Although today a Communist state and no longer a monarchy, Laos has preserved much of its royal history. A visit to Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage city in northern Laos is incomplete without a visit to the Luang Prabang National Museum, which is housed inside the old Luang Prabang Royal Palace. Just outside the palace is the Haw Phra Bang, the royal temple dedicated to house the Phra Bang, the royal Buddha image of Laos
Haw Phra Bang
The city of Luang Prabang is named for the very important Buddhist relic that is said to protect the city, the "Pra Bang". Like Thailand's Emerald Buddha (called the "Phra Keao"), the Pra Bang is the symbol of the country, said to give legitimacy to the monarchy and to protect the nation from invaders.
In the past, the Pra Bang was taken as loot twice by Siamh, and twice it supposedly brought disaster to the Siamese before it was returned. The Haw Phra Bang, the "House of the Pra Bang", is the Lao royal temple that sits on the grounds of the Royal Palace.
The Phra Bang is a standing image of the Buddha with his arms outstretched, said to have been cast in Ceylon sometime between the 1st and 9th centuries. The Phra Bang was a gift from the Khmer king to the King of Luang Prabang upon his marriage to the Khmer princess in 1359.
Haw Phra Bang may look ancient - indeed it’s the symbol of Luang Prabang and the most ornate temple in the city - but it’s surprisingly new. The temple was ordered by the last King of Laos in the 1960s, but was abandoned when the kingdom fell to Communist forces. The temple wasn’t completed until 2006, when the Phra Bang was officially relocated to its place of honor.
No photos are allowed inside the temple.
Proper dress code is required inside the temple and palace.
Admission to the Haw Phra Bang is included with a ticket to the National Museum.
Luang Prabang Royal Palace (National Museum)
The Royal Palace was constructed in 1904 to celebrate the relationship between Laos and France. It's fairly small, far smaller than the Grand Palace in Bangkok, but beautiful. Architecturally, it's a very cool building, a distinct blend between European and traditional Laotian designs.
When you visit the National Museum, housed inside the old Royal Palace, you will be given a glimpse into royal life in Laos. If you want, you can hire a tour guide, though the exhibits are explained well by the information panels. Starting in the Throne Hall, visitors will have the chance to see beautiful mosaics depicting scenes from the Ramayana, along with the Crown Jewels of Laos and hundreds of royal artifacts from the Kingdom of Laos.
Interestingly, the receiving room is decorated in a beautiful mural depicting not Laotian legends or royal figures, but everyday village life throughout the kingdom.
Before you leave, don’t miss the exhibit displaying the numerous diplomatic gifts given to the Kingdom of Laos by various countries. Among these are sculptures, paintings, the keys to the cities of Tokyo and Bangkok, and more. Perhaps the coolest display was the tiny moonstone given to Laos by the USA after the Apollo 11 mission, along with a Laotian flag that was carried by the astronauts to the moon.
The National Museum, including the Royal Palace and the Haw Phra Bang Temple, is located in the heart of Luang Prabang Old Town. It’s almost impossible to miss, so much so that it doesn’t even need its own address besides “Royal Palace”.
Open daily 8:00-11:30 and 1:30-4:00
Entrance Fees and additional costs
An entrance ticket, which includes admission to the National Museum (the Royal Palace) and the Haw Phra Bang costs 30,000 kip.
Tour guides are available for hire for an extra cost.
Weekly traditional dance shows are performed at the theater on the grounds. Tickets start at 100,000 kip.
Dress Code and regulations
A strict dress code is enforced.
No sleeveless shirts (men or women)
No shorts or short skirts (women)
Footwear is not allowed inside the temple or palace. There is a shoe rack where you can leave your shoes while you visit the museum.
There are lockers available for free.
Photography is not permitted inside the temple or museum, but is allowed in the grounds.