We’re fresh off the boat. Literally. After two days floating down the Mekong river, we arrived in Luang Prabang. We are a little unsure on what to expect of our first stop in Laos. What greeted us was undoubtedly one of the best little towns we’ve ever explored. Think the hype and bustle of an Asian city, fused with French colonial flair. A main street flanked by gorgeous eateries. A river promenade punctuated by small bars serving Pimms. A night market to rival most in Southeast Asia. And, of course, because we are in South East Asia, a whole lot of Luang Prabang temples.
We love temples as much as the next person. But, in the case of Luang Prabang, we had already made our way through Thailand and Myanmar, spending many a day racing around the Bagan temples, and soaking in the sights of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Bangkok. That meant our Luang Prabang temples tour needed to be a whistle-stop look at the highlights. Which is exactly what we’re serving up here for you today.
Read on for our favourite eight Luang Prabang temples; perfect for a fortnight or even 3 weeks in Laos! We’ve also included a handy Google Map for you!
Top 8 Luang Prabang Temples
- Wat Xieng Thong
- Wat Chom Si
- Wat Sensoukaram
- Wat Aham
- Wat Wisunarat (Visoun)
- Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
- Wat Nong Sikhounmang
- Wat Phon Phao
Some background to Luang Prabang temples
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Luang Prabang suffered a major setback in the late 1800’s. A mercenary army from China destroyed much of the town, including nearly all of the temples. However, the temples were all rebuilt – most to the original standards – making it a great success story in South East Asia.
Visiting these beautiful sights, you’ll notice that they are typically Laotian – including ornamental roof elements – but also nod towards Thai architecture with their murals and stencilling. Usually they have huge, multi-tiered roofs with interesting tips shaped like a serpent. These are because these serpents (Naga), are meant to protect Buddhists from harm.
Your Luang Prabang Temples Map
Our Top 8 Temples
Wat Xieng Thong
The most famous of the Luang Prabang temple tour, this is the most popular stop made. For good reason. It’s the most interesting and probably the most beautiful. The name means ‘Temple of the Golden City’ and it is adorned with gold details on the walls, ceilings and doors. Additionally, it’s situated near the end of old town, and so great after a little stroll down the main street.
Legend has it that Wat Xieng Thong was founded by two hermits who settled there and put down the stones of the monastery and the town.
Wat Chom Si
It might not be the most breathtaking temple, but this Wat makes it onto the list because of it’s more famous viewpoint. It’s located atop Mount Phousi (Phousi Hill), which offers one of the best sunset views over Luang Prabang. The temple is quite plain but since you need to pay the entrance fee (20,000 kip at time of writing) regardless of whether you visit it while going to the viewpoint, it’s worth a look. The temple closes at 5 pm so suggest you get there just before closing time, and then up to the viewpoint to claim your spot on the (quite crowded) steps.
Keep in mind that its 300 steps up so pack some water and, if you do go for sunset, it’s not very well-lit on the descent so ensure you have a torch or your mobile phone handy!
Also, if you’re interested in legends and folklore, Mount Phousi has a fascinating tale to tell. It is said that there used to be a path in the hill that led to the earth’s centre. A monk was rumoured to have gone down it and found treasure, which the local villagers stole, burying him alive and sealing the pit. The king of Luang Prabang was told of the story and punished the entire town who need to beat drums and cymbals every few hours as penance. You can still see this at Wat Thum Thao if you get there at the right time!
Translated as the ‘temple of 100,000 treasures’, this was probably our favourite in the town. It has some modern influences in it’s bright red tiles and more traditional yet fascinating details including a restored painting with orange hues and strong gold accents. It’s said it was constructed with 100,000 stones from the Mekong river (hence the name).
So 4 and 5 on this list are a bit of a cheat, since they are located next to each other; perfect when temple-hopping on a hot Laotian day! Wat Aham and Wisunalat have a spiritual bond in that they represented the two guardian spirits of the area. Although those spirit sites were obliterated in the 1900’s, the two spirits are personified by two bodhi trees and figures of Buddha. Aham has a history of spirit worshipping and Buddhism, and for the former they keep wooden masks for a ‘dance of the masks’ to mark the new year.
cc Image courtesy of Allie Caulfield on Flickr
Wat Wisunarat (Visoun)
The oldest temple in Luang Prabang, this fascinating temple was first built in 1513. However, because it was made of wood, it was burned down by the Chinese mercenaries in 1887 and had to be rebuilt with brick. The most notable feature is known as the ‘Watermelon Stupa’ (or the That Makmo), since it’s rounded dome looks similar to that fruit. It’s unique in that it’s really the only stupa shaped like that in Laos.
Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham
Another impressive example of architecture this temple (known as Wat Mai which means ‘new temple’) was built in 1780 and is characterised by strong red and black décor, along with gold leaf. Alongside Xieng Thong, it’s one of the only temples that survived the marauders in 1887 so has the most heritage to display. Because it was untouched, it became the home of the Phra Bang Buddha image, one of the most highly prized images, until that was moved to the Royal Palace Museum in the 20th century.
Because it’s conveniently located near the night market and the Royal Palace, this is an easy stop on any itinerary and well worth it.
Wat Nong Sikhounmang
This temple is another example of Thai influence. One of the larger temples in the town, it was constructed in 1729 but burned down fifty years later, with only a bronze statue salvaged from the fire. It was restored by the Thai people, hence their influence in the design, particularly in the beautifully-coloured roofs of the temple.
Wat Phon Phao
It’s about 3 kilometres outside of Luang Prabang, so not as convenient as the other temples on this list. However, it’s well worth travelling out to see this little temple near the Nam Khan River. On top of a hill, Phon Phao (Peacefulness Temple) it is attended to by female monks, all wearing white. This in itself is fascinating, since not all monasteries accept women. This temple is unique in that it’s shaped like an octagon but also boasts incredible traditional Buddhist paintings inside, as well as a golden room at it’s top floor.
cc Image courtesy of Allie Caulfield on Flickr
Have any more temples to add to this list? Let us know in the comments or get in touch with us here!
If you’re looking for a tour of these Luang Prabang Temples and also a few other unique spots in the town, check out this half day tour by Get Your Guide. It’s a great way to understand more about the history of thesse places.
Getting around Laos
If you’re looking for travel options around Laos, we’d suggest that you check out Bookaway for the best buses and transfers. They also have amazing 24 hour support and many routes have great cancellation policies – which is a bit of a relief, when you need to alter your travel plans. Trust us, that happens a lot more than you’d expect.
What are the best places to stay in Luang Prabang?
Need a little bit of inspiration of where to stay in Luang Prabang? Well, here are a few recommendations from us:
Budget: Situated in a really great location in Luang Prabang (and close to many of the temples), the Maison Vongprachan Hotel has really great rooms at a low price, so it gets our nod for the best budget option in town.
Mid-range: Although a touch out of town (20 minutes walk), Le Bel Air Resort gives you with high-end accommodation at mid-range prices. What more could you want after a day of walking around the Luang Prabang temples?
High-end: This is the place to stay in Luang Prabang. We wish we could have stayed at the Avani Hotel, it provides full on luxury.
What camera equipment and other gear do we use?
We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.
- Main Camera: Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
- Drone: DJI Mavic Air – Fly More Combo
- GoPro: Hero 7 Black
- GoPro Dive Case: Go Pro Housing
- GoPro Case: Smatree GoPro Carry Case – Small
- Packing Cubes: Eagle Creek Packing case
- Backpack: Osprey Farpoint 70
- Powerbank: Anker Powercore
- Phone: Xiaomi Mi 9
- Hard drive: Transcend Slim Storejet 2TB
- Laptop: Lenovo IdeaPad 720s
- Headphones: Bose Quiet Comfort 35
- Wifi Hotspot: GlocalMe G4
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