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Luang Prabang

Coordinates: 19°53′24″N 102°08′05″E / 19.89000°N 102.13472°E / 19.89000; 102.13472
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Luang Prabang
ຫຼວງພະບາງ, ຫລວງພຣະບາງ
Luang Prabang District
Southeast Luang Prabang
Southeast Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang is located in Laos
Luang Prabang
Luang Prabang
Location in Laos
Coordinates: 19°53′24″N 102°08′05″E / 19.89000°N 102.13472°E / 19.89000; 102.13472
Country Laos
ProvinceLuang Prabang
DistrictLuang Prabang District
Established as Muang Sua698
Controlled by Nanzhao709
Khmer vassal950
Formation of Lan Xang1353
 • TypeLocal Committee for World Heritage Louangphabang[1]
Elevation305 m (1,001 ft)
 • Total55,027
Time zoneUTC+7 (ICT)
Post Code
CriteriaCultural: ii, iv, v
Inscription1995 (19th Session)
Area820 ha
Buffer zone12,560 ha

Luang Phabang,[4][5][6][7] (Lao: ຫລວງພະບາງ/ຫຼວງພະບາງ) or Louangphabang[8][9][10][11] (pronounced [lǔaŋ pʰāʔ.bàːŋ]), commonly transliterated into Western languages from the pre-1975 Lao spelling ຫຼວງພຣະບາງ (ຣ = silent r) as Luang Prabang,[12][13][14] literally meaning "Royal Buddha Image", is a city[15] in north central Laos, consisting of 58 adjacent villages, of which 33 comprise the UNESCO Town of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site.[16][17] It was listed in 1995 for unique and "remarkably" well preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage, a blend of the rural and urban developments over several centuries, including the French colonial influences during the 19th and 20th centuries.[18]

The centre of the city consists of four main roads and is located on a peninsula at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong River. Luang Prabang 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 city's major landmarks is Mount Phou Si; a large steep hill which despite the constrained scale of the city, is 150 metres (490 ft) high; a steep staircase leads to Wat Chom Si shrine and an overlook of the city and the rivers.[19][20]

The city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. It had also been known by the ancient name of Xieng Thong.[21] It was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos, until the Pathet Lao takeover in 1975. The city is part of Luang Prabang District of Luang Prabang Province and is the capital and administrative centre of the province. It lies approximately 300 km (190 mi) north of the capital Vientiane. Currently, the population of the city as a whole is roughly 56,000 inhabitants with the UNESCO protected site being inhabited by around 24,000.[16][22][23]


Dvaravati city state kingdoms[edit]

By the 6th century in the Chao Phraya River Valley, Mon peoples had coalesced to create the Dvaravati kingdoms. In the north, Haripunjaya (Lamphun) emerged as a rival power to the Dvaravati. By the 8th century the Mon had pushed north to create city states, in Fa Daet (modern Kalasin, northeastern Thailand), Sri Gotapura (Sikhottabong) near modern Tha Khek, Laos, Muang Sua (Luang Prabang), and Chantaburi (Vientiane). In the 8th century CE, Sri Gotapura (Sikhottabong) was the strongest of these early city states, and controlled trade throughout the middle Mekong region. The city states were loosely bound politically, but were culturally similar and introduced Therevada Buddhism from Sri Lankan missionaries throughout the region.[24][25][26][27]: 6, 7 [28][29]

View of Luang Prabang, 1897

Lan Xang period[edit]

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[citation needed], 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 the Lan Xang kingdom. In 1359 the Khmer king from Angkor gave the Phra Bang to his son-in-law, the first Lang Xang monarch Fa Ngum (1353–1373); to provide Buddhist legitimacy both to Fa Ngum's rule and by extension to the sovereignty of Laos and was used to spread Theravada Buddhism in the new kingdom. The capital name was changed to Luangphabang, where it was kept, named after the Buddha image.[30]: 225–226  Luang Prabang was briefly occupied by the Vietnamese forces during Emperor Lê Thánh Tông's 1478–1480 expedition against Lan Xang and Lanna.[31] The capital was moved in 1560 by King Setthathirath I to Vientiane, which remains the capital today.

Market in Luang Prabang, pre-1901

In 1707, Lan Xang fell apart because of a dynastic struggle and Luang Prabang became the capital of the independent Kingdom of Luang Phrabang. 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 Laos. When Laos achieved independence, the king of Luang Prabang, Sisavang Vong, became the head of state of the Kingdom of Laos.[32]

World War II[edit]

Damage caused by a communist ground attack on Luang Prabang airfield, 1967

The town was the scene of many events during and in the aftermath of World War II and it was occupied by several foreign countries during the war (Vichy France, Thailand, Imperial Japan, Free France, and Nationalist China). Initially the Vichy French controlled the city but lost it to Thai forces following the Franco-Thai War of 1940–1941. On 9 March 1945, a nationalist group declared Laos once more independent, with Luang Prabang as its capital but on 7 April 1945 two battalions of Japanese troops occupied the city.[33] The Japanese attempted to force Sisavang Vong (the King of Luang Prabang) to declare Laotian independence but on 8 April he instead simply declared an end to Laos' status as a French protectorate. The King then secretly sent Prince Kindavong to represent Laos to the Allied forces and Sisavang Vatthana as representative to the Japanese.[33] Following Japan's surrender to the Allies, Free French forces were sent to reoccupy Laos and entered Luang Prabang on 25 August, at which time the King assured the French that Laos remained a French colonial protectorate.[33] In September the Chinese Nationalist forces arrived to receive the surrender of the remaining Japanese forces but also quickly set about buying up the Laotian opium crop.[33]

