First settled more than 1200 years ago at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers in the heart of Northern Laos,Luang Prabang city has served as the capital of kingdoms both ancient and modern.
Its former names include Muang Sua, Xieng Thong and Lane Xang; the present name derives from the Pha Bang, a revered Buddha image currently on the grounds of the National Museum in the city centre.
Luang Prabang is best known today for its protected, unique juxtaposition of temples, traditional architecture, and colonial buildings and for the natural beauty of its surrounding province. And even as the city warmly welcomes visitors from all over the world, it remains a vital political, educational, and trade hub for the diverse cultures of Northern Laos.
So the daily markets of Luang Prabang–where you’ll find fresh wild mushrooms from the nearby mountains alongside hand-woven textiles and distinctive, locally-prepared dishes–mean as much to the life of this city as magnificent temple complexes like Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Mai, and Wat Visoun. Souphanouvong University and the Teacher Training College are as important, today, as the National Museum. Slow boats and fishermen continue to ply the Mekong River as jets touch down at the international airport. It is a city forged–but not constrained–by history and tradition.
Luang Prabang Province is situated in the center of northern Laos, bordering the provinces of Oudomxay, Phongsaly and Houaphanh to the north, Vientiane the capital and Xayabouly to the south and south west and Xieng Khouang to the east.
Luang Prabang province has a population of just over 400,000 people, including 8 distinct ethnic groups. The Kmhmu–often this is spelled Khmu– are the largest ethnic group in the province and make up the majority (around 44%) of its population. The Hmong are the second most populous ethnic minority (16%). Low land Lao people comprise 39% of the population and live mostly in lowland valleys and Luang Prabang town.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Luang Prabang has been inhabited since at least 8,000 BC. The first Lao kingdom, Lane Xang, was founded here in the 14th century by king Fa Ngum after he conquered and unified the lands of modern – day Xieng Khuang, the Khorat Plateau and Luang Prabang. The city was first referred to as Muang Swa and by 1357 the name was again changed to Maung Xieng Dong Xieng Thong by local inhabitants. Shortly thereafter, king Fa Ngum accepted a golden Buddha image called the Phra Bang as a gift from the Khmer monarchy and the thriving city state became known as Luang Prabang.
Luang Prabang was the capital of Lane Xang until it moved to Vientiane in 1560 by King Setthathirath (although Luang Prabang remained the country’s main religious center). The city’s contact with western emissaries occurred in the mid-17th century during the reign of King Surigna Vongsa. After his death in 1694, Lane Xang broke up into three separate kingdoms; Vientaine, Champasak and Luang Prabang.
By the late 19th century Luang Prabang was under attack by marauding black flag bandits who destroyed may sacred Buddha images, temples and historical documents.
Under king Sisavang Vong (1904 – 1959) a number of restoration and beautification projects were launched, many of which are still evident today. French influenced buildings began to appear in the late 1800s adding to the mixture of Lao, Tai Lue, Burmese, Chinese and Tai architecture.