Relics of Laos’ royal past
Also known as the Luang Prabang National Museum and Haw Kham (Golden Hall), the Royal Palace Museum dominates the main street, its grounds stretching all the way back to the Mekong riverfront. One can really appreciate the big picture from across the road, on the steps up to Mount Phou Si.
Built at the turn of the century, the Royal Palace is now a museum. The palace was commissioned and designed by the French between 1904-1909, symbolically cementing the relationship between Laos and France. The building itself is a blend of French beaux arts and Lao architecture. Unlike the original wooden palace that faced the Mekong, the new palace faces Mount Phou Si, a pathway lined with palms regally leading up to the building’s entrance, the symbol of Lane Xang kingdom (three headed elephant under a parasol) adorning the gable.
When the Lao People’s Democratic Party was established in 1975, thereby ending the monarchy, the palace was designated a museum. Rooms that once functioned as royal reception areas now form the main galleries and are filled with royal portraits and busts, interesting gifts from foreign states and artefacts. Continuing past the front galleries is the Throne Room, site of the Lao crown jewels and other items like the king’s throne shaped like an elephant saddle. Visitors will also see the royal residences. Outside in the garage are several classic cars that belonged to the last royal family, including a Citroen and Lincoln Continental.
Flanking the palace, just to the right of the gate upon entering, is the ornate Wat Haw Pra Bang, the gleaming gilded shrine housing the Pra Bang, the golden Buddha statue that gives the town its name. The Buddha statue is the palladium of Laos, its protector and most sacred icon. Standing 83 centimetre tall and made of 43 kilograms of solid gold, the Buddha has both hands up with palms facing forward, symbolising protection. Legend has it dating back to 1 AD but based on the style, it was likely cast in the 13th century. It once belonged to the king of Sri Lanka, then the King of Cambodia before it was presented to King Fa Ngum (1353-73) when he married the King of Cambodia’s daughter. Fa Ngum would become the founder of the kingdom of Lane Xang.
While the statue may not be the original (there’s a rumour it is safely kept in Vientiane), it remains a powerful symbol to the people and the statue is only ever removed from the shrine on the third day of Pi Mai (Lao New Year) in a grand procession to Wat Mai, or for a rare important occasion.
Situated on the left hand side of the grounds, the Phralak Phralam Theatre performs parts of the epic Ramayana (a traditional costumed dance with live orchestra) giving you a taste of what it was once like in the royal court. Shows are held Monday, Friday and Saturday, during high season (October to March) at 18:00 and low season (March to September) at 18:30. Tickets range from 100,000 to 150,000 kip. Read up on the characters of the Ramayana beforehand to help you to enjoy the story.
A dress code is enforced. Women must have their knees and shoulders covered, men should be neatly attired. All bags and cameras must be stored in the lockers while touring the palace buildings.
Address: Sisavangvong Rd (entrance opposite Phou Si Hill), Luang Prabang
T: (071) 212 470;
Coordinates (for GPS): 102º8'8.16" E, 19º53'32.28" N
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Cindy Fan is a Canadian writer/photographer and author of So Many Miles, a website that chronicles the love of adventure, food and culture. After falling in love with sticky rice and Mekong sunsets, in 2011 she uprooted her life in Toronto to live la vida Laos. She’s travelled to over 40 countries and harbours a deep affection for Africa and Southeast Asia. In between jaunts around the world, she calls Laos and Vietnam home where you'll find her traipsing through rice paddies, standing beside broken-down buses and in villages laughing with the locals.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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