Laotian Civil War era[edit]

In April and May 1946, the French attempted to recapture Laos by using paratroops to retake Vientiane and Luang Prabang and drive Phetsarath and the Lao Issara ministers out of Laos and into Thailand and Vietnam. During the First Indochina War, the Viet Minh and Pathet Lao forces attempted to capture the city several times in 1953 and 1954, but were stopped before they could reach it by French forces.[34] During the Laotian Civil War of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, a secret American airbase was located at Luang Prabang[citation needed] and it was the scene of fighting. Luang Prabang remained the royal capital until 1975, when the Pathet Lao communist forces seized power with North Vietnamese support and dissolved the monarchy.

Luang Prabang was enlisted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 for the recognition of its well-preserved architectural, religious and cultural heritage.

Monarchs of Luang Prabang[edit]

Statue of Sisavang Vong, King of Luang Phrabang 1904–46, King of Laos 1946–59
  • 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 who, when France granted Laos independence, became king of the whole country


A riverboat and marchers in the Lao New Year parade in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has both natural and historical sites. Among the natural tourism sites are the Kuang Si Falls, Tat Sae Waterfalls, and Pak Ou Caves. Elephant riding is offered at some sites. Phou Si, in the center of the town, has broad views of the town and river systems, and is a popular place to watch the sun setting over the Mekong River. 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 best known historical sites. The town, particularly the main street, is dotted with many smaller wats such as Wat Hosian Voravihane. Every morning at sunrise, monks walk in a procession through the streets accepting alms offered by local residents, an event popular with tourists. Mountain biking is quite common, with people often biking around the town or to the waterfalls for the day. Down the Mekong River, a 15-minute boat ride from the city centre, Ban Chan (the pottery village[35]) is another notable place. Luang Prabang received 'Best City' in the Wanderlust Travel Awards 2015.


O-lam, the most popular dish in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has a rich artistic and culinary history and the city's cooks were hired by the king.[citation needed] Typical local dishes include: Or lam (O-lam, the favourite dish of Luang Prabang locals), Luang Prabang sausage, mokpa (steamed fish), and Kaipen made from Mekong River moss (served fried) with the Luang Prabang's famous Jeow Bong.[36]


Luang Prabang International Airport


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


Luang Prabang is served by Route 13, which connects to Vang Vieng and Vientiane to the south, and to Boten in the north. The road is paved, though the surface is in poor condition at places. Since 2014, a new road connects Kasi (close to Vang Vieng) to Luang Prabang, allowing the trip to be made in about 3 hours (compared to 5 hours via Route 13). Several daily buses run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, taking 11–13 hours.[37]

The road from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is poorly maintained, remote, unlit, unmarked and dangerous for the unfamiliar, particularly in the rainy season. Buses regularly travel the route for 14–16 hours.[37]

If coming from Vietnam, sleeper buses can be caught from Hanoi to either Luang Prabang or Vang Vieng.


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, across from Thailand, downstream to Luang Prabang takes two days by slow boat, typically with a stop at Pakbeng.


Beginning December 2021, Luang Prabang is served by the high speed Vientiane–Boten railway. The railway parallels Route 13, and serve as Laos' first major north–south railway line, from Boten at the Chinese border in the north to Vientiane in the south. The complete journey takes less than three hours by train instead of three days by road.[38][39]


There is a French international school in the city, École francophone de Luang Prabang.[40]


Luang Prabang features a tropical wet and dry climate (Aw) under the Köppen climate classification. While the city is generally very warm throughout the year, it is noticeably cooler during December and January. Luang Prabang also experiences wet and dry seasons, with the wet season from April until October, and the dry season during the remaining five months. The city receives approximately 1,450 millimetres (57 in) of precipitation annually.

Climate data for Luang Prabang, elevation 305 m (1,001 ft), (1991–2020)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 39.4
Mean daily maximum °C (°F) 28.4
Daily mean °C (°F) 19.8
Mean daily minimum °C (°F) 14.7
Record low °C (°F) 0.8
Average precipitation mm (inches) 17.1
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 2 1 5 9 14 15 20 21 15 7 3 2 114
Average relative humidity (%) 82 77 74 76 81 85 87 89 87 86 84 85 82.8
Mean monthly sunshine hours 175.5 193.6 174.3 185.3 184.0 131.7 106.8 119.1 158.5 185.0 169.4 168.2 1,951.4
Source 1: World Meteorological Organization[41]
Source 2: NOAA (humidity, 1961–1990),[2][42] The Yearbook of Indochina (1932–1933)[43]

Sister cities[edit]

See also[edit]


View from Phou si summit facing south-east


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]