The first visit today will be to Wat Xieng Thong. This 15th-century temple is the most important in Luang Prabang and one of the most important in the entire country. Until the revolution of 1975, Wat Xieng Thong was a royal temple, supported by the royal family. During the 1960s, Wat Xieng Thong was completely remodeled and redecorated, becoming the splendid temple we see today. Walk down a few steps from the temple to the Mekong River, where you'll board a traditional slow boat for the next part of the journey.
We will stop to visit the holy Tam Ting Caves (also called the Pak Ou caves), where the Nam Ou River meets the Mekong. This is a site of ancient spiritual significance, both Buddhist and animist. Within the two caves of Tam Ting are stupas, shrines, and carvings of Buddha. Over 4,000 wooden figures of Buddha, many highly ornate, stand within the natural limestone caves, a testament to the skill of Lao craftsmen through the centuries.
From the boat landing, it's a short walk to Wat Mai (“New Monastery”) built in 1796. It was given its present name following the restoration undertaken by King Manthathourat in 1821. The most striking feature of the temple is the gilded relief panels covering the front facade. Next to Wat Mai is the old Royal Palace (Haw Kham), which is now the National Museum. It houses many religious and cultural treasures, including the royal throne of the Lane Xang kingdom in its original splendor, and preserves some of daily royal life up to 1975. The museum provides information about its exhibits in English, and your guide will be able to offer additional explanations about the artifacts inside.
We'll end the day tour atop Phou Si Hill. The steps to the top of the hill are studded with small shrines. The gilded stupa at the top of the hill is built on a large rock outcropping. Next to the stupa is a small vihara (chapel) for prayers. From the top, you can see panoramic views of the surrounding town, the meeting of two rivers, and the curve of the Mekong as flows into and around the town. Coming down the other side of the hill, we'll pass part of Wat Phra Buddabhat (Buddha's Footprint Temple) and its quirky statues.