Luang Prabang

Photo: Wood Carving at
Wat Xieng Thong, Luang

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang, by the banks of the Mekong, some 500 kilometres upriver from Vientiane and 300 metres above sea level, is Laos' oldest town still in existence. For the most part of her history the town was the seat of kings. In 1563 King Setthathirat moved his government to Vientiane; but by then, Luang Prabang had already been capital for some 800 years.

True, the kingdoms ruled from Luang Prabang had not been large for the first 600 years of her history.

Only Prince Fa Ngoum made Luang Prabang the capital of a kingdom of significant size.

The small town (about 80,000 inhabitants today) is beautifully located at the foot of a high, rocky mountain - Mount Phousi - by the banks of the Mekong river, and the town has a romantic atmosphere even though most buildings are not very old (despite the town's history of many centuries). The reason: surrounded by almost infinite forests the town's inhabitants always used as building material what they had, in abundance, at their disposal: wood.

In the course of its long history the town had often been conquered and burnt down. The last time this happened in the 80's of the 19th century at the hands of the Chinese. The town had also been a frequent target of hostile visits by Thais and Vietnamese.

After invasions, many destroyed structures were rebuilt, some of them again and again, roughly the same as they have existed before an invasion. Though physically no longer present, architecture dating back many centuries shapes the town and contributes to Luang Prabang's unquestioned charm. To this, the numerous Wats in and around the town provide a spiritual component.

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