Luang Prabang (pronounced LOH proh-BAHNG, also spelled "Luang Phabang", "Luang Phrabang", "Louang Phrabang") is the former capital of Laos.
The main road of Luang Prapang, the former capital of Laos and a UNESCO World Heritage City, is a wonderful patchwork of traditional Lao wooden houses and hints of European architecture-- reminders of when Laos was the French colony of Indochine. Golden-roofed Wats, decorated with mosaics and murals of the life of Buddha sit under the gaze of wrap-around balconies and 19th century shuttered windows.
A tourist trail is forming between the capital city of Vientiane, the small riverside village of Vang Viang, Louang Prapang, and Huay Xai at the Thai border to the north. The trip can be made easily in a week, but 10-15 days is best to fully appreciate the lush countryside, magnificent temples, and friendly people. The usual mode of transportation is local bus or boat. The boat ride to or from Louang Phabang is considered the high point of many tours of South East Asia.
Boats run up the Mekong to and from Huay Xai at the Thai border, stopping in Pakbeng where you can connect with bus and truck heading towards the northeast and the border with China. Slowboats leave two or three days a week, usually around 8am. Buy a ticket the day before at any tourist office along the main road. Expect to spend the night in Pakbeng if you're taking a slow boat (recommended) or to arrive in Huay Xai several deaf and shaken from three hours on a speedboat (not recommended).
Local boats have stopped running downriver since the new highway was completed a few years ago, but there are still private tourist boats that do the trip. Read more about fast and slowboats in the section about Laos.
Two hours northwest of the city, the Mekong passes by a series of caves set in limestone cliffs above the pale green water. The lowest and most accessible of these cave is a sacred place for the Lao. Whenever a Buddha statue becomes too old or damaged to venerate in a wat, it is place in what is known as the Buddha cave. Inside, just out of the sunlight and stretching back into the darkness, are thousands of Buddha statues of every size and material. Some are no more than a few centimeters tall, others several feet high. The ones in the back are hardly recognizable as more than worn lumps of wood, but others retain there serenity and grace under flaking gold paint and a thick layer of dust.