Luang Prabang was the royal capital of Laos until 1975. The National Museum is the former Royal Palace – built in 1904 during the reign of King Sisavangvong. It is now full of fascinating artifacts and information about the royal family.
1. All things golden
The throne room is a truly spectacular sight – full of all things golden including crowns, swords, ancient Buddha statues and a very impressive throne. The walls of this room – painted blood red – are covered in colouful mirror mosaics that depict life in Luang Prabang throughout history. If you are interested in getting up close and personal with some of the most precious and ornate Buddha statues in Laos – you’ll find them in glass cabinets in this impressive room.
2. The most revered Buddha in Laos
Located in a temple in the Royal Museum grounds is the most revered Buddha statue in all of Laos – the Prabang. With palms facing outward, the statue stands 83 cm-high and is made of bronze, gold, and silver. It remains uncertain where the statue was cast. Locals say it was made in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) between the 1st and 9th century. Other expects say it has Khmer origins. The statue was used to spread Theravada Buddhism in the region. It ended up in Luang Prabang but in 1778 the Siamese stole the Prabang and took it back to Thailand. They returned it in 1782 believing it was the cause for political turmoil and bad luck but that didn’t stop them from capturing it again in 1828. It was handed back for similar reasons in 1867. It now resides in Haw Prabang, a beautiful temple in the grounds of the National Museum. Each year, during Lao New Year festivities – the Prabang is brought down from Haw Prabang and exhibited at Wat Mai where locals bathe it with holy water.
3. Architecture and art
The building itself is reason enough to visit. This grand structure is a mixture of French Beaux Arts style with Lao motifs. Above the front entrance is a three-headed elephant, sheltered by a white parasol – the symbol of the Lao monarchy. The steps leading to the building are made from Italian marble and the floors inside are made from beautiful teak wood. Each room is glorious in its design and outlook. Both the King and Queen’s reception rooms are awe-inspiring. The walls of the King’s reception room were painted in 1930 by French artist Alix de Fauntereau. They’ve been painted in a way so that natural light from outside moves across the mural to highlight scenes from Lao life at various times of the day. The Queen's reception room features large portraits of King Savang Vatthana, Queen Khamphoui and Crown Prince Vong Savang, painted by Russian artist Ilya Glazunov in 1967. The portrait of Vatthana, which stretches from floor to ceiling, has eyes similar to the Mona Lisa in that they follow you around the room!
4. Everyday life
Original handcrafted teak beds – one for the King, one for the Queen – remain in the building, allowing you to get a real sense of how the royals lived back when they reigned. Robes and garments worn by the royals are in glass cabinets along the corridors. Old record players, reading chairs and kitchen items give you clues about how the King, Queen and their offspring spent their time. Around the back of the palace you’ll find a shed which houses the Royal Palace Car Collection. There are two Lincoln Continentals from the 1960s, an old Citroën DS and a rare 1958 Edsel Citation. There’s also a wooden speedboat which was used to ferry the royals up and down the Mekong River.
5. Gifts from abroad
What does one give to a King? Find out when you walk into the secretary’s reception room which is full of silver, textiles, porcelain and artwork that has been offered up to the Lao Royal Family as diplomatic gifts from Australia, Japan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Russia, Poland, Thailand, Hungary, China, United States and Canada. Keep an eye out for the moon rock that was donated by the USA from one of the Apollo missions.