Approaching Luang Prabang by air, there is only the
mighty Mekong River winding itself like a snake through the green mountains
of Laos. In the middle of the dry season, in February and March, sandbanks
appear and make life difficult for the many boatmen who moor their boats on
both side of the river.
palace of Prince Phetsarat (1890-1959) in the compound of the grand Luang
The higher mountains show dusty stretches of slash and
burn agriculture, but suddenly a small mountain top appears with a golden
pagoda glittering in the afternoon sun. This is Phou Si Mountain, a sacred
site in the midst of narrow alleys, bustling markets and a network of more
than 30 Buddhist monasteries. The city is still reflecting a divine world,
where kings of bygone days ruled their mandala in all directions of the
Luang Prabang was the former capital of Lan Xang Kingdom,
founded by King Fa Ngum, a legendary ruler in 1353. According to an ever
older legend, two hermits were attracted to this place, where a mountain is
shaped like a mound of rice and three rivers find their way into the Mekong
River within a stretch of 30 kilometers, namely the Nam Ou, Nam Xuang and
young Apsara dancer performs alternate evenings in the royal palace.
Today, the main part of Luang Prabang lies on a peninsula
formed by the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong River and is one
kilometer long and 200 meters wide.
In its center and between Phou Si Mountain and the Mekong
River is the former royal palace or rajawang, also called ho kham or golden
palace, which was built between 1904 and 1909 under the French, after Luang
Prabang was declared a protectorate and Laos became a colony within French
The last crowned king of the Lao Kingdom was King
Sisavangvong who died in 1959. He was succeeded by his son, King Sisavang
Vatthana, who modernized the whole compound and handed it over to the Lao
People’s Democratic Republic established on December 2, 1975. Later it
became a national museum.
of Lao Youth Travel offer trekking, biking and rafting tours.
The development of the tourist sector in Lao PDR started
in 1990 and due to its position in the national economy, the government has
identified tourism as one of the priority sectors in the national
socio-economic development plan. The policy is to promote natural, cultural
and historical tourism to attract international tourists.
First came the backpackers to Luang Prabang, who visited
the sleepy town and wondered about the traditional wooden houses built on
stilts and the marked difference to the concrete houses of the rich
merchants. The poorer homes were even made of bamboo, as until a few decades
ago, teakwood was exclusively used for palaces and temples.
Two wide streets run parallel to the river, crossed by
streets at right angles. The gables of the houses are symmetrically aligned
and surrounded by greenery. Interesting to note is that there are no
bathrooms in the houses of Luang Prabang. People still bathe in the river or
use a large jar behind the house filled with rainwater. Usually, nights are
The river is still the preferred method of transport for
goods, in a country which has a poor road network. National route no.13 has
only recently been improved with the help of Chinese engineers to connect
the town with Oudomxai and Luang Nam Tha in the northern part of the country
and with Vang Vieng and Vientiane to the south, making weeklong river
As more and more affluent travelers arrive at the new
international airport linking Luang Prabang with Chiang Mai, Sukhothai and
Bangkok in Thailand, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, handicraft shops and
internet cafes have multiplied. Luckily, the town was declared a world
heritage site in Berlin on December 2, 1995.
The work of UNESCO includes a new town plan to divide
Luang Prabang into protected areas and makes it possible that old colonial
buildings will be slowly rehabilitated within the existing framework. A few
owners have even started to renovate their old wooden houses. Small alleys
will be paved and clay tiles will once again become a standard building
material for all new constructions. Luang Prabang with its 25,000
inhabitants is a Shangri-La of the East and the following places and
institutions are highly recommended:
Hotels: The Grand Luang Prabang, once the private
residence of Prince Phetsarat right on the Mekong River, is managed by
Dutchman Gerard W. Verhoeven. Pansea Phou Vao Hotel is a boutique-style
hotel, managed by French Nicolas Pillet. Souvannaphoum is a typical colonial
style hotel. Le Parasol Blanc Hotel is located in the heart of the city,
while Villa Santi Hotel is part of a package deal with Lao Airlines.
Guesthouses: Tum Tum Cheng is for budget travelers.
Le Calao Inn combines history, elegance and romance at the Mekong riverside,
while the Manoluck caters for families.
Restaurants: L’Elephant is the top French one,
while Indochina Spirit serves typical Lao food, such as seaweed with sesame
seeds. Tamnak Lao is already long established.
Tour agencies: Lao Youth Travel, Tiger Trail managed
by German Markus Peschke, Asian Trails and Diethelm Travel, offering
trekking, biking and rafting.
Temple sites: Vat Xieng Thong, Vat Visoun, Vat Mai,
and Vat Buddha Bat to see a dramatic sunset, if you do not want to climb up
the stairs to That Chom Si.
Excursions: Pak Ou Caves, Henri Mouhot’s Tomb near
the Tai Lue village of Ban Phanom, Tad Kouang Si Waterfall and to a newly
established elephant camp.
Entertainment: Royal Ballet Ramayana on every other
evening at the Royal Palace. Walking Street at night and Muang Swa
Nightclub, which closes at 11.30 p.m.
How to get there: THAI’s new Chiang Mai-Luang Prabang flights
operate every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. Lao Airlines fly every
Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. So, don’t miss the chance to miss one of the
still unspoiled places of Indochina. For further information, contact GMS
Media Travel Consultant Reinhard Hohler by email sara@cmnet .co.th