Luang Prabang, Laos


Luang Prabang rose to prominence as the capital of the first Lao kingdom known as "Lan Xang" (land of the million elephants) from 1353 onward.  The city owes its present name to the "Pha Bang", a revered Buddha image (now in the Royal Palace Museum) which was brought to the city by King Visoun during the golden age of "Lan Xang" in the early 1500s. At some point in history, the kingdom converted from Theravada Buddhism to Mahayana Buddhism.
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The fragmentation of the Lao kingdom at the end of the 16th century saw Luang Prabang become a militarily weak city-state paying tribute to the surrounding kingdoms. The 1887 sacking of the city by the Chinese led the Luang Prabang monarchy to accept the protectorate of the French. Its influence led to the construction of many fine colonial villas that sit harmoniously alongside the traditional Lao architecture. Luang Prabang fell into decline in the latter half of the 20th century following the reluctant withdrawal of the French. The 1975 revolution brought an end to the monarchy when the Pathet Lao communists seized power with the support of the North Vietnamese.

Wat Xieng Thong by McKay Savage

The relative poverty of the newly-independent Laos perhaps helped save Luang Prabang from the ravages of 20th century city planning. The reopening of Laos to tourism in 1989 resulted in a remarkable turnaround in the city's fortunes. Crumbling timber houses and colonial mansions were sensitively restored and transformed into immaculate guesthouses and boutique hotels. In 1995 the city was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Besides the Buddhist wats and monasteries, there are the French colonial homes and buildings. Luang Prabang also offers visitors natural sites waiting to be explored.

Area around Luang Prabang by Thomas Drissner

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Luang Prabang

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