Luang Prabang’s Buddhist Temples & Shrines
Temples in Luang Prabang District
Examine Vat Xieng Thong’s elaborate décor under a long sweeping roof. Move on to inspect Luang Prabang’s oldest operating temple, Vat Visounnarath, built in the early 16th century. Climb to the top of Mount Phousi to Vat Tham Phousi and Vat Chomsi.
Vat Xieng Thong: Admire Luang Prabang’s most notable temple. King Setthatirath built Vat Xieng Thong in the Lane Xane Kingdom’s capital in 1560. A glittery mosaic of glass and tiles covers the exterior of the tiny “Golden City Monastery” with its steep sloping roof. Step inside the temple’s sim and find a treasure trove of ancient relics, including a long royal barge, belonging to early Lane Xane kings.
Location: Vat Xieng Thong sits on the Mekong River Road at the tip of The Peninsula where the Nam Khan River joins the Mekong.
Vat Mai Souwannaphummaham: Visit a temple coated in gold. Check out Vat Mai’s steep 4-tier roof that drops onto the broad final swooping section. But the real attraction for this temple, built in 1796, are the gold murals covering the entire entrance wall and columns. Inside, tall wooden posts hold up the high ceiling and roof hovering over a large golden Buddha and scores of other religious images.
Location: Wat Mai is located on Sisavangong Road just down from the Royal National Museum on the way to the Post Office.
Vat Pak Khan: Marvel at the exquisite interior of Vat Pak Khan (Mouth of the Khan) hiding behind its unassuming exterior at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers. Erected in the 18th century by King Inta Som, the temple’s entrance adds golden grace to the small temple. The somewhat deceptive façade gives way to a deep red tiled inside with matching columns, all decorated with intricate gold stencil. A golden Buddha sits at one end, and a pair of panels show Rama and Hanuman in dance-like poses. A Naga serpent and temple gong are also on display.
Location: Vat Pak Khan sits at the end of Sakkaline Road at the tip of The Peninsula on the Nam Khan side.
Vat Visounarath: Enter the grounds of this 500-year-old temple and stupa, erected by King Visounnarath as a symbol of unity among the empire’s far-reaching principalities. That Pathoume (That Mak Mo: Watermelon Stupa) dominates the compound with its squatty square base topped by a dome that looks like a watermelon. The simple white temple features carved railings and window trim with front colonnades holding up the multi-tiered roof. This temple serves as an example of the earliest Luang Prabang temple architecture, and is similar to that in Southern Laos. Inside sits a large golden Buddha with smaller images. Locals refurbished the temple in 1898.
Location: Vat Visounarath is at the northern end of Manomai Road across from the Lao Red Cross Centre near the Nam Khan River and Amantaka Hotel. You can reach the temple by tuk tuk, motorbike, or cycle.
Vat Aham: Take a break from your town tour in the shade of massive sacred banyan trees at Vat Aham, originally built in 1527. Two massive “watermelon” stupas, covered in moss and mildew, greet visitors to the grounds. These monuments house the bones of historically prominent people. A tall sloping roof rises above the small narrow temple with its gold decorated entrance. Inside the “Monastery of the Open Hearted”, reconstructed in 1818, you’ll find bright, story-telling murals along the walls, with a golden sitting Buddha at the far end.
Two large banyan (bhodi) trees on the grounds hover over Vat Aham, and are believed to house guardian city spirits: Pu No and Na No. A previous king brought the trees from India in the 1950s, and while providing great shade in which to relax, the bhodi trees are considered as sacred as any shrine.
Location: Vat Aham sits next to Vat Visounarath at the northern end of Manomai Road and across from the Lao Red Cross Centre. You can reach the temple by tuk tuk, motorbike, or cycle.
Vat Manorom: Behold the oldest Buddha statue in Laos in a quiet area south of the tourism hub. The massive golden Buddha weighed 12 tons when created 1378. It was destroyed in 1887 by rebels and in the ensuing Franco-Siam War, during which its arms were stolen. The Buddha was then hidden, and returned to its home in 1919. The statue was repaired in 1971 and placed inside the refurbished Vat Manarom. The temple’s exterior displays intricate gold decor on the walls and pillars under the long sloping roof. Vivid murals telling a Buddhist tale cover the entrance wall.
Location: Vat Manorom is on Manomai Road close to Vat That Luang. You can easily cycle to the temple or walk from nearby hotels. If you arrive on Phou Vao Road, turn north at Manomai. You can reach the temple by tuk tuk, motorbike, or cycle.
Vat That Luang: Stop at this 200-year-old stone spire at the “Monastery of the Royal Stupa” on the way to Kuang Si Waterfalls. King Manthatourath built Vat That Luang on a knoll that had been the site to hold funeral rites for the royal family and dignitaries until 1975. Monks and novices now reside at the temple, and they meditate in its simple but large prayer hall. A large buffalo-skin drum hangs in a tower at the temple’s entrance, and the monks beat it at 04:00 on full and dark moons
Location: To reach Vat That Luang, follow the Kuang Si Road past the old stadium. Just after the traffic circle, turn left into the temple grounds. You can reach the temple by tuk-tuk, motorbike, or cycle.
Vat Sene: Inspect the cluster of golden buildings and collection of artefacts at this peaceful Mekong Riverside temple compound. Built in 1718, Vat Sene (“100,000 Kip”) was funded by a donation for which it was named. The grounds hold several gold-decorated structures with high sweeping roofs and similarly adorned columns. Short golden spires dot the grounds that also house a gilded coach and two longboats.
Location: Vat Sene’s golden compound is located south of town on the Mekong River Road. Turn right on the first road past Ock Pop Tok Living Crafts Centre. You can reach the temple by tuk tuk, motorbike, or cycle.
Vat Chomsi: Climb 328 steps up Mount Phousi to a golden stupa with Luang Prabang’s greatest view. The 20-metre-tall, golden-tipped monument overlooks the Mekong and town, as well as the river valley beyond. Perfect for sunrise and sunset photos. Sharing the hilltop under the stupa’s shadow are the Phousi Temple and various Buddha images dispersed on the grounds.
Location: Entrance to the stairs up Mount Phousi is across the street from the Royal National Museum.
Wat Phra Bat Thai: Explore a very colourful Mekong Riverside temple complex dating to a 17th-century Vietnamese community. The original wooden temple was called Vat Keo (Vietnamese), though the site’s religious background goes back to the Lane Xane capital’s early days. According to historical accounts, Khmer Buddhist monks from Angkor approached King Samsenthai (1373-1416), and asked to build a monastery. They wanted to construct a monastery on the Mekong near the confluence with the Nam Khan. They chose a site near a river rock where one of the city’s naga river protectors resided. Many say this group of monks introduced Buddhism to Luang Prabang.
Today, majestic entrance gates with towers topped with gold spires lead to Wat Phra Bat Thai’s forest compound. The monastery still safeguards the footprint of Buddha found on the site hundreds of years before. The grounds, temple, and other structures present a bright, somewhat over-decorated mix of Lao and Vietnamese architecture, adding to its unique character. A golden reclining Buddha rests inside a long building, while the sizeable meditation hall glitters with gold décor under a steep roof,
Location: Wat Phra Bat Thai is located just off the Mekong River Road south of The Peninsula at the head Phu Vao Road. You can reach the temple by tuk-tuk, motorbike, or cycle.
Vat Phra Phon Phao: Enjoy a more modern twist to Luang Prabang’s numerous ancient temples. The octagon-shaped Vat Phra Phon Phao stands like a 19th-century rural Western mansion set in a cool hillside forest. Subtly decorated balconies, verandas, and window frames adorn the majestic structure topped by a six-sided roof sprouting a golden spire that can be seen twinkling in the sun for miles around. A walk around presents views of Luang Prabang Town, the Nam Khan River, and surrounding valley and mountains. Detailed, vivid murals depicting Buddhist heavens and hells cover the inside walls, with the pillars inscribed with the names of oversea Lao donors, who launched the temple’s construction in 1959.
Location: Vat Phra Phon Phao is accessed from Route 13 near the Nam Khan River Bridge about 3 km east of town. You can reach the temple by tuk tuk, motorbike, or cycle.
Temples in Chomphet District
Vat Chomphet: View Luang Prabang from a different temple point of view. Cross the Mekong by ferry and climb 123 stairs to reach the tiny, no-frills Vat Chomphet. The temple sits in a forest on a hill, and looks over the Mekong and Luang Prabang Peninsula, a view that few take time to witness. The Thais built the modest temple in 1888, and besides the unique panorama, it is best known for its stupas housing the bones of former kings’ wives.
Location: Take the Mekong ferry from behind the Royal National Museum to Ban Xieng Maen Village. Turn right onto the main road at the village and follow it north to the stairs to the temple.
Vat Long Khoun: Spend time at 18th-century Vat Long Khoun on the Mekong and explore its grounds and many structures with long sloping roofs and golden entrances. The temple is known as a place of meditation for Lao princes, who are about to take the throne, and other royalty. Inside the main temple, observe the 10 murals depicting the different lives of Buddha. One graphic scene shows giant fish eating villagers. According to local lore, Chinese troops stayed in Vat Long Khoun in 1890, but couldn’t sleep due to the temple’s spirits. They painted the walls to protect themselves…and so they could sleep.
Location: Turn right onto the main road at Ban Xieng Maen Village and follow it north past the stairs to Vat Chomphet for a few hundred metres to a right turn to Vat Long Khoun. You can also walk down the Mekong river bank to reach the temple path.
Wat Tham Sakkarin (Sakkarin Cave): Climb a short outdoor stairway to a rock terrace lined by a balustrade. Here a stone-block archway marks the entrance to Sakkarin Cave and the tunnel to a small white stupa housing the remains of a former king. The royal family once meditated in the cave, which also features a lower level with a rock formation that resembles an eagle. Locals believe that if water drops from the cave’s ceiling and hits your head, you’ll have good luck.
Location: Your ticket to Vat Long Khoun includes entry to the cave, just a short walk away. A guide will take you and open the cave’s gate. To return to Ban Xieng Maen, take the main road back, or follow the river path.
Vat Xieng Maen: Visit Vat Xieng Thong’s twin temple set in Chomphet’s hillside forest overlooking the Mekong. Vat Xieng Maen was built in the 16th century, and modelled after the famous Luang Prabang temple across the river. The entrance has lost some lustre, but still displays its golden ornamentation. In the 19th century, the floor was covered with black, grey, and white French tiles. Next to the temple, a smaller temple stands locked, protecting more than 200 valuable Buddha, with one dating to the 13th century.
Location: Take the Ban Xieng Maen Main Road southwest for a few hundred metres to the temple’s entrance on the right.