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Luang Prabang

Introduction
UNESCO has designated the entire city of Luang Prabang as a World Heritage site, ensuring its preservation and protection for future generations of visitors. Perhaps more than any other destination in Asia (with the possible exception of Angkor Wat), Luang Prabang is viewed by visitors as a true discovery and one that captures the heart and imagination of every new arrival. The city was once capital of the expansive Lanna Kingdom, which covered large areas of northern Thailand, southern China and all of Laos. Remnants of royal heritage remain in the royal palace, which is now the National Museum. The wooden temples of Luang Prabang are amongst the most delightful in Asia, with roofs that sweep in majestic curves almost to the floor. As elsewhere in Laos however, it is not so much the buildings but the attitudes and atmosphere which delight visitors. Luang Prabang is ideally explored by bicycle or on foot, with frequent stops at street-side markets, cafes and temples.

Places of interest

Wat Xieng Thong
King Setthathirath built this monastery in 1560. It is considered the most sacred monastery in Luang Prabang and is the site of the "Pii Mai" (Lao New Year) celebrations. One of the temple’s most impressive features is a rare reclining Buddha, situated in the Red Chapel dating back to the temple’s construction. The monastery also houses some exquisite mosaics depicting various aspects of Buddha’s life including the ‘tree of life’ mosaic in the central ‘sim’ or chapel.

Royal Palace
The Royal Palace built in 1904 is relatively new by Luang Prabang standards and is a hybrid of traditional Lao and colonial French design. The palace is now a museum with numerous exhibits on the daily lives and religious beliefs of Lao people. It also houses the Royal throne of the Kingdom of Lane Xang and other religious treasures and a replica of the golden Pra Bang, an 83 cm statue of gilded bronze that depicts calmness and tranquility.

Pak Ou Caves
A visit by riverboat to the Pak Ou Caves is a highlight of a trip to Luang Prabang. The trip begins with an hour-long boat trip down the Mekong River by motorized sampan. The mysterious Pak Ou Caves are built into towering limestone cliffs along the riverbank. Inside the caves are thousands of statues of Buddha in various sizes where worshippers come to pray.

The Baci Ceremony
This ceremony is central to Lao culture. Performed by a respected elder of the community, the Baci bestows good will, good health, and harmony to individuals or to a group. The Baci is performed at all traditional Lao festivals and celebrations.

Plain of Jars
To the east of Luang Prabang is the enigmatic Plain of Jars, so called because of the hundreds of huge stone jars that are scattered across the plain. The origin and purpose of the jars are unknown and are the cause of much debate, although the most plausible explanation is that the two-meter high jars were used as burial vessels when they were made more than 2,000 years ago.

Ban Xang Hai Village
Near Pak Ou caves, downriver towards Luang Prabang is the village of Ban Xang Hai, famous for its manufacture of rice whiskey. The villagers carry water from the Mekong and use it to soak rice in large jars which sit for several days. The fermented rice yields alcohol which can be drunk as a cloudy liquid, or distilled to make ‘fire water’.

Khuang Si Waterfall
About 30km south of Luang Prabang the spectacular Khuang Si Waterfalls is located deep in the forest, away from human habitation. The falls has a covered area for eating and there are several stalls serving simple Lao food and drink. It is perfect for rest and relaxation. On the way to the falls, quaint villages with their traditional hydro-rice mills can be also visited.

Ban Phanom Village
Situated 4 km from Luang Prabang is a small village famous for weaving. There is a small market here and you can wander and see village women weaving underneath their homes.

Ban Lu or Lu village of Ban Phanom, only 2.5 km from the center of Luang Prabang town is famous for cotton and silk weaving, and some beautifully hand-crafted souvenirs. The Lu people of Ban Phanom came originally from Sip Song Panna in the southern Chinese province of Yunnan, having been invited by King Kitsarath.