A New Home for Phra Bang

LUANG PRABANG, Laos — From its fearsome gold naga guarding the main stairs, its incredibly lavish gold and red interior, and multi-tiered roof, the Haw Pha Bang at Luang Prabang’s Royal Palace looks ancient. But it’s not.

Luang Prabang Haw Pha Bang Royal Palace Museum Naga

From its fearsome gold naga King Cobras guarding the main stairs, its incredibly lavish gold and red interior, and its multi-tiered roof, the Haw Pha Bang at Luang Prabang’s Royal Palace looks ancient and definitely royal.

It was indeed royal. It’s purpose-built to be the official home of the Phra Bang, the diminutive yet sacred gold alloy Buddha statue shrouded in legend, reverence, and rumor that serves as the palladium of the Kingdom of Laos. It also gives Luang Prabang, the royal capital, its name, with a quirk of transliteration moving from Phra Bang to Prabang.

The statue is old—although probably not nearly as old as local lore says—but its home, the lavish Haw Phra Bang on the southeastern corner of the Royal Palace compound in Luang Prabang, is new. And, it has mostly been built under Lao Communist rule. In fact, the building still isn’t quite finished, and the Phra Bang has not yet been installed on its permanent pedestal.

Stay tuned, though–it should happen in the Southeast Asian understanding of “very soon.” Even then, though, suspicions that the real statue is in fact in a vault either in Vientiane or even in Moscow will continue to dog the Phra Bang in its new home.

Luang Prabang Haw Pha Bang Royal Palace Museum Ornate Interior
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Royal Palace Luang Prabang Laos
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Luang Prabang Haw Pha Bang Royal Palace Museum Naga Profile
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Luang Prabang Haw Pha Bang Royal Palace Museum Golden Naga
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Luang Prabang Haw Pha Bang Royal Palace Museum Gold Pedestal
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Royal Palace Luang Prabang Laos Building
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Luang Prabang Haw Pha Bang Royal Palace Museum Stairs
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Luang Prabang Haw Pha Bang Royal Palace Museum with Purple Flowers
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

What to Know Before You Go

The Haw Pha Bang is part of the Royal Palace complex.

Dive Deeper into Laos In These Books

If you’re looking to explore Laos more deeply on the written page, here are some books worth a look.

Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos, by Brett Dakin

This memoir recounts the experiences of the author as he works for the Lao government in the early 2000s, providing an insightful look at the country’s culture, people, and the challenges faced by a developing nation.

Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos
  • Dakin, Brett (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos, by Natacha Du Pont De Bie

A culinary travelogue that explores the rich and diverse cuisine of Laos, following the author as she samples various dishes and learns about the culture and traditions surrounding Laotian food.

Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures Of A Food Tourist In Laos
  • Hardcover Book
  • Bie, Natacha Du Pont De (Author)

Bamboo Palace: Discovering the Lost Dynasty of Laos, by Christopher Kremmer

This historical travelogue follows the author’s journey through Laos as he uncovers the history of the lost royal dynasty and the impact of the Vietnam War on the country.

Laos: A Journey Beyond the Mekong, by Ben Davies

This beautifully illustrated travelogue explores the diverse landscapes, culture, and history of Laos, providing a comprehensive and engaging look at the country.

Laos: A Journey Beyond the Mekong
  • The Best Picture Book on Laos in its second edition
  • All color photographs, portrait 25.5 x 27 cm, 132 pages

A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle, by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

In this adventurous travelogue, the author embarks on a daring motorcycle journey along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which passes through Laos, providing insights into the country’s history and the challenges faced by modern-day Laos.

A Short Ride in the Jungle: The Ho Chi Minh Trail by Motorcycle
  • Bolingbroke-Kent, Antonia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Ravens: The True Story of a Secret War in Laos, Vietnam, by Christopher Robbins

This memoir recounts the experiences of American pilots who secretly participated in the covert war in Laos during the Vietnam War, offering a unique perspective on the conflict and its effects on the people of Laos.

Mekong: A Journey on the Mother of Waters, by Milton Osborne

In this travelogue, the author journeys along the Mekong River, which runs through Laos, exploring the history, culture, and natural beauty of the region.

More to Explore

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Travel Advice for Laos

You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Laos (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.

The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Laos here and the Australian Government's here.

Health & Vaccinations

The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Laoshere.

General Information on Laos

The CIA's World Factbook contains a lot of good factual information Laos and is updated frequently.

  • Official Name: Lao People's Democratic Republic
  • Population: Approximately 7.9 million (2023 est.)
  • Area: 236,800 sq km
  • Capital: Vientiane
  • Official Language: Lao
  • Government: Single-party socialist republic
  • Chief of State: President Thongloun Sisoulith (since 2021)
  • Head of Government: Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh (since 2021)
  • Legislature: Unicameral National Assembly
  • GDP (nominal): $19.57 billion (2021 est.)
  • GDP per capita (nominal): $2,643 (2021 est.)
  • Currency: Lao kip (LAK)
  • Major Ethnic Groups: Lao (53.2%), Khmou (11%), Hmong (9.2%), other (26.6%)
  • Religions: Buddhist (64.7%), Christian (1.7%), other (2.1%), none (31.4%)
  • Time Zone: Indochina Time (ICT), UTC+7

Laos originated from the ancient Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, which was founded in the 14th century under King FA NGUM. Lan Xang was influential for 300 years, extending its reach into present-day Cambodia and Thailand, and over all of modern-day Laos. After declining over centuries, Laos was ruled by Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century to the late 19th century. Later, Laos became part of French Indochina after that. The present-day Laotian border with Thailand was defined by the Franco-Siamese Treaty of 1907. In 1975, the communist Pathet Lao took control of the government, ending a monarchy that lasted six centuries and installing a strict socialist regime that was closely aligned with Vietnam. Laos began a gradual and limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment laws in 1988. Laos joined ASEAN in 1997 and the WTO in 2013.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »