Luang Prabang, once the royal capital of Laos, is a world heritage town where the Nam Khan River meets the Mekong. It is beautiful, peaceful, and a place not just for culture, or even incredible food, but for experiences. My first impressions when we arrived were of people, family, a strong community, and quite a pleasing smell of wood smoke!
One of the first things we did, fairly early one morning before the heat of the day, was to climb Mount Phousi, a small hill right in the middle of Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang is quite small so when you look at a map it’s hard to believe that there can be a hill in the middle of it, but somehow there is! There’s a small temple at the top and incredible views, and we made sure that we took a different route up and down so that we could see all the beautiful shrines and Buddha statues.
The Royal Palace
Once home to Lao royalty, and now a museum, the Royal Palace’s striking temple, Haw Pha Bang is unmissable from the street. The museum’s main hall is ornately decorated with gold and mosaics which are quite impressive to see.
This serene temple on the tip of Luang Prabang where the rivers meet was once where Lao kings were crowned and boasts ornate gilded carvings and stunning mosaics. One of the buildings houses a huge ceremonial barge with impressive golden naga (mythical serpent) heads.
Each morning at sunrise, monks from the temples around Luang Prabang process along the streets collecting alms from the local people, usually rice. Tourists aren’t discouraged from going along to observe or even take part, as long as the ceremony has meaning for you, but it’s really important to be respectful. This is an ancient, religious, spiritual ceremony for the local people and tourists chattering away, taking flash photos of the monks, getting in the way of the procession or following behind is offensive to them. We made sure to stay on the other side of the road and observe from a respectful distance.
There’s some helpful information about the ceremony and, importantly, etiquette here.
So far the loveliest market I’ve seen on our travels around South East Asia, Luang Prabang’s Night Market stretches along the road in front of the Royal Palace. Traders selling local crafts and souvenirs sit on blankets with their wares laid out in front of them from blankets, scarves and local woven fabrics, to tea and local Lao coffee. The traders are pretty relaxed and not at all pushy, and haggling is friendly and not aggressive as I’ve sometimes seen in other places. I certainly came away a very happy customer!
The morning market has a very different feel. Traders still sit on the floor, this time with fresh produce laid out instead of handicrafts. Starting very early in the morning, before 5am, the Market is well underway by the time the sun comes up. If you go super early, apparently you can find weird and wonderful things like snakes and squirrels. We enjoyed waking through and bought some small bananas to snack on later.
Kuang Si Falls
There are a number of waterfalls near to Luang Prabang and Kiang Si is the most popular. The main part of Kuang Si falls is loud and grand, I could have sat watching the water tumbling down for hours. We climbed up the steep path to the right side of the falls, across the quiet pools, and down the other side, where water even flows down the steps making you feel like part of the waterfall. At the bottom, the cascading pools of cool, clear, blue water are perfect for a swim. Swimming in Kuang Si was one of the most magical experiences for me in our travels around South East Asia.
Mekong sunset boat trip
So the sunset is a bit of a thing in these parts, especially seen from a boat on the Mekong river. We found ourselves at a bit of a loose end one evening around 4:30pm, so we figured we would see what the fuss was about with an hour boat ride to coincide with the sunset at around 5:30pm. We just walked to the river and there were plenty of boatmen waiting for punters. Our boat driver got us a beer each and we sat and relaxed as we sailed along the river. Once we reached our turnaround point, the engine was switched off and we stopped to watch a golden sunset over the Mekong and surrounding hills. It was romantic and blissful to be drifting quietly along the Mekong watching such a beautiful scene with a cold beer. By the time we started up the engines again we had drifted much of the way back.
Crossing the Bamboo Bridge
Only open for half of the year and taken down during the monsoon season, a stroll across the bamboo bridge for a small toll fee is good fun. There’s a restaurant at the other side if you have a bit of time to spare or decide to go across for lunch, but we just walked across and back.
Food & Drink
It’ll be no surprise that food & drink is a huge factor in any travel planning for me. I’ve shared a couple of posts with more detail on Luang Prabang Food & Drink as well as the cookery class we did with Bamboo Tree.
Weaving is a big local craft and the Ock Pop Tok Heritage Shop is a great place to see some beautiful woven fabrics, and perhaps buy some souvenirs.
Hearing Traditional Lao Folk Tales
I just happened to pick up a flier about this and was glad that I did. I’ve been to a couple of storytelling events back in the UK, and they’ve always been really interesting and entertaining. For a lot of people, storytelling is something that we do with a child before bedtime, but it has such a rich history across the world as a means to pass on folk legends and cultural tales. What better way to experience some Lao culture than hearing some of their local legends told. We arrived at the theatre at around 6:10 and got a ticket without a problem. The theatre was tiny, seating probably about 20 people. It was so easy and so accessible and a great way to spend an hour before dinner. I loved hearing the accompaniment of the khene, a beautiful traditional Lao bamboo flute or mouth organ.
Morning Yoga at Utopia
If you’re in to yoga, or even if you’re not, a yoga session on a platform overlooking the Mekong at Utopia, one of the most chilled out cafe bars in Luang Prabang, is an incredible experience. Held every morning at 7:30am for an hour, and at a price of 40k LAK (about £4 or $5), they welcome beginners as well as more experienced practitioners. We stayed for a breakfast with a view after the class.
I was pretty sad to leave Luang Prabang, and would have found it even harder if I hadn’t been continuing on to another new place. Luang Prabang is definitely somewhere that you can spend some time just relaxing and soaking up the energy from the beautiful area, the Mekong, and the people. I found it to be a really healing place in a lot of ways and I hope to come back again in the future.