LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

A most delightful town for its atmosphere, setting, and beautiful temples.
Luang Prabang from Phu Si

Exploring Luang Prabang with Bill and Bessie Too
Luang Prabang, Lao PDR
13 January 2003

The days have been just packed with a palace, temples, caves, and waterfalls in and around this palm-shaded little town! Yes, I've enjoyed Luang Prabang very much. It's really a group of villages, each named for a local temple. And there are lots of temples, all decorated inside and out with beautiful artistry. I also walked through the Royal Palace Museum, a plain double cruciform building on the outside, but filled with royal and religious art inside. The most famous Buddha statue, the Pha Bang, stands in the palace shrine room. The Khmer Empire presented the gold-silver-bronze-alloy image to King Fa Ngum in 1359 as a confirmation of Lao sovereignty. The capital later changed its name in honor of this statue—Luang Prabang is "Great (or Royal) Pha Bang." Out back rest four of the royal cars, including the one used exclusively by the king and queen—a big old Edsel!

Yesterday I cycled southwest 32 km to Kuang Si Waterfall, a beautiful spot in forested foothills. Twin falls cascade into travertine pools filled with turquoise-colored water. I hiked up one side of the falls, waded across pools at the top, then descended on the other side. A walk downstream passed many more travertine pools with water pouring over their rims.

Film has been flying through my camera in the five days here, so I'll be posting plenty on my website when we return to the USA next month! Today I leave for Pak Mong, a road junction north of here. It's a 117-km ride—hope I make it!

The 100-meter-high Phu Si hill rises in the center of town and offers great panoramas.
The Royal Palace from Phu Si

That's the Lao flag. The red bars symbolize courage and heroism, the blue is nationhood, and the white sphere is the "light of communism."
Detail of the Royal Palace, built in 1904 during the early French colonial period

The Royal Theatre, on the grounds of the Royal Palace, offers cultural programs.A traditional Lao orchestra

The Buddha would not give in to temptations.That's real gold! Workmen had just applied gold leaf to this wood-carved door of the Haw Pha Bang, a temple on the grounds of the Royal Palace; when construction is complete, the Pha Bang statue will be moved inside.

Some French colonists referred to Laos as the land of the lotus eaters--a reference to the Greek Odyssey in which people eating lotus fruit became indolent, dreamy, and forgetful of duty.water lily at the Royal Palace

View across the Mekong from Wat Chom Phet
Luang Prabang waterfront. You can see the stupa atop Phu Si hill on the left,
red temple roofs, and the gold spire of the Royal Palace in the middle right.

You'll find many restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and Internet facilities along this street.
Thanon Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang's main street.

This temple dates to 1560 and was under royal patronage until communists abolished the monarchy in 1975.
A Tree of Life mosaic adorns the back of the temple at Wat Xieng Thong.

Nearly every Lao monastery has a small tower with a choice of drums and bells.Beating the big drum at Wat Xieng Thong

Wat Wisunalat dates from 1513, making it the oldest functioning temple in Luang Prabang.Buddha giving protection, Wat Wisunalat

Many Lao temples are like a picture book, telling stories of the Buddha's teachings and past lives.
Painting inside 18th-century Wat Long Khun, located across the Mekong from Luang Prabang.

Artwork covered the walls in all five levels of the stupa-shaped "Peacefulness Temple."Yes, this guy is in serious trouble!
The painting illustrates the human tendency to blindly follow cravings without regard to the dangers involved. Rodents gnawing the branch symbolize the certainty of death and the futility of devoting one's life to short-lived pleasures.

This wood carving depicts a scene from a jataka tale, a story of the Buddha in a past life.Detail of a door to Wat Pha Mahathat

You can see how hand gestures play a major role in Lao dance.
Cultural show at Villa Sinxay;
Family and friends of this restaurant put on a good performance.

From the base of the falls I crossed the river and hiked up the other side to the top of the falls.The many-tiered Tat Kuang Si Waterfall

These leaves were nearly one meter long! I passed this one on the hike to the top of the falls.The underside of a giant leaf

From here I waded across and descended another trail back to the base of the falls.
Travertine pools just above Tat Kuang Si Waterfall

A boat excursion from Luang Prabang is the nicest way to get here.Pak Ou Caves.
The white staircase leads into the large, Buddha-filled chamber of the lower cave.

Inside the lower cave at Pak Ou

The cave's huge opening above the Mekong and the hundreds of Buddha statues inside give Pak Ou a strong spiritual presence.

The Buddha stated that all conditioned things are impermanent.
The Lao not only use caves as temples,
but also as a repository for broken
or insect-damaged images.


It's wet paper pulp, with greenery and flower petals added!
On the way back from Pak Ou, our boat stopped at a crafts village.
Can you guess what they are making here?

In fine weather, a small crowd gathers atop Phu Si to watch the sunset.
day's end at Luang Prabang

On to Northern Laos and the End of the Ride