Located in the northern part of Laos, the town of Luang Prabang has a modest population of 55,000 people, but its size belies its importance to history. Once an independent city-state, it both fought and joined the Khmer Empire at different times. In the modern era it gained some French influence before independence.
Lauded by UNESCO as “an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries,” the town boasts a variety of temples, each one different in its own way.
The name of the town means “Royal Buddha image.” It is an appropriate title, as you can see the Buddha in the temples scattered all around. On a day when Kim wasn’t feeling well I decided to go out and explore some of the temples. Although I only took in a handful of them, they gave me a sense of the historical value of this northern Laotian town. They also included a trip to the highest point in the city, a high hill that is usually referred to as Mount Phousi (of Phou Si). From the top I had excellent views of the city and surrounding countryside.
Most of the temples I visited had nominal entry fees, but all were worth the price of entry. My first stop was Wat Sen (also called Wat Sene), located along the historic district. Originally built in 1718, Wat Sen was built with 100,000 stones from the Mekong river.
The next place I went to was Wat Xieng Thong, just a short walk from Wat Sen. It was built by King Setthathirath around 1560, and has been a significant monastery until the present. Considered an integral part of the royal capital of Laos, it was a place where the Laotian kings were crowned until the fall of the monarchy in 1975.
Located on the same street as the night market, Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, more commonly known as Wat Mai, is one of the largest temple complexes in the town. Founded in 1780, it is located near a residential neighbourhood to the south-west of the downtown area.
The designs on this temple were different than the previous one, with elaborate scenes about the life of Buddha painted on the sides of the buildings.
The final and most striking destination was a climb up Mount Phousi, the highest point in Luang Prabang. Although it isn’t a mountain there are more than 300 steps to reach the top. There are two entrances to enter. One is on a main road next to the royal palace museum. You can’t miss it as there are large signs nearby. The one I took below was the less-used one that begins on the other side of the mountain. You can find it on a quiet dirt road near the river. It has the advantage of having a more scenic climb.
There was a wide variety of statues, and there were Buddhas in a number of different poses and positions including a large reclining Buddha about halfway up.
Different stairways, shrines, small temples and statues could be found all along the way. There was something to see around every corner as I went up, and it was very quiet on the day I went.
About half-way up there was a shrine where I could see a small opening next to it that went down and behind the shrine. Ducking my head under the huge slab or rock overhead I took the stairs and made my way down.
Underneath there was another shrine hidden in an alcove below.
Eventually I reached the top of Mt. Phousi and the That Chomsi temple situated there. From there I had great views of town and the nearby Mekong River.