An important spiritual city for centuries, Luang Prabang has seen the construction of no less than 66 temples in its lifetime, and despite numerous wars, 32 are left standing today.
The most impressive is generally considered to be Wat Xieng Thong (‘Golden Tree’), built in the classic Luang Prabang style of architecture, with low drooping roofs and incredible naga carvings. An ancient one-of-a-kind Buddha statue has reclined in its “wiharn” since the temple was first built, back in the mid-16th century (in fact it has left once, for an exhibition in Paris). Also notable is the shining ‘tree of life’ mosaic outside the chapel, inlaid into its red exterior wall.
Phou Si, topped with a gold-roofed stupa, is the hill just below the river, next to Sisavangvong Road. It’s a great place to start looking around; you’ll get an amazing view over the city as you set out, and many shrines along either of the hill’s two paths. Don’t miss 14th century Wat Pra Buddhabaht, with its traditional Buddha footprint grotto, on the way down.
Several large temples are situated around Phou Si’s base. Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham ('New Monastery'), is only a century old, and has steep tiered red roofs, with a stunning gold interior. Nearby Wat Visoun Narath (or Wisunalat), is also known as Makmo, or watermelon, because of its domed roof. Surrounded by trees, it’s not the most highly decorated wat in the city, but its crumbling old stone is beautiful nonetheless.
Wats Aham, That Luang, Manolom and Xieng Muan are all particurlarly delightful, and well worth a look during your stay in Luang Prabang.
Whilst many of the original wats have survived the years, just as many are not entirely original, having been rebuilt or restored.
27 May 2015
Outstanding ancient cities in Asia