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LUANG PRABANG

HISTORY

Luang Prabang rose to prominence as the capital of the first Lao kingdom (Lan Xang - land of the million elephants) from 1353 onwards. 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.

The fragmentation of the Lao kingdom at the end of the 16th century saw Luang Prabang become a militarily weak independent city state paying tribute to the surrounding kingdoms. Ultimately the 1887 sacking of the city by the Chinese Haw led the Luang Prabang monarchy to accept the protection of the French, whose influence led to the construction of the many fine colonial villas that sit harmoniously alongside the traditional Lao architecture.

The city fell into decline in the latter half of the 20th century following the reluctant withdrawal of the French, and the 1975 revolution which brought an end to the Luang Prabang monarchy. The relative poverty of 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, as 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.

Alms ceremony

Monks at dawn (06:00) collecting alms of rice from kneeling villagers and tourists, who form the majority, along Sakkaline Road near Wat Sensoukharam. Just look for the long row of rice baskets and stools that have been laid out for tourists who have paid for the privilege of giving alms. Seeing these tourists, who make up the majority of the alm-givers, seated on plastic stools participating out of fun rather than sincerity definitely reduces the authenticity of the moment. To make things worse, some are dressed inappropriately: please, if you want to give alms, at least cover up and do not show the monks your cleavage! Ask your guest house host to assist you the day before in preparing if you'd like to get up and give alms in the morning. Please note that the alms giving ceremony is one which, while picturesque, is not without its detractors. Unscrupulous local merchants have used the eagerness of tourists to participate in a local tradition as a means of making easy money, and sometimes sell unsuitable, stale and even unsafe food. This has resulted in monks falling ill after having consumed the offerings, and resistance to continuing the tradition. However, the government has made it clear that the monks have to continue the tourist pageant or risk being replaced with lay people clothed in saffron robes in order to keep up appearances, and thereby maintain tourist revenue. So if you wish to participate in this ceremony, prepare the food or fruit yourself, and avoid giving food of unknown quality. Another problem is the photography: while it looks nice on your collection, think about how it must feel for the monks to have hundreds of tourists photographing them every day. Some lowlifes even stand right next to them, flashing them in the eyes! Strongly consider only watching this old tradition from a distance instead of using it as a tourist attraction, as this may detract from the beauty of the ritual - both for locals and tourists alike. You can always download a picture of it somewhere on the net for your collection.

Haw Kham

The former royal palace and now national museum.

Entrance ticket costs: 30,000 kip/person

Open 08:00-11:30 and 13:30-16:00 every day except Tuesday.

There's also sometimes local drama or dance performances in the adjacent theatre. In August 2011, on Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat., there was a performance at 18:30 of "Search of Princess Sida", a royal ballet, with prices from 80,000 to 150,000 kip.

Notes: no photo/video/bag/shoes allowed, free locker.

Phou Si

The main hill in the city from which you have a good view of the whole area. It's not a very steep climb from the bottom and sunrise and sunset are the most sensible and rewarding times to go up. There is a near-panoramic view from the top. There are 2 entrances from ground level: 1 on the north along Sisavangvong Road, facing the Royal Palace, and another one on the East, on Sisavang Vatthana Road. The northern entrance has about 130 steps up to the ticket counter, and another 190 steps to the top. Even folks with low fitness levels should be able to complete the climb, although it can be tiring for the unfit. The eastern entrance is longer than the northern one by a factor of 2 or 3, and is hence less steep and has more points of interest along the way, which are perfect excuses for stopping for a breather on the climb.

Notes: entrance fee costs 20,000 kip/person

TRAVEL BROUCHURE 2013
Spotlight Destination
TESTIMONIAL
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  • Ms. Nguyễn Như Hảo & friends

  • Phung and our guides responded perfectly to our needs. We were tired after the train journey and so the only part of the itinerary we would change would have been to just spend the afternoon by the pool at the resort rather than taking a tour of the Hoi An sites
  • Mrs. Lisa Marie Behan and our family

  • Mr Liem was a wonderful guide he was professional but still showed a good sense of humour. We would never have been able to cross the roads without his help. Your design and management of our trip were excellent. I just realised that I hadn’t given feedback on the meal in the Mekong on the first day – this was at the house on the Mekong river, this was very remiss of me as although all meals were excellent this one was exceptional and the best we had for the entire trip, I should also have mentioned that the guide (a lady) we had on the Mekong cruise was excellent.
  • Ms. Jennifer Grace Agustin & Friends

  • A very well designed tour. We were very thankful to have contacted you and felt that your arrangements for us made everything a lot easier. Mr. Trang He was a fabulous guide who was quite knowledgeable about everything. We really felt like he made our trip even more enjoyable. His English is also extremely good and he tries hard to accommodate. Our favorite was Phu Quoc but we also really enjoyed our tour of the Mekong Delta though didn’t need two nights in Can Tho because there isn’t much to do in the city. Maybe should have done one night on a boat in hindsight but wasn’t sure we would like that.
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  • Hi Viet Premier!
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