For a small city, Luang Prabang has a high concentration of Buddhist temples and it’s these beautiful golden wats that earned it a spot on the UNESCO list and tourist map.
Before the Black Flag attacks of 1887 there were 60-plus temples in Luang Prabang, but many were destroyed following the upheaval that followed. Presently, the city has 32 temples which are now protected by the city’s UNESCO status and house more than 1,000 monks.
Much of the monk population consists of young novices who have travelled to Luang Prabang from the countryside to enjoy the education that monks receive, a luxury not available in their home village. Most study English as part of their curriculum and are eager to chat with visitors. Increasingly, they are also studying French, Japanese, Mandarin and the other native tongues of the tourists who come to Laos.
When visiting a temple it is important to observe a few rules to avoid causing offence. Dress respectfully (you should be covered from your shoulders to your knees), remove your shoes before entering the inner sanctum, do not touch a monk if you are a woman and ask permission before photographing a monk up close.
The following is just a sample of the city’s full temple offerings. One of the highlights of Luang Prabang is wandering around and finding your favourite. Be prepared for every novice monk in every temple to want to practise their English and you may even find yourself sitting beneath a Bodhi tree and helping with their homework.
Note that many of the famous temples now charge a 20,000 kip entrance fee for tourists. Temples are generally open to visitors from 06:00 until nightfall.