Saturday, 28 January 2012

Luang Prabang is a Wonderful Patchwork of Traditional Lao Wooden Houses and Hints of European Architecture

Luang Prabang (ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ), also Luang Phabang, Luang Phrabang and Louang Phrabang is the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage city.
Luang Prabang, or Louangphrabang located in north central Laos, at the confluence of the Nam Khan river and Mekong River about 425 km north of Vientiane. It is the capital of Luang Prabang Province. The population of the city is about 103,000.
The main part of the city consists of four main roads located on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. The city is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. Every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms. One of the major landmarks in the city is a large steep hill on which sits Wat Chom Si.


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 I (r. 877-89) and extended as far as the territories of Sipsong Panna on the upper Mekong.

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 Kammu (alternate spellings include Khamu and 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 reinstituted the Siamese administrative system of the 7th century. At some point, Theravada Buddhism was subsumed by Mahayana Buddhism.

Xieng Dong Xieng Thong experienced a brief period of Khmer suzerainty under Jayavarman VII from 1185 to 1191. By 1180 the Sipsong Panna 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 to Vientiane, 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.

Monarchs of Luang Prabang

Khun Lo, warlord who founded the city
Fa Ngum, prince of Luang Prabang who founded Lan Xang
Oun Kham, king who ruled under the French
Kham Souk (Zakarine), king who ruled under the French and who pushed for independence
Sisavang Vong, king under the French, and when France granted Laos independence, he became king of the whole country


Luang Prabang has both natural and historical sites. Among the natural tourism sites are the Kuang Si Falls and Pak Ou Caves. Tourists may also ride elephants. At the end of the main street of Luang Prabang is a night market where stalls sell shirts, bracelets and other souvenirs. The Haw Kham Royal Palace Museum and the Wat Xieng Thong temple are among the most well known historical sites. Along with the magnificent wats a significant part of the old town's appeal are the many French provincial style houses.


Luang Prabang is served by Luang Prabang International Airport with non-stop flights to

Laos: Phongsaly, Vientiane, Xieng Khuang (Phonsavan)
Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai,
Cambodia: Siem Reap
Vietnam: Ha Noi

Luang Prabang is linked by Route 13 with Vang Vieng and Vientiane, and by Route 1 with Muang Xay. Route 13 also connects the city to Cambodia.

The road from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is poorly maintained, remote, unlit, unmarked and extremely dangerous for the unfamiliar, particularly in the wet season. Buses regularly travel the route in 14–16 hours.

Route 13 from Vientiane, passing Vang Vieng, to Luang Prabang is paved, though the pavement is in poor condition at places. It is also relatively narrow, with sharp curves. There are no markings or lighting on the road. Several daily buses run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, taking 9–11 hours.

The Mekong River itself is also an important transportation link. At Chiang Khong it is possible to hire a barge to cross the river. A trip from Huay Xai, just across the river from the Thai border cst 20 baht on a boat, Luang Prabang can be reached by slow boat in two days, typically with a stop at Pakbeng.

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