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Haw Kham Royal Palace
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrBuilt for what turned out to be the last Laotian royal family to preside over the country, Haw Kham is a stupendous palace right in the heart of the riverside town. Built in 1904 and converted into a museum in the mid-1990s, it stands as a proud reminder of the opulent regal life of the country’s most prosperous era. History lovers (and lovers of all that glistens) will certainly enjoy a visit here. For a nation mostly renowned for all the wrong reasons (Laos is the most bombed country on Earth as well as one of its poorest), a showcase of its former glory and proud testament of its once very influential position, is a refreshing change indeed.
History of the PalaceNo expense was spared in the building of the Royal Palace, which was commissioned (and paid for) by the French during their colonial rule, and meant to be the primary residence of King Sisavang Vong and his family. A stunning infusion of French and traditional Laotian architecture makes this a very special sight, not just in Luang Prabang but in the whole country in general. Although the most prominent temples in Laos are well maintained, most of the old colonial buildings around the country have been allowed to decay ungraciously, making a visit here quite rewarding indeed.
King Sisavang Vong was a happy collaborator of the French and supported their colonial protectorate over his country, no doubt due to the fact that in turn, they allowed him and his family to live in complete opulence. He went to much effort to quash attempts by nationalists to claim independence during his lifetime, something which created much resentment in his subjects. King Sisavang Vong was succeeded by his son, Sisavang Vatthana after his death in 1959, the latter becoming the very last royal to preside over the Kingdom of Laos and to live in the Royal Palace.
Independence finally arrived in Laos in 1975, when communists finally managed to overthrow the French. The Royal family was unceremoniously deposed, arrested and sent to a ‘re-education’ camp, where they enjoyed a semi-comfortable but very restricted life for the next two decades. Descendants of the Laotian Royal family are still somewhat active in the country’s politics, still petitioning for a return to a monarchical rule. Visit this palace and you’ll certainly understand their sentiments.
What to Expect from a Visit to the Royal PalaceFound along the main tourist drag of Luang Prabang, on the eastern end of the night market area, the palace is an incredibly beautiful estate and one that is, quite literally, impossible to miss. The extensive gardens (complete with louts ponds and canons) and multitude of rooms filled with treasures and knick-knacks, make a two-hour visit here very worthwhile, especially when you consider the low cost of admission.
Haw Pha Bang TempleIf entering from the main road, the first building you’ll come across is the Haw Pha Bang Temple on the right hand side, a recently built shrine to house the Phra Bang Buddha statue, revered as the museum’s most prized possession and Laos’ most important Buddhist image. It is after this image of the ‘Dispeller of Fear’ that the town of Luang Prabang is named. This is by far the most ornate building on the grounds of the palace and an incredibly photogenic one, especially from the front gates which are almost overrun with intensel, colorful bougainvillea.
The vivid and intricately carved façade of the temple depicts various Buddhist images in gold and green. Along with the multi-tiered ceiling, rich in reds and gold detailing, it makes this by far the most breathtaking temple in the country. The golden shrine to Phra Bang is set on pedestals, and showcases the 83cm tall, solid gold statue which was gifted to the first King of Laos but the then King of Angkor in 1353. Rumor has it that the statue on show is only a replica, as many believe the original to be far too precious to be put on public display.
Royal AbodeAs you approach the Royal Palace building you may notice the superb steps made of imported Italian marble, and as you enter you’ll be greeted by the main reception hall, which nowadays houses busts of all the most prominent Laotian monarchs. The beautifully painted walls depict scenes from traditional daily life. You’ll find the Crown Jewels in the Throne Hall, as well as various gifts which the Royals received from visiting dignitaries in the hall on the left of the entrance. Gifts include an interesting piece of moon rock brought by President Nixon in 1972.
Much of the living and sleeping quarters of the palace have been preserved as they were vacated n 1975 and gift a fascinating glimpse into royal life at the time.
Vintage car lovers ought not to miss the garage at the rear of the palace, which houses the very last Royal Fleet.
Tips and Hints for your Visit
- The best time to visit is in the early morning, which is not only when crowd numbers are at their lowest but also when lighting for photography is at its very best.
- Before entering the museum you’ll need to leave your photographic equipment, bags and shoes outside. Lockers are provided free of charge.
- Do note that the public toilets are most definitely not up to ‘regal standard’ so go before you visit or hold it in!
- The museum opens at 8 a0 feet and closes at 4 p0 feet, with a rather long lunch break between 11.30 a0 feet to 1.30 p0 feet. This is, in fact, the best time to photograph the gardens and exterior of the temple as most visitors will also be away for lunch.
-Entrance fee is ₭10,000 ($1.20).
-Conservative attire is a must. Skirts can be rented from the ticket booth for a few thousand LAK.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Feb 01, 2015