Top 10 Temples in Luang Prabang
Laos is known for its temples, and nowhere is this more true than in Luang Prabang, the ancient Royal Capital. There are so many temples to choose from and all have their own stories and fascinating histories. To give you a start, here are our Top 10 Temples in Luang Prabang.
Wat Xieng Thong
Legend has it that two hermits discovered a beautiful tree, with scarlet flowers, and chose this spot to lay the first stones of what was to become Luang Prabang. And it was here that the original Royal Palace was said to have stood in the 16th Century before King Setthathirath moved the capital to Vientiane and gave the palace over to become a monastery. It is a beautiful temple, which is also home to the Chapel of the Funeral Chariot, which was used at King Sisavang Vong’s funeral in 1961. A stunning temple (see feature photo above) this is a must-visit when in Luang Prabang, with exquisite details on the inside (see below).
Wat Xieng Thong, meaning ‘Temple of the Golden City’, dates back to 1560 and is remarkable well preserved. Historically a temple with royal patronage, it has witnessed the crowning of numerous Lao kings over the centuries. Located towards the tip of the Luang Prabang penisula, Wat Xieng Thong makes a great place from which to start a walking tour of the town.
The temple of 100,000 joys is thought to have been given its name from the 100,000 stones, taken from the Mekong River that were used to build it. Covered with gilded stencil work, this red and golden temple is one of the most beautiful in Luang Prabang, but make sure to look up after climbing the steps and check out the pictures. Horrific scenes of violence, witnessed by the Buddha are hung from the ceiling, in sharp contrast to the beauty and peace all around.
Built in the early 18th Century, and restored in the 1950s, it is commonly known as Wat Sene and can be found just along the road from Wat Xieng Thong.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
One of the more striking temples because of its black, red and gold colouring, Wat Mai was the original home of the statue from which the city took its name – the Prabang – before it was later moved to Hor Prabang. One of the largest temples in Luang Prabang, Wat Mai is beautifully decorated inside and out.
Wat Aham is a simple temple, without the splendour of some of the other Luang Prabang temples. But it is here, in the large Banyan trees, that the Guardian Spirits of Luang Prabang, Pu No and Na No are believed to have lived. These spirits are said to be the ancestors of all Lao people and are particularly worshipped at the time of the Lao New Year in April when they pour water over the Prabang – the symbol of Luang Prabang.
Wat Pa Huk
Wat Pa Huk has one of the best views in Laos. This simple wooden temple, which still has its original 19th Century murals, is perched on Phousi Hill, offering a wonderful view of Luang Prabang, and the countryside surrounding it. Particularly good to visit at sunrise and sunset, when the views are simply breathtaking, Wat Pa Huk also makes our list of Top 10 Photogenic Places in Laos.
Wat Khili is protected by a spirit and every Lao New Year, the procession pauses here on the way to Wat Xieng Thong, to say a prayer to this spirit. The Abbot here in the 1930’s had previously studied Buddhist Fine Arts in Bangkok and decorated the temple with the coloured glass mosaic. These were later copied by King Sisavang Vatthana, both in Wat Xieng Thong and in his own palace.
Catch the ferry across the river from Luang Prabang, either on foot or with a bicycle, and turn right. There is a lovely walk, or bike ride, through the shade of trees in an avenue of temples. The temples grounds are dotted with trees which provides great shade in the heat of the day. Two of these temples are particularly worth visiting:
Wat Chomphet played an important role in Lao history. It was here that the coronation ceremonies took place for the Kings of Luang Prabang. Inside the temple is a mural that dates back over 100 years and has a style that is influenced by both Thai and Chinese artists. The ceiling, with its ornate swan and dragon, symbolises good luck for the future.
Wat Longkhoun was the temple used by kings to meditate before taking up their royal duties. Whilst there, make sure you check out the murals that surround the entrance. These two Chinese deities were painted by the Black Flag Bandits who came to pillage the city of its wealth but found themselves unable to sleep because ghosts came to them in the night. The Chinese deities protected them from these ghosts.
Wat Phon Phao
The unusual golden spired octagonal design and brightly painted murals depicting heaven and hell make Wat Phon Phao worth a visit. But it is the view from this forest temple that is the real draw, with views for miles around. Wat Phon Phao is located close to the airport and near the Nam Khan River. The temple is often used as a forest meditation retreat.
Legend has it that the Prabang statue was given to King Fa Ngum – the first King of Lanexang. Believed to have been made in Sri Lanka, this statue has had many homes before finally settling here. The statue gave its name to the city and, although not strictly a temple, the building housing the Prabang is built in the same style with the sweeping multi-tiered rooves so common in Luang Prabang temples.
If you enjoyed our Top 10 Temples in Luang Prabang, check out our latest articles on Luang Prabang.
David KehlerDecember 17, 2022 at 5:44 am
The information is useful as a starting point in planning where to go, but lacks what I need. I travel to learn about lived culture, about how people do things around here.
Temples were built and, until national tourism departments got involved, maintained as places of worship, places where people enacted their spirituality. A building is an inanimate thing, no matter how beautiful. It is the activities within temples that interest to me.
Only two of these profiles mention a festival, and only tangentially and in vague terms. It seems to me that travel writing, tour operators and destination marketing organizations need to provide travellers with the information that will enable them to observe and participate in the life of the host communities. People want experiences, not just postcard moments.
Love LaosDecember 27, 2022 at 8:35 am
Hi David, thanks for your comments. Some temples are open to lay people to study and learn about specific elements of Buddhism, most typically meditation. It is not an area I have experience of to date, so have not written about this. However I agree it would make for an interesting post. If you do spend some time in a temple and would like to share your experiences through a guest post, please get in touch.