two large ruined spirit houses and a couple of plumeria
(frangipani) trees. An iron gate across the cave mouth is usually locked; inquire at Wat Long Khun and someone will come and unlock the gate and guide you through the cave. It’s very long and dark, and parts of the cave floor are slippery, so it’s a good idea to go with a guide and to bring a flashlight.

CHOMPHET TEMPLE WALK

Wat Chomphet, Wat Long Khoun and Wat Tham Xieng Mene form part of the so-called Chomphet Temple Walk

That Chomsi, Wat Tham Phousi and Wat Thammo Thayaram The 24m-high That Chomsi, erected in 1804 during the reign of King Anourouth and restored in 1914, stands at the summit of Phousi Mountain. Both are clearly visible from most ground-level points in the city while, once having climbed the 328 steps leading to the summit, you will have a panoramic view over the town. The walkway surrounding the stupa and the small chapel provide the best views of the city and the Mekong River valley, especially at sunset when the sinking sun turns the river to gold and the sky blood red.


That Chomsi

The stupa is the starting point for a colourful Lao New Year procession in mid-April. If you continue over the summit and start down the path on the other side, you'll come to a Russian anti-aircraft cannon that children use as a makeshift merry-go-round and a bit further to a small cave shrine (sometimes called Wat Tham Phousi, although without monks it's not officially a wat). In the middle of the cave there is a large Buddha image - called Pha Kasai in Lao - and a sheltered area for worshippers. Descending further you will reach Wat Thammo Thayaram, with a shallow cave which has a giant footprint embedded in the rock, said to be that of the Buddha.

Binthabat or Sai Bat: 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 lay-people 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 (and Sai Bat in Thai), 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 should do everything they can not to disrupt this ancient tradition. It is best to be in your viewing place early between 5.30am - 6.00am



Caves near Luang Prabang Near Pak Ou (mouth of the Ou river) the Tham Ting (lower cave) and the Tham Theung (upper cave) are caves overlooking the Mekong River some 25 km north of Luang Prabang. They are a group of caves on the right side of the Mekong river. The caves are noted for their miniature Buddha sculptures. Hundreds of very small and mostly damaged wooden Buddhist figures are laid out over the wall shelves. They take many different positions, including meditation, teaching, peace, rain, and reclining (nirvana). Tham Ting is some metres above the river. For Tham Theung (Phum) you have to climb 226 stairs and then you need a torch, because this cave is dark.



Pak Ou Caves – Tham Ting and Tham Theung (Phum) - Photo by Jean Marie Huillot

Caves near Nong Khiaw & Muang Ngoi Gao Nong Khiaw is a small district capital bisected by the Nam Ou River north of Luang Prabang, famous for its dramatic limestone cliffs and lush vegetation. From Nong Khiaw take a boat one hour upriver to Muong Ngoi Gao, where you can get a taste of traditional Lao village life and relax in riverside bungalows.

Muang Ngoy Khao also known as Muang Ngoy Nuea - Tham Kang cave and Tham Pha Kaew cave - north of town, about 50 minutes by foot and can be found without a guide. From the main street, turn the second street left, cross the wooden bridge and soccer field and continue straight. These caves used to be a bomb shelters during the Vietnam war. Continue past the caves for about 45 minutes and you will reach Ban Na village.



Than Mok Waterfall in the forests near Ban Na and the Somsanouk GH

Tham Phathok Tham Pha Thok cave was a Pathet Lao regional base during the civil war. It was divided into sections – the hospital
section, a police section and a military section. Old remnants exist like campfires and ruined beds but other than that there is little evidence of it being the PT headquarters until you see the bomb crater at the front. To get there you walk through beautiful rice paddies. There is a second cave about 300 m further down on the left, Tham Pha Kwong, which was the Pathet Lao’s former banking cave. The cave is a tight squeeze and is easier to access with help from a local guide. It splits into two caves, one of which was the financial office and the other the accountant’s office. A further 2 km along the road, at Ban Nokien is the Than Mok waterfall.




Stairs to and the view from Tham Phathok

Waterfalls Kuang Si Waterfall is just one of several waterfalls around Luang Prabang, though it is by far the most famous. Another waterfall, Tad Sae Waterfall, is 15 km southeast of Luang Prabang. Tad Sae Waterfall consists of a series of cascading steps. Another waterfall is the less visited Tad Khua or Hoy Khua Waterfall (N19.87470 E102.02301), near the village of Pakleung which lies along the unpaved road from Luang Prabang to Hongsa.

Kuang Si Waterfall is a beautiful multi-tiered waterfall located some 30 km outside Luang Prabang in Laos. From the entry (N19.75093 E101.99656) you can walk through a forested area where there are enclosures housing Asian black bears rescued from poachers.

At the very bottom of the falls there are several blue pools of water and small cascades (3-5 metres high); some of the falls are multi-tiered. Most of the pools are open for swimming (one is closed as being a sacred site) though the water is a bit cold because this area is shaded by big trees. This makes the falls a popular cool-off place
among locals and tourists alike during the hot season. There are small wooden huts to change in. Picnic benches are also available all around the park. The site is well maintained with walkways and bridges to guide the visitors.

There are also trails to climb to the top of the falls where there are more natural pools for swimming. The trails are steep and can be extremely slippery, especially in rainy season…so you’ll need proper shoes to climb to the top, but the climb is well worth the effort. However it not suitable for unfit people or small children.

Bears! Within the same grounds of the Kuang Si Waterfalls there is also the "Free the bears rescue centre". These bears have been confiscated from poachers and traffickers The money for their life comes from the Australian Fund Free the Bears http://www.freethebears.org.au/about-bears/profile.html

Tad Sae Waterfall Often over shadowed by the more popular Kuang Si Waterfall, the Tad Se Falls are a quieter alternative. Located 15 kms southeast of Luang Prabang, the falls can easily be reached by taxi to the pier (N19.83433 E102.21457) from where you will have to take a boat. The picturesque journey allows visitors to admire the countryside, while the falls themselves are small but impressive. You may find you have the Falls all to yourself! Swimming is possible in some of the tiered pools and at the base of the falls. The best time to visit seems to be from September to December when there is sufficient water flowing down the falls.



Tad Sae Waterfall

Trekking-Chomphet & Muang Ngoi Community Based Tourism (CBT) aims to empower local people to take advantage of tourism to use it to benefit their own lives. The Lao government and Luang Prabang Provincial Authorities are working hard to ensure that tourism development in the province progresses in a way that does not result in negative impacts on local culture, the environment or society.

Trekking within the Luang Prabang District encompasses several treks including Fair Trek, a concept that follows the philosophy of Community Based Tourism. The aim of these treks is to share income amongst the visited communities, and encourage cultural education for visitors without negatively impacting on the daily lives of the village occupants.


Community Based Trekking

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 and 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.

Home Industries (Warning -some of these industries are very commerial and kind of tourist-traps)

Ban Phanom : This village, located 4km to the north of Luang Prabang, was a former royal weaving village. The weavers are Tai Lue by origin, an ethnic group originally from Yunnan Province in China. You can view women working on their looms, buy their products and take a stroll through the village.


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 reached by boat in 15 minutes, or by taking a boat across to Xieng Mene and walking downstream along the river for 25 minutes.

Ban Chan: At Ban Chan, 2 km to the north of Luang Prabang along the river, you can watch villagers making posa paper made from mulberry bark, and weaving other traditional textiles.

Ban Xang Hai: The “Whisky Village” is famous for its Lao Lao, the local brewed whisky. Some versions involve the fermentation of snakes and various insects. You are welcome to taste and buy. The village is on route to Pak Ou Caves. You will also see the locals weaving Lao silk and can purchase their fabrics and crafts here.

Other Activities Elephant Camps There are lots of Elephant camps around Luang Prabang and most of them are commercial. In case you want to have a more authentic and less commercial elephant experience try the Elephant Village in Luang Prabang which was set up by Markus Peschke in 2003. Previously known as ‘Tiger Trail Elephant Camp’ and ‘Elephant Park Project’ and ‘Elephant XL’, Elephant Village was first located opposite the Lao Spirit Resort on the Nam Khan River. Currently they are located close to Ban Xieng Lom. The Elephant Village focuses on three objectives: 1. “Saving Elephants”, 2. “Community Support” and 3. “Nature Preservation”

The Elephant Village takes elephants out of the dangerous logging industry and provides them with an alternative way of earning their income with priority given to elephants which desperately need help the most. For example, older elephants and elephants which have injuries due to accidents. The Elephant Village had 12 elephants in their care which include an 80 year old female (who has since died of old age), a 63 year old female who is nearly blind in both eyes and a 38 year old female who is completely blind in the right eye. The most recently acquired elephant is a disabled female who was injured when she stepped on a ‘UXO’ (Un-Exploded Ordinance) some years ago.



A very quiet night market with lots of things to buy and eat

Big Brother Mouse This organization is devoted to encouraging literacy in young adults and has premises off the main street, down a side street near 3-Nagas restaurant. Dependent on sponsorship and volunteers, it welcomes tourists Mondays to Saturdays to help with English conversation and reading practice. The organization also publishes and distributes books in Lao and English. Buying books to give to village schools is encouraged.

Heritage House A Unesco-sponsored exhibit and information centre that occupies an old wooden Lao house on teak pillars in Ban Xieng Muan. Other than the very impressive wood and colombage (bamboo lattice daubed with natural mortar) house itself, there is little to take in here. Occasional weaving demonstrations are held in the house.

The grave of Henri Mouhot Henri Mouhot (May 15, 1826 — November 10, 1861) was a French naturalist and explorer of the mid-19th century. He was born in Montbéliard, Doubs, France and he died near Naphan, Laos. He is remembered mostly in connection to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Mouhot's tomb is located just a bit east of Ban Phanom and close to the All Lao Elephant Camp - Coordinates: N19.88555 E102.19345. For more info see here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Henri-Mouhot/107784909249450?nr#

Photos by the National Hotel and Restaurant Accociation, Barbara Weibel, Lao National Tourist Association, Oriental Architecture and others
 
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