Legends has it that the Buddha smiled when he rested in Luang Prabang during his travels and prophesied that it would grow to be a rich and powerful city. So the town grew to become the centre of Buddhism for the region and home to so many temples and monks.
A living museum
In Luang Prabang, ancient traditions and ceremonies still take place. For example, every day at dawn, monks stream out of their temples and collect alms from the locals.
The alms are a donation of food for these monks who have no possessions of their own and live off such charity. Traditionally the monks are given sticky rice which they carry back to their temple for breakfast.
The Lao Royal Family ruled the Kingdom of Laos from 1904 to 1975 when Laos became the People’s Democratic Republic of Lao under communist rule. Lao PDR remains one of the world’s few communist countries with none of the associated mistrust or unfriendliness.
The royal buildings are well preserved in the center of town and you can visit the Royal Palace which includes a museum.
From the 14th to the 16th century Luang Prabang, formerly known as Muang Sua, then Xieng Thong, was the capital of Laos.
What we call Laos was then the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang, meaning the Kingdom of a Million Elephants. It held great wealth and influence in Asia because of its strategic location on the Silk Route.
Situated in mountainous northern Laos, Luang Prabang is built on a peninsula formed by the mighty Mekong River and the tributary Nam Khan River. The town is surrounded by deep, muddy rivers and lush green mountains.
Small town charm
Although it has grown hugely since I last visited, Luang Prabang is still small with a population of 16,000 people including around 1,200 monks who make up about 10% of the population.
Lao was a french colony and part of French Indochina from 1893-1953. It still holds a strong French influence. Many older people speak French and French bread is a staple along with rice.
Lovely locals and hill tribes
The welcoming, friendly, respectful and laid back locals make Laos a truly special destination.
Furthermore, Luang Prabang is still the main hub for local hill tribes or ethnic minorities of the Yuan, Hmong and Khmu tribes who still live in the remote mountains. Each of these tribes has their own distinct language and cultural identity.