Louangphabang, commonly transliterated into Western languages from pre 1975 Lao spelling as Luang Prabang, literally meaning: «Royal Buddha Image», is a city in north central Laos, consisting of 58 adjacent villages, of which 33 comprise the UNESCO Town Of Luang Prabang World Heritage Site. 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.
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.
The city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. It had also been known by the ancient name of Chiang Thong. It was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos, until the communist 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.
Muang Sua was the old name of Luang Prabang following its conquest in 698 CE by a Tai prince, Khun Lo. Khun Lo had been awarded the town by his father, Khun Borom, who is associated with the Lao legend of the creation of the world, which the Lao share with the Shan and other peoples of the region. Khun Lo established a dynasty whose fifteen rulers reigned over an independent Muang Sua for nearly a century.
In the second half of the 8th century, Nan-chao intervened frequently in the affairs of the principalities of the middle Mekong Valley, resulting in the occupation of Muang Sua in 709. Nan-chao princes or administrators replaced the aristocracy of Tai overlords. Dates of the occupation are not known, but it probably ended well before the northward expansion of the Khmer empire under Indravarman I (r. 877–89) and extended as far as the territories of Sipsong Panna on the upper Mekong.
In the meantime, the Khmers founded an outpost at Xay Fong near Vientiane, and Champa expanded again in southern Laos, maintaining its presence on the banks of the Mekong until 1070. Chanthaphanit, the local ruler of Xay Fong, moved north to Muang Sua and was accepted peacefully as ruler after the departure of the Nan-chao administrators. Chanthaphanit and his son had long reigns, during which the town became known by the Tai name Xieng Dong Xieng Thong.
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 but subject to some controversy surrounding tourist etiquette. 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 is an interesting place. Luang Prabang received ‘Best City’ in the Wanderlust Travel Awards 2015.
Luang Prabang is served by Luang Prabang International Airport with non-stop flights to adjoining countries.
Luang Prabang is linked by Route 13 with Vang Vieng and Vientiane, and by Route 1 with Muang Xay. Route 13 also connects the city to Cambodia.
The road from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is poorly maintained, remote, unlit, unmarked and dangerous for the unfamiliar, particularly in the wet season. Buses regularly travel the route in 14–16 hours.
Route 13 from Vientiane, passing Vang Vieng, to Luang Prabang is paved, though the surface is in poor condition at places. It is also relatively narrow, with sharp curves. There are no markings or lighting on the road. Since 2014, a new road connects Kasi (close to Vang Vieng) to Luang Prabang, allowing the trip to be made in about 3 hours. Several daily buses run from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, taking 11–13 hours.
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 of precipitation annually